As an expat, you get to choose between being miserable — because, guaranteed, nothing in your new life will work as it did before — and enjoying the marvel of exploring a new culture.
Life might be difficult for a while, but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once. My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world.
– David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
Step 1: Say Goodbye To How You Think Things Should Be
Moving abroad is a humbling experience and that’s the name of the game. The first step in enjoying your new home is letting go of Western ideas of how things ought to be. Doing so will help you shed any prejudices.
Upon arriving in a new country, with a different culture and a new language, you very quickly realize that you know absolutely nothing. There’s no one better to help you navigate your new surroundings than the people who’ve lived there for years — let locals be your teachers, listen to them and treat them with respect.
Local friends have some of the best “insider” information that no expat can offer. Going local often starts with the most obvious thing: food. It has been said that you can tell the happiness level of an expat in their new country just by looking at what they have in their pantry. Expats who receive monthly shipments of their favorite foods and have very little local brands often tend to be the same ones that are constantly complaining and comparing everything. While there is nothing wrong with missing things about home, food products aren’t something you should live and die by, even if the ketchup here doesn’t taste like ketchup back home.
Step 2: Reach Out and Get Going
The faster you can throw yourself into activities the better! Join Facebook groups, read the local expat online publications and get a sense of what is going on around the city.
Try everything you can get your hands on, even if it’s not normally something you would do. Nature hikes, a tennis league, cooking classes, yoga, trivia, dancing: soak it in, reach out, and enjoy the ups and downs.
Talk to other expats, listen, ask questions, and before you know it you’ll be on your next adventure, possibly with some new friends!
A word to the wise, reaching out isn’t a one-way street. Any good expat knows that to get support, you have to give it, unconditionally. This could mean going to the birthday party of a woman you just met or offering to help someone move. If you know when to listen — to the taxi driver, the shop clerk, your Spanish teacher or other expats — you’ll build a good support group. And if you have to “pay it forward” and help your neighbours more than you anticipated, roll with it — it all works out in the end.
Step 3: Laugh
Being an expat is tough and it certainly isn’t for everybody. There will be days when literally nothing goes right, and the stress of living abroad will get to you.
There will also be days when you will find your heart full of adventurous joy, and you’ll feel blessed to experience life abroad.
If you can laugh when everything is going wrong, you are on the right track. Laughing is an integral part of “sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming into a citizen of the world.”
If you can take these steps and put them into practice, expat life will be the perfect training ground for not only a great expat experience, but a more complete view of the world.
Current expats, is there any advice you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments!
All sound advice, great article. We’ve barely been here a month, but laughter is definitely the cure-all for just about every situation.
I would add: Don’t ever stop learning! Life as an expat is a never ending opportunity to learn. That is what we are here for, right?