I keep talking to numerous expats regularly and they are all sharing similar stories about what helped them adjust to their new home abroad. These tips seem to be working very well for expats who are young professionals and students moving abroad.
So here we go – straight to the point!
#1 Saying yes to things
After moving abroad, we may often feel amazed by the new city and new country if we are going through the honeymoon phase. We might be on that stage where we want to see and experience everything at once and ideally as fast as possible. On the other hand, depending on the circumstances, it might also be that we fall almost directly into the mood of feeling sad, homesick and lonely.
Regardless of which of those stages you are in, the helpful advice seems to be the same. Say yes to things.
In today’s global world, every day the internet suggests many events nearby, shopping recommendations or fun places to visit. When you change location and use Google or Facebook there is a high chance you will immediately start seeing local adverts and recommendations. If any of them catch your eye – explore the possibility. A lot of events or attractions are free or at discounted prices so you can try to commit to them.
Another way of saying yes is (if you’re working) using the opportunities and offers that come from your work colleagues. Maybe they are going for lunch together and you can join them? Maybe you can be the first one to join a meeting so that you have extra 5 minutes for a little chit chat with your co-workers which will help you start building relationships? Maybe there is some office event coming up soon? Maybe your team is going out after work for dinner or drinks?
This is not to say that you have to suddenly go out every single day if that’s not the kind of thing you would typically do. Especially for people who are more introverted it might seem like you now need to shift your behaviours by 180 degrees. That’s not entirely true! I guess, as a measurement tool, if you are turning down another offer third time this week, but your alternative is sitting alone at home feeling homesick – that’s when you might want to reconsider. Maybe there is something you can still do that is not that intimidating, but will bring you one step closer to better adaptation?
#2 Travelling and being a tourist in your own town
Another thing that can help you understand the local culture and history better is acting like a tourist more often than you would have back home.
Go to a local museum, join a city tour or read about the history of the town. When you see some weird statue – research where it came from, as there may be some interesting story behind it. If you have this possibility, go somewhere further away and explore nearby cities including some historic places.
Making the effort and commitment to discovering all that has multiple advantages. One – you are getting to know the local history and customs that constitute the local culture and people’s behaviours. Two – you can meet some new people, maybe other expats, if you go on an organised tour, and they can become your friends over time (they also might not, but at least you will have some nice human contact!). Three – you do stuff and that means you have a great topic for conversations with your colleagues from work or when you go to any networking event. This is also helpful if you’d like to start a conversation with some local colleagues as you showing the initiative to learn about their country is usually very well received.
#3 Speaking to local people to learn more about their points of view
Deriving from point two it’s impossible not to mention to stay open and curious towards local people and their opinions.
As much as there’s a high chance you will be perceiving some of their customs or opinions weird or inappropriate, give it a chance and probe to understand better. It might turn out that there is a logic behind their way of thinking, that can be linked to the country culture and also individual experiences that influenced that person. You can comment that it’s not something you’re familiar with at all because where you come from things are done differently and simply ask them to tell you more. I know that not everyone may have the opportunity to work with people who were brought up in a given city or country, but using any opportunity to make this local contact and learning more is crucial. Without speaking to other people for whom this reality is ‘normal’, you won’t be able to understand the reasons for certain behaviours.
I wrote before about the difference between travelling for holidays versus living abroad as an expat. You can learn a lot from both. However, I still feel like you get a more in-depth understanding of certain behaviours when you have the chance to live in a country versus when you’re just visiting for holidays or when you read about it in a book. On holidays, you get to find out what those different behaviours are, and how they differ from what you already know. And this is already great as it expands your view of the world and teaches you different perspectives. However, only when you start living abroad you get the chance to see how those different behaviours that you’ve noticed impact you and your values personally. And that is a completely different experience, because you are expected to adjust to those norms better and fully respect them. Especially if certain values are far from what you perceive as good or bad, this might be challenging.
Did you or your close ones use those strategies after moving abroad? Do you think it is as appropriate for young professionals as it would be for expat families?