Integrating into a new community
So, you did it. You’re sitting on a chair that doesn’t feel familiar and there’s no ticket home. You are now Living Abroad. Before the symptoms of a full-blown freak-out start to take hold, grab a chamomile tea, take a few cleansing breaths and read our handy guide to settling in.
In amongst the cries from friends and family of “Oh, that’s so brave of you!” and “How exciting!”, you may have felt obliged to project the aura of a calm adventurer, despite the protestations of your sweaty palms and somersaulting stomach.
Well, you’re entitled to feel nervous; it’s normal and you’re not the only one. It may well take a few weeks to start to feel settled. Keeping up with home will definitely ease feelings of isolation, as will joining an online expat community for your area, Just Landed for example. These communities can help you familiarise yourself with your new home and answer any questions you may have. Many communities also organise meetups so you’ll be able to make new friends (or at least acquaintances) with people in the same boat as you.
Nothing can make you feel like a fish out of water more than not understanding what’s going on around you. Even if you’re able to use your native language in a job, it is absolutely essential that you attempt to learn the language.
Ideally, take a course before you move overseas, and then continue your studies in your new home (either online or at an institution who is a member of the International Association of Language Centres). There will be plenty of starved local students willing to give low-cost private lessons if a full-blown academic situation is beyond your means. Check out your embassy notice boards to find lessons. If private lessons aren’t your scene, there will be plenty of free tutorials and resources on YouTube and on the wider web.
Whatever route you take, you’ll need to practise using your new found language skills. Again, your local embassy will have adverts posted by students offering conversation lessons. And just talk to anyone. Shopkeepers, the landlady, waiters, the postman…Some may object to your bungled attempts at their native tongue, but continue anyway. Even if they start talking you to in English and you continue in the local parlance (true story).
The Culture Vulture
Nothing will make you feel more like a local than understanding what makes them tick. That’s where getting to grips with the culture comes in. Bag yourself a library card and start exploring the literary landscape (also good for expanding your vocabulary!). Or hop on the bus to a museum and sample the national psyche.
Depending on where you choose to live abroad you may need to swot up on the local culture before you go. Are there any particular no-nos? Does what’s punishable by law differ significantly from your home country? Is your wardrobe going to need a major makeover?
Finally, if you’re working to fund your expat lifestyle you may well find that there’s an entirely separate business culture you’ll need to get a handle on. You’ll be able to pick up most of it as you go along, but some hasty googling will give you a head start and should avoid egg-on-face situations (business card etiquette anyone?).
The Absorption Method
For whatever reason any of the above just aren’t happening for you, there is one very simple thing you can do to start to feel a part of your new home. Get. Out. Of. The. House/flat/attic/shoebox. Tear yourself away from the laptop and step outside. Smell that? Fresh air, free of your expat isolation!
Explore and absorb. Sit on a park bench with the local rag. Go window shopping. People watch at the local marketplace. Grab a coffee at the local cafe. Go really crazy and join a club.
In your all-out bid to embrace and integrate into your new home, don’t forget to take a break otherwise you’ll burn out. And it’s OK not to get on with your host country all the time. It will take time, and you may well not ever fully understand or even like some aspects of your host nation.
That said, there are over 200 million expats out there. That many can’t be wrong! Give settling down your best shot, and you’ll be living the expat lifestyle in, well, style.