Tips for Living Abroad Part 2: More Advice from Expats and Experts
Hope you have had time to read last week’s post, which was Part 1 to this one. It contains great advice from expats covering the practical aspects of relocating to another country. If you didn’t see it, you can read it HERE.
This week, the tips and suggestions from our panel of expats and experts deal with fitting in and adjusting to a new culture, communicating, coping without creature comforts, and, most important, keeping a smile on your face.
Fitting In and Adjusting:
- Give yourself time (a long time) to adapt (change) to the new culture and environment. Even if your intention is to have an open mind, you might still find yourself constantly comparing everything and everyone around you to what you knew in the USA. Some people around you (other expats) may be very verbal about the comparing thing, so be aware of how much of this you want to tolerate and participate in.
- Be cognizant of the reality that you are living in a foreign land among foreign people. Yet, you will be the foreigner. This means that you may be discriminated against to some degree. You will be tolerated and treated with benevolence, but otherwise you will be nearly invisible to the native people. Some may even fear you, but not show it, having had bad experiences with other expats in the past or present.
- Appreciate the opportunity to live abroad, be thoughtful and giving to neighbors and friends, and tune out the negative impressions or experiences of others who don’t share your desire to live in peace.
- Avoid being judgmental. Even if you are angry or frustrated over what seems to be impossibly backward behaviors.
- Register on social media groups of expats who live in your new country. Make attempts to meet them (i.e. with Meetup app or internations.org) Seek their advice.
- Find some common ground with the local way of life. For example, if you love music and enjoyed concerts, etc. in the USA, find similar events in the new country that are similar to your taste. Or better yet, explore a new genre.
- Walk! You can learn so much just by exploring the side streets and observing people.
- If you aren’t going to be working, then consider volunteer opportunities. Having a way to fill your time will help you meet people with similar interests and acclimate more quickly.
- Make friends! When you can put the face of a friend onto a particular culture, food, or custom, then experiencing it isn’t as intimidating. Their ways are not our ways—and that’s okay!
- Try to communicate with locals as much as possible. Learn the language of the new country (if it isn’t English), and when you meet people, try to make a small introduction of yourself in their language. It will be a great first step in making friends.
- If there is both a local language and English, greet them in the local language and then ask for permission to communicate in English. This works well and shows respect/deference for their native language rather than assuming they should speak yours.
- Learn local traditions, culture, gestures, and attitudes as soon as you can. Strive to respect and observe them. Be open and curious about the new language, which will help you understand the culture.
- Find locals (native people) who have lived abroad or traveled abroad extensively. They will be more sympathetic toward you, more open and helpful. You might even find a willing language tutor that way.
Coping without Creature Comforts:
- Although it might seem obvious, never forget you are not in the USA, so you are not protected by the rights of American citizenship anymore. For example: the police may not be friendly and may even treat you with contempt. They might ask for your papers (your passport) and/or stop you for any reason at all. You’ll have to deal with it, be polite, respectful, and avoid arguments.
- You may have to learn to live without many of the comforts of home that you are used to, e.g., lack of public services, lack of consistent electrical power, hot water, good water, internet, cell service, etc. Be prepared for such situations.
- Food choices and styles of preparation might be limited. Just remember that “what does not kill you only makes you stronger.” Learning to enjoy the limited choices of fresh foods—and mostly likely organically grown—will be good for your health.
- People may never truly trust you, and you should be careful about whom you trust. People will assume you are very rich and that it is okay to steal from you (or charge you higher prices) since you can no doubt easily replace what is taken.
Keeping a Smile on Your Face:
- Relax! And remember that some things you just won’t ever understand because of coming from a country with different customs and world view. Go with the flow and laugh off the explainable, if you can.
- Keep an open mind. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so take the plunge with gusto!
- Come up with a motto or a mantra of some kind that you can say to yourself when your frustration level begins to boil over. One expat I know often says: “It is what it is…” – and another says: “What a country!” Or maybe yours will be vive la différence!
- One of my interviewees gave me permission to link you to her blog post, which is a total crack up and puts a honest and humorous spin on living abroad. Please click HERE to read “The White Girl Doesn’t Fit In.”
Whew! This is a lot of stuff, right? But I do hope it’s been useful, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Feel free to chime in with your comments or questions below. And if you know someone currently considering spending time abroad, please share this post.