Happy New Year! Living in New Zealand meant that I got to see 2013 before most of you, and it certainly started off on a good foot in my part of the world.
I’ll be honest, making and keeping New Year’s resolutions has not always been one of my favourite things. However, moving to a different country forced me to set some goals for myself if I ever wanted to move beyond the expat status to where I could think and feel like a local. Here are 5 of my suggestions for starting out a new year in a new country.
#1. Come up with a budget and stick to it!
It seems like everyone (except perhaps the super-rich) struggles with sticking to a budget. Expats aren’t exempt.It seems as though we expats either earn more money than what we were used to and forget about saving or, on the flip side, make less and have to deal with higher costs of living. Either way, you need a budget in order to know just exactly what is going on with your finances.
Why come up with a budget? I can think of plenty of reasons, but the two biggest ones for me are (a) peace of mind and (b) getting what I want. I have peace of mind because I know where our money is going. If there’s a suspicious charge, I see it almost right away. I don’t have to worry about whether or not we’ll have enough in the bank at the end of the month, because we’ve done our best to plan for both the seen and unforeseen expenses. I get what I want because having a budget allows me to set goals for things like retirement, staying home with my son, and taking a trip. It allows us to save up for necessary or fun purchases. And I don’t have to worry about putting things on a credit card and paying it off later with interest.
Pick whatever method works best for you. Some people prefer plain pen and paper to keep track of their expenses while some like the tangible “envelope system”. Others favour using various apps or online programs, such as Mint.com. I personally prefer using an Excel spreadsheet that I came up with years ago. Whatever method you use, stick with it and check it regularly.
#2. Create a fitness plan and see it through!
As with any goal, be specific. Don’t just say that you want to lose weight. Detail how much weight you want to lose and how you’re going to make it happen. If you need to, speak with a doctor or nutritionist to help you devise a workable food plan. Talk to a knowledgeable friend about an exercise routine or make an
appointment with a personal trainer.
It’s my belief that while exercise should be challenging, it should also be fun. Make your workouts something that you look forward to doing. If you love to go hiking, then join a hiking or tramping club. If swimming is your thing, then set a goal of competing in an ocean swim or sign up for aquaerobics. I can’t recommend enough the benefits of having a workout partner. This was something that I learned over the last year while working off the remainder of my pregnancy weight + losing even more. Having a workout partner challenges you, makes you feel good about yourself (for those times that you outrun them!), and keeps you accountable.
#3. Pick a different city or region of your country that you want to visit, and make it happen.
Is there somewhere in your new country that you’ve wanted to visit but haven’t gotten around to it yet? Maybe you have a favourite place that you haven’t been able to return to for awhile. Either way, pick somewhere and make a plan for visiting. I love to use sites like TripAdvisor.com and LonelyPlanet.com to read up about the best things to see. I particularly like the insider attractions that are off the beaten path.
This goal ties in well with making a budget. Everyone needs to take time off to play and relax. Perhaps your finances won’t allow for a big trip, but you may have enough for an overnight stay somewhere. Look at your budget and see how much you have leftover each month. Put a portion of that surplus into a holiday account and stay faithful with your finances. If you’re able to stick with the budget, then it’s not at all unlikely that you’ll be taking a trip or two before 2013 is over.
#4. Try more ethnic and traditional foods.
You may love trying new foods and exotic flavours. If that’s the case, then #4 should be no trouble for you. Some expats have a hard time getting into local cuisine and prefer to stick with tried and true familiar favourites that remind them of home. It’s time to get over that and venture into uncharted culinary waters. What’s more, move beyond “tasting” and learn how to cook some local fare.
Start off by picking something that you’ve had in the past and enjoyed. If you’re at the very beginning and haven’t tried anything, then go out to eat at a local restaurant and ask the server or your friends for suggestions. Once you find something you like, learn how to cook it and make it your own.
#5. Learn the language… and use it.
For some, this is more obvious and necessary than others. If you moved to a country whose native language is different from your own, then learning it is a part of survival. At least that’s what you’d think. You’d be surprised how many expats can go for a year or more without becoming comfortable with their new country’s native tongue. If you need to, sign up for a class or ask a proficient friend to help you practice. And then actually practice!
Even if you moved to a country whose native language is the same as your own, you may still need to learn the lingo. I certainly tripped over my fair share of colloquialisms when we first moved to New Zealand. I had to remind myself that it’s not a vacation, it’s a holiday. You don’t work PRN, you work casual. You don’t go to the university, you go to university. And so on and forth.
I hope that all of you are enjoying the New Year, whatever your circumstances. Wishing you all the best!
Jenny is an American from Indiana living abroad in Auckland, New Zealand. An ER nurse, she spends her spare time with her husband and infant son and enjoys photography, travel, and writing about her experiences as an expat. You can read more of her thoughts and opinions at www.practicallyperfectblog.com
Read Jenny's other Expat Focus articles here