One of the best tips for expats who want to cope better with homesickness and culture shock and get the most out of their time overseas is to get involved in the local community. There may be community garden projects, an eldercare charity, an annual church event or other projects, charities or events that always need new volunteers.
I live in a medium size village in Britain but my children don’t go to the local school so I needed to think of other ways to get to know the local residents. When a call was put out for volunteers to help with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations I signed up. Through that I not only contributed to a really enjoyable day through months of planning and fund raising, but I also made some friends for life.The local residents have been battling council apathy with regards to commuters speeding through the village. One car crashed into the school gates a year ago, an elderly lady was killed as she tried to cross the road and a cyclist was killed just outside the village at a junction. This issue is of great concern to the parents and teachers of the village school, which sits right on the main road. Although my children don’t attend this school, I am a local resident who uses and crosses the road and I have friends in the village who use it this way. To me it made sense to join in this campaign and help in any way I could.
I now run a blog for the village where we can post information about the area but also where I publish updates on the progress of this campaign. I also write about it sometimes on my personal blog, such as this post, Not even a Lollipop lady.
I’ve lived in this village for seven years now and I feel very much a part of the place. I know if I walk down the street I will meet several people I know and we’ll stop and have a friendly chat. I know that I can call any one of those people in an emergency and they’ll come to help. And I know they would know they could call me as well. Being involved where you live makes a world of difference to how much you will enjoy your time overseas!
Need more reasons to get involved?
1. You’ll learn more about your area.
2. You’ll meet more people.
3. You’ll break down barriers as people see you as interested in their welfare, sharing in their struggles and successes.
4. You’ll feel part of something—you’ll belong to something.
5. You’ll help make a difference.
6. The local area will be more like home for you because you’ll have invested emotional energy in the place.
7. You’ll think about this home when you’re elsewhere and returning to it will be even more enjoyable.
8. You can share valuable skills that the local community may not have.
9. If you are trying to find work this is a great network to start with—at the least the leaders will be able to give you a local reference.
10. It’ll feel good!
I know I’m not the only one who uses this technique to increase enjoyment of my life overseas. What do you do?
Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!
Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.
Read more of Michelle's Expat Focus articles here.