by Elsa Thomasma
Moving across the world, beyond the borders of your homeland, can be one of the most challenging adjustments of your life. But through challenges there is growth and enormous opportunities for personal success.
The first few weeks, and days for that matter, will be difficult no doubt, so remember to take things one step at a time. Try your best to adjust a little more each day, to the new city, culture, climate, and cuisine, and truly immerse yourself.
Don’t just flock to the foreigners
Yes, they are familiar and may bring you comfort, but stay away!Keep in mind why you left your home country, to embark on an exciting new adventure and experience a something completely unfamiliar!
Getting to know the local culture and way of life will contribute greatly to your ability to adjust, and forming meaningful relationships with the locals will be your first step towards learning more about your new home.
Try to learn the language
Not only will you illustrate respect for your host country, you will find it much easier to connect with the locals if you can communicate more effectively in their mother tongue. Start with simple phrases, hello, please, and thank you. Gradually work on developing your language skills, because it will surely help you feel more at home when you begin to understand what is being said by those around you, wherever you are.
Develop friendly relationships
Chances are you will spend a great deal of time with your coworkers in and outside of the office, and they are bound to be your first set of friends, so be open to getting to know them both professionally and personally. Likewise, it is always polite to reach out to your neighbors, or even the local grocer or fruit stand vender, and introduce yourself since you will probably be seeing a lot of each other over time. Plus, they have most likely been living in the city for quite a while and they can be incredible resources for you on a daily basis.
Never be afraid to ask questions
If you fear rejection, or becoming the laughing stock of the office, then lead with your inquisitive foot. Ask before you do. Not sure what to wear on casual Friday? Ask a coworker so you don’t end up in a dress when everyone wears sweats (though it is unlikely that will happen). Unsure where to buy the best fruit or what the appropriate personal space is on the public bus? Just ask someone what is culturally appropriate, you will find yourself learning instead of wondering.
Observe others to learn what is appropriate
Take time to sit back and observe locals communicating and interacting with one another. Note their body language, personal space, language use, clothing choices, and anything else that sticks out to you. You don’t always have to ask to learn, sometimes answers lie right before your eyes.
Dress like the locals, they probably know what they are doing
If your host sister wears skirts to church on Sundays, or your classmates never wear hats during class, or your newfound friend comfortably wears sweatpants to night classes, you should consider taking their lead. To fit in with the local culture it is best to try to follow local expectations, especially when it comes to clothing, since it will be the first thing to visibly set you apart. Dressing appropriately will show you respect the local “dress code,” and it will also discourage a variety of negative attention.
Seek out expectations from your employer before departure
Before you step foot on the plane, be open with your employer about what will be expected of you and what you expect from your position. Find out information about the office dress code, hours of work, break-times, performance evaluations, benefits, salary schedules, allotted leave time, behavioral policies, and what items you will be expected to provide (i.e. computer). Spare yourself embarrassment or a lack of preparedness.
Focus on your job
Take time to get comfortable in your new job, focus on your assigned duties, fulfilling your tasks to your best ability, and most importantly developing your professional skills. Success at work will give you confidence to branch out socially, culturally, and personally.
Live in an apartment or shared house, not a hotel!
Make yourself at home. Find a place to spread out your things and get comfortable. If you feel like you are living out of a suitcase, your appearance or work ethic may reflect that. Avoid staying at temporary places, like hotels. Settle in to your own place and make it your home away from home.
Limit communication with those at home
Unless you have a partner or kids to keep in touch with, frequent communication with those back home will most likely exacerbate any symptoms of homesickness. Try to focus on developing relationships in your new home, exploring the local culture, and enjoying your new lifestyle.
Taste all the food you can handle
Indulge in the new cuisine, learn about dinner etiquette, visit local markets, ask locals where their favorite restaurants are. Find out what you love and what you hate. Starving yourself will not make adjusting easy, and neither will searching the city for comfort foods from back home, so embrace the local cuisine as much as possible.
Go to local hot spots, markets, coffee shops, stores, etc.
Ask locals where the best places to go are, and then find out what the hype is about (again, find out what you love and what you hate). Experience the local culture at every opportunity. The more you try, the more chances you’ll have of finding your very own niche or “go-to” place.
Share your struggles
Be it another expat, a friend back home or a new friend abroad, one of your parents, or an advisor, choose someone you can trust to be your venting partner whenever you need it. Keeping struggles pent up will only exaggerate your frustrations, or impede you from moving past them. Get them out so you can laugh about them and enjoy the novelty of your new life!
Experience the REAL culture
Escape from city life, venture outside the metropolitan business district, go to a sporting event, attend a cultural event, travel via public transport, share a home cooked meal with a local family, volunteer at a school. Take opportunities to step outside your comfort zone and explore the local way of life fully.
Elsa Thomasma is the Asia Content Manager and Editor of GoAbroad.com, and also volunteers her time with a local NGO developing a rural community center project. She believes the only way to successfully live abroad is by opening your heart to the local people and learning everything you can about the local culture. You can read more of her articles here or visit her blog for more information on her community project.
Photo Credit: Ian Delgado