Everyone who moves abroad fantasizes about a seamless cultural adjustment, yet few are ever lucky enough to pull it off. For most, adjusting to living abroad is tough, no matter the reason for moving. Whether you’re the one instigating a move abroad or are following a partner who’s accepted a work stint offer in another country, you’ll find an array of coping tips that’ll help you adjust quickly and a little less painfully.
Living abroad is one of the most incredible personal and professional opportunities you can ever have – here’s how to make the acclimatization easier.
Don’t expect it to be a breeze if you’ve been there before
Know your destination country “like the back of your hand” and have always enjoyed your many visits? Don’t assume moving there will be a breeze. Familiarity will certainly help you transition easier, but it never guarantees seamless acclimatization. This is because your needs, desires, and perceptions are different on vacation when your (limited) tasks are transient and even superficial. This is especially true of overly bureaucratic countries. Nothing bursts that initial honeymoon period like the need to get a residence permit, negotiate a rent contract or find a suitable school for the kids (especially those looking for IB schools in China). You’d never need to tackle any of these challenges on vacation.
Head in with your eyes wide open, and you can, at the very least, avoid shock and disappointments.
Research, research, research
This is the most important (and useful) thing you can do to help you adjust to living abroad. Research everything about your new host country and do that before you arrive. From cultural habits to bureaucratic necessities, local transport options, expat communities, the best suburb to live in, and even things like climate and local grocery stores, the more you know before you go, the less surprising everything will be. In terms of culture shock, it’s all about avoiding surprises – when adjusting to living abroad. You need to “cushion” the impact part as much as you can.
Give it 6 to 12 months
The adjustment to living abroad phase usually lasts between 6 to 12 months. After a year, almost all expats have found their new groove – they’ve acclimatized and compromised enough to be happy and even ecstatic with their new life as an expat. The worst thing you can do is not give yourself enough time – don’t throw in the towel and head to the airport after six weeks! KNOW that you cannot possibly make an objective decision before the first year is up, so hang in there, persevere, and you’ll have no regrets.
Create your home bubble (this REALLY helps)
If you’re moving to a drastically different country, you might find that home décor is equally different. Don’t be pressured into diving right into the local culture by creating a home that is totally foreign to you. Your home should be your soothing comfort bubble (especially when everything else isn’t) so inject plenty of familiarity here. Personalize your home, and no matter how deflated or frustrated you get in the first few months, you’ll always have a homely refuge to retreat to.
This may seem like a minor aspect of life as an expat, but it’s crucial to get right, especially at the very beginning.
Explore your suburb and find your favorite haunts
From cool little cafes to local farmer’s markets, gorgeous homeware shops, and international supermarkets that stock your favorite chocolate – whatever treasures your new suburb hides, it’s your mission to uncover them all as soon as you arrive. Creating daily routines around your hood will ensure you quickly feel that famed familiarity we so often mention – get to know every street, vendor, jogging trail, and watering hole, and you’ll develop a sense of belonging to your community. This is what will make all the difference and help you adjust to living abroad.
Get involved with local initiatives
Meeting new people from all walks of life is one of the best aspects of living abroad, and a wonderful way to speed the process is by joining local groups. Whether it be expat sports clubs or local mother’s groups, animal welfare agencies, and social meet-ups at local coffee shops, finding events and groups where you’ll meet people with similar interests shouldn’t be too difficult.
Take local language classes
Immersive languages classes are a fabulous way to kill several birds with one stone – not only will you gain the basics of the local language, but you’ll also meet other foreigners who’ll be in the same boat as you. It’s a great idea to gain some basics before you arrive (greetings, at the very least) and then compound your basic knowledge with more in-depth classes once you arrive.
Set distinct and achievable goals
Adjusting to living abroad can overwhelm you, especially when you’re trying to do too much, all at once. Instead, separate your tasks (decorate your home, meet new friends, take local language classes, explore your suburb, etc.) and dedicate some serious time to each one, individually. Take it from everyone who’s been there and done that: when it comes to adjusting to living abroad, everything is so much more achievable when you take baby steps forward.