Studying or working abroad can be immensely rewarding. You get to experience an entirely new culture, meet interesting people, and expand your horizons. But there’s no denying that adjusting to a new place, culture, and sometimes even a new language can be tough. This guide offers some tips to smooth the transition.
Get involved with the local community
It’s common for expats (people who have chosen to move to a new country, usually just for cultural reasons rather than because they have to) to seek out people from their own country when they arrive in a new one. There’s nothing wrong with this at all - it can be a great way to meet people and get used to the area. However, getting stuck in a bubble of only expats defeats the point of travel in the first place.
You should try to get involved with the local community any way you can. Join clubs, go to social events, and make the effort to talk to your neighbours. It can help you feel at home in your new destination.
Practice the language
If you’re visiting a place where the native language isn’t the same as your own, it can be really tempting to stick to groups of people who speak your language, especially at first. But practising is the only way to get better - and even if you’re a beginner, you’ll be shocked to see how quickly immersion improves your language skills!
Getting used to speaking the local language will help you feel more settled in. It’s hard not to feel like an outsider if you can’t make small talk, read signs, or buy groceries. Pushing through any shyness about imperfections in your grammar or vocabulary will help you gain the confidence you need to start feeling like a member of the community. The more you avoid it, the longer it’ll take.
If you need tips on learning a language, check out our guide Language learning for self-starters.
Whichever country you visit, you’re bound to encounter some new and interesting parts of that culture. It will be different from anything you’ve seen before, and even if you’ve done your research, there will surely be something that takes you by surprise.
What can seem like exciting local colour when on holiday can start to make you frustrated or homesick when you’re actually living somewhere - but try not to let it. Learn to treat these cultural nuances with respect and interest. If you’re not sure about the reason for something, try to ask one of your local friends about it. Sometimes, of course, there is no interesting reason - but then it’s just a chance to embrace the local quirks that make living in a new country so interesting.
Say yes to invitations
There’s no better way to adjust to a new place than feeling like you’re part of the community. So, if you get invites to events, social meetups, or sports matches, make sure to put yourself out there and say yes. You may feel nervous about not knowing the local customs or traditions, but don’t let that fear keep you from giving it a try - especially if you have local friends along to show you what to do.
Don’t neglect your studies or let your social life overwhelm you, but do make an effort to try new things. You might not love every single thing you do, but keeping active and meeting new people is an important part of settling in.
Keep in touch
It’s important you don’t isolate yourself when you first start living somewhere new. Although the temptation to become a hermit might be great, social ties are vital to help you settle in. Take time to call and message your friends and family back home.
The same is true of new connections you meet on the way. Don’t be shy about reaching out to some of the people you’ve met through work or studying and see if they want to meet up or chat. When you’re in a totally new place, you sometimes have to make a bit of an effort to avoid feeling lonely.
Prepare for culture shock and homesickness
You’ve maybe heard the phrase ‘culture shock’, which sounds pretty dramatic. It isn’t really: it’s just a word for when the experience of living in a totally different culture gets a bit overwhelming. It’s a natural response to living somewhere new, and it’ll probably happen to you at one point or another.
It often comes with homesickness, as you find yourself missing the simplicity of living in a place and culture you grew up with.
Don’t fight these feelings. They don’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, or that you’ve made a mistake by moving. Cook some comfort food, reach out to your best friend back home, and keep actively engaging in your new life. The feeling will pass. Practising mindfulness (and you can check out our guide An introduction to mindfulness to learn exactly what that means) can also help get you back on track and in-tune with your emotions.