Featured writer: Nancy Kate Ryder
Moving to a new country is great, it is exhilarating and exciting; every day there is something new to learn and you are
constantly facing challenges. Sometimes those challenges are amazing and other times they may shake your confidence. I have moved to and lived in three different countries; and while there were new things that I had to adapt to, I found, that often the same problems would arise in each new place. So, with that in mind, here are 7 tips on managing your adaptation during your new adventure!
7. Be versatile. This is a good thing to keep in mind upon arrival in your new country. Perhaps, in your mind’s eye, you have a vision of how it is all going to go: you will arrive and get the perfect job, maybe marketing for a wine company, and then you will meet a good looking foreign person who will make you laugh with their accent and charming way of saying things. Needless to say, you and said foreigner will fall madly in love while you simultaneously get a promotion at work. Money is therefore not an issue and you don’t even have to search for housing because you are, obviously, living at your new lover’s villa (oh, and magically your body will be better). Voila!
In reality, you may do a series of temp jobs that make you hate yourself while living in a share house with ten strangers, all the while staring at the good looking foreigners who won’t give you the time of day. Deal with it – make it work (Tim Gunn)! Be open to whatever situation falls in your lap – who knows? One day, one of those strangers might end up being in your wedding…really.
6. All consulates are created equally…horrible. Make sure that you are thrice prepared for any visa appointments/changes that need to be made…and then be prepared for something to go wrong, something like the clerk just deciding to close the counter for 2 hours while you wait, or the entire ‘tourist visa’ office going on a three day retreat one day before you need to get your passport back, or the list of what you needed for the visa changing the day you arrive with your information. It doesn’t matter whether you are in France or Timbuktu; this stuff will happen. My only advice, keep your cool, the people behind the counter really do hold your fate in their hand – don’t tick them off.
5. Don’t be the guy who spends the whole time eating peanut butter and jelly, listening to Ke$ha, and drinking Budweiser
(insert: whatever cultural references work for you). Basically, try not to spend too much time re-creating home. Sharing your culture is one of the most fun things about travel; it’s a pleasure to make one of your favorite dishes for someone from another country or show them your favorite film. It is also crucial to abating any bouts of home-sickness. Just don’t let it take over. If you create a mini-version of your own country while you are away then what will you have to talk about when you go home?
4. “Everything is better in my country!” (to be said in a 1930’s Philadelphia “society” accent – think Katherine Hepburn) Look, we are all guilty of it, I know I do it regularly, but try to keep the comparison game in check; it is not charming.
No local wants to hear a foreign visitor constantly charting the ways in which their own country is better. Example:
“Here (sidebar: in this country I have chosen to live in) you are too fast, too slow, too disorganized, too organized, obnoxious over-achievers, lazy under-achievers, (have) not enough stuff at the grocery store, TOO MUCH STUFF AT THE GROCERY STORE! In my country we have perfected all these things; over the course of our acquaintance I will list to you all the ways in which we have done so in order for you to learn. You can thank me later.”
Here’s the deal, there are going to be things in your new country that will drive you bananas and you will miss the way that your own country does stuff; everyone does. Just try to be careful how you bring it up; you don’t want to be obnoxious. If you catch yourself talking about how much “awesomer” your country is at something, maybe finish the statement with a mention of another thing that you think your host country does better. No one likes an ungracious guest…and when you can’t take it anymore, unload to your expat friends – they’ll get it.
3. “I hate it here. I have no friends, the food sucks, their TV shows are stupid, I’m sick of public transportation, I don’t have any of my stuff, I’m missing out on all the crazy, unusually awesome things that my friends at home are CLEARLY doing without me. I’m so lonely!”
The “three month slump” exists and while it does occur generally around the three-month time frame, rest assured that it can rear its ugly head at any time during your overseas existence. Eight-month slump? Five and one-half month slump? Why not? Living in another country can be really exciting, and challenging, and incredibly fun but it is also really hard. You can’t expect to pluck yourself out of your comfort zone, away from those you love and all things familiar, and have a seamless transition. Sometimes, it is going to suck and you are going to feel depressed and alone; and that is normal! Don’t throw in the towel; instead, when three of your ten strange roommates organize a trip to go and do a zip-line over a
volcano, do it! When the daughter of a distant friend of your Father’s emails you to say “hi, I’ve just moved here”, invite her to a party. Don’t let “slumpness” suck away the possibility of new experiences…I mean, wasn’t that the whole point anyway?
2. Never move to a new country during their winter. This might seem stupid to list as #2 but if you have ever done it then you know it is not. Unless you are an avid skier moving to someplace like the Swiss Alps or Queenstown, NZ, moving to a new country in winter will be horrible. I mean, think about it, nothing says welcome like barren trees and gray skies. And forget about meeting new people and making friends. People stay at home in winter, they go to cozy house parties; they do not hang out on patios or stand in groups that are convenient to interrupt with an awkward fake question.
Nothing is more depressing then sitting in your new room, freezing, while it is drizzling outside, with no friends. Really, if you can avoid it then just don’t do it. That is all I can say.
1. Okay, so now, basically forget everything I just wrote and remember this one thing: it is the same everywhere. Sure the scenery may be different and the people might have funny accents or don’t smile as much but your life will pretty much be the same in your new country as in your old one. From a distance it might seem like if you live in France your bathroom will clean itself, obviously, because living in France is far too glamorous for such things. In Australia, every work day will be wonderful because they will all be good-looking and say things like “good on ya, mate” (that last part might be accurate). But here is the truth; I clean my bathroom once a week and some Australians are ugly.
So have reasonable expectations, remember that mundane days exist everywhere, you can’t run away from them. No matter where you live you are going to have good days and bad days. Even at home, you will get a case of “slumpness” or want to pull your hair out because the people in front of you on the sidewalk are walking too slowly – you just won’t have the convenience of being able to blame it on another country. Travel and living abroad is an amazing, eye-opening, and exciting experience; but altering your coordinates won’t change your life, that is up to you.
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Your advice just added about a month to my current living abroad situation, especially #2! This is my third time living abroad and I feel like it’s been the most difficult country I’ve ever lived in. I keep telling myself it will be better when the snow melts, but I thought that was just me trying to be optimistic in a dismal situation. At least now I feel better about hating winter. And I saw a couple of little green buds poking out on trees yesterday so I’m hopeful that things will get better…