Tips for Easing the Expat Transition
I just celebrated my four year anniversary as an American living in Africa - well, pseudo-Africa - okay fine, admittedly, Cape Town is more similar to a European fishing village than a mud-hut semi-circle with a water pump - but regardless, the fact of the matter is I'm nearing a critical time in expat living.
It's that point in the relationship when you bat around the idea of "taking the next step", of "settling down" or of pooling your resources and making some purchases "indicative of your intentions". Poop, or get off the pot, to put it lightly.
It's a crossroads that always seemed just past the 30-miles of horizon that your vision actually allows, and now that it's here I've found myself reflecting on my original relocation. In retrospect, a period of time that was more difficult than ever imagined.
The initial interval can feel like a wet blanket or an endless well - claustrophobic and disorienting in it's own right, and more than anything I wished I'd been more prepared to put one foot in front of the other and walk the line of expatriation clearly and confidently.
It follows that I'd be inspired to share a few of the secrets I've stowed away since that time in hopes that a few tips can help others ease their own expat transition.
Tips to easing expat transition
Talk the talk
According to the 2010 Expat Arrivals Expat Living Survey, the majority of those living abroad cited "Overcoming culture shock and forming social connections" as their largest concerns. Connecting with others on a basic human level is incredibly important, and in order to start cementing relationships it's necessary to speak the language.
· Enrol in foreign language classes before your move and continue sessions upon arrival. Giving yourself the ability to communicate with shopkeepers, to ask for directions etc. not only creates a sense of pride, it also eliminates that illusion of living in a black hole where no one talks.
· Interact with others and don't be afraid to use your new-found gift of the gab - even if it's broken and disjointed. Locals are usually receptive, and it's the best way to attain fluency.
· Speak some slang. Even if you're relocating to a country where they speak your language, there's always little nuances to pick-up. Incorporating colloquialisms into your vocabulary shows a willingness to integrate and allows you to relate to those around you on a level of shared understanding.
Make the circle bigger
Once you've managed to lift that "lost in translation" feeling, make an effort to widen your social circle. Understandably, this is easier said than done, but the fact of the matter is - extending yourself socially takes just as much time and effort as a full-time job. It's a task that demands attention and determination, and expats moving abroad should shelf their notion of "what makes a perfect friend" and take every opportunity to become engaged with what's happing around them.
· Start connecting with fellow foreigners and locals that share your interests beforehand via social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
· Seek out groups, clubs, and organisations to join. Whether it's a church, a sporting association, a rotary club or a group that caters to purple-headed, one-eyed spider people, these serve as great mediums to meet people.
· Search for expat blogs and forums and join in the discussion. Sharing your experience with other like-minded individuals is a great way to interact with others from the comfort of your couch, and is a fantastic method for finding out what's happening for expats in your area.
Realize a routine
Establishing a comfort zone or a safety net is just as important during transition as being adventurous and open-minded. Resurrect and recreate a routine for yourself in your new location. This can give you a sense of meaning and can reinstate a morsel of status quo even amidst a big, bad sea of confusion.
· Schedule the same sort of "obligations" you upheld in your home country. Find a gym, volunteer, or read the paper over coffee.
· Prioritize certain parts of your new life. Making the effort to suss out what's important and what you can let temporarily fall to the wayside allows you to exercise control of your situation.
· Visiting the same places and repeating the same actions may seem limiting to some, but in reality, familiarizing yourself with a smaller, more insular cross-section of your new destination can make relocation much more manageable. Getting to know your community first and foremost can be great way to develop confidence in your new expat life.
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