1) Learn the language… or attempt to
My biggest regret is never having mastered the French language. After living in Paris for two years, I can fully comprehend a French speaker, yet am completely incapable of replying. I was attending an American school and working in an American company… virtually everyone I knew in France was American or a fellow expat. I honestly thought I had almost no reason to learn the language – you can get around just fine with English alone. Retrospectively, there is so much that I missed out on simply because I had no idea it was happening. Parties this weekend, new exhibits, pop-up sales, jobs I couldn’t apply for… I can honestly say that I have missed out. Locals appreciate the effort, however poor your French/Spanish/*insert language here*is. They are generally happy to help and take it as a fun challenge to teach you a phrase or two. Take a course, find a language partner, just speak the little you know every day and before you know it, you will be miles ahead.
2) Break free from the expat bubble
It’s much easier said than done, but really make an effort to immerse yourself in the culture. It’s great to have fellow-expats that you can relate to, but it is important to truly live in the new environment, not try to replicate your homeland on new soil. Meet people from your new city, and also from all around the world. These people will help you learn so much more about the city and also about yourself. Imagine all the cool, hidden, local gems you can find with your own personal tour guide!
3) Wander aimlessly
Get out of your flat and just go! Take a left where you normally take a right. Take the metro and get out at a random station and explore the new neighbourhood. Take the bus and soak in the surroundings. There is beauty in the architecture, landscaping, markets, cafes, everywhere! This is also the best way to learn the new city… before long, you will be showing locals directions to your new favourite spots.
4) Try new places everyday
Stay away from the typical tourist chains that are so tempting due to their familiarity in a place that is so foreign. When I first got to Paris, I found a Canadian pub that was always full of expats and generally a really great atmosphere. I started going there very often and before long, I had a wonderful group of expats as friends. This was the safe option. After a few months we started trying different bars/restaurants/cafes and I realised how much I had been missing. There are so many options in your new city, and I’m sure you will find your favourites, but don’t be afraid to add to the list!
5) Stick it out
Things always seem tough at first, and even when you think you have finally settled, it’s normal to get a wave of nostalgia. It’s important you understand that all of this is normal and you just have the ride it through – don’t throw your hands up in the air in defeat and go back to your hometown!
My second year in Paris was completely different than the first. I was much more comfortable in the city, I had an established group of friends, and I even met a guy I really liked (we are still together… expat-long-distance-relationship style). I enjoyed every single moment. Even the rainy days provided me opportunities to spend the day wandering museums. I had stopped being homesick, embraced Skype and WhatsApp as the norm, and formed a life for myself in my adopted hometown of Paris.
What are your top tips for living expat life to the full?