I really don’t like moving. And it’s even harder when moving from one country to another. But because I love traveling and I love new experiences, I’ve actually moved from country to country four times, leaving me pretty well qualified to give you some tips on how to settle in to your new home abroad.
It’s often not easy to live in a new country, of course. It’s a great adventure, although not always out of choice. However, in my experience it’s always rewarding, so I hope I can make it a little easier if you find yourself in this situation.
It’s not a simple matter to live in a new country, and if you choose countries (like I did) where you don’t speak the language, it’s even harder. Don’t pretend to yourself that everything’s okay just because you want it to be. There are all kinds of problems that ex-pats typically encounter when they move abroad, and rather than bury them, you’re better off confronting them and accepting that the usual cycle of things works likes this: you’ll be very excited when you first arrive; soon to be replaced by some combination of confusion, disillusionment, homesickness and discomfort; and then gradually these things will recede and you’ll be more or less happy.
You can do lots of things to help fit in faster and get through the difficult phase of adjusting to a new home abroad. The most important is to make contact with people living locally, whether they’re native people, ex-pats, or a combination. You’ll need their help for all manner of tasks, from paperwork (for bank accounts, cell phones, rental agreements, and so on) to tips on what to eat (especially if you don’t know the language) and where to buy it.
If you’re in contact with ex-pats there, then don’t feel bad about asking for help. Remember that they once stood in your shoes. When I moved to Japan, it was definitely the ex-pat community that got me on my feet – one colleague sold me his spare rice cooker (I had no idea how much I’d need it!), another told me where to buy a bicycle, and my employer got me signed up for a bank account and a phone.
Depending on your living arrangements, you should also try to set your new home up as quickly as possible, rather than camping on temporary furniture for months while you searching for something better. Even if you’re staying somewhere fully furnished or sharing living quarters with colleagues, do some home decorating by adding some personal touches, either objects you’ve brought from home (photos, for example – nothing else ever fit in my backpack!) or going shopping for pictures, candles or other decorations which make you feel like that room or apartment is truly yours.
Staying in Touch With Your Home Country
Another important move is to get online. These days, being online can really make you feel at home, and if you can reasonably easily email, Facebook or Skype with your family and friends back home, you’re a long way to feeling more relaxed which will help you settle in to your new home.
Bear in mind that your family and friends may not realise that you’re lonely or sad. They probably think you’re off enjoying your incredible new adventure – so keep making contact and sharing some of the new and interesting things you’ve seen and done. Save the complaining for someone you know will understand – people who’ve never moved abroad might think you don’t have the right to whine about your exciting life!
Whether online or offline, keeping a journal is also a great way to both remember your experiences abroad and to feel more settled. You might choose to write a blog for your friends (and the world!) to read, or you may prefer a private diary, where you can write all the mixed feelings you might be having and help yourself to work through them.
Before I moved abroad, I tried to move to two different parts of Australia. For various reasons beyond my control, both these moves were cut short and I ended up back home, with a very valuable lesson learned: always make the most of wherever you happen to be living, because you never really know how long or how short you’ll be there.
So instead of just recognising that there is a great national park a short drive from your new home, and mentally adding it to the “some day” list, make a plan to get there as soon as you can. This strategy has the added bonus of keeping you busy and active during the early (sometimes difficult) phase of settling in. Take it easy though – I wound up with heatstroke on my first day in Japan, so keen was I to walk all over Nara in mid-summer!
Another way to feel really settled in to your new home is to join some local groups that match your interests or hobbies (or try some new ones!). I had a friend who had always wanted to learn kendo (think Star Wars and light sabres) and did so while in Japan, then went on to join kendo clubs in numerous other countries.
One of my main interests is languages, and after living in Japan I wanted to keep up with what I’d learned, so I found Japanese classes in both Slovakia and Germany. It was a great way to add something beyond work to my regular routine and to meet local people with similar interests to me.
Feeling At Home Abroad
If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel at home within a relatively short period and it’s a great feeling to have come to terms (at least to some degree) with new languages, cultures, food and transport in a country different to your own.
For me, the worst thing about settling in to a new home abroad was I then felt too settled and I hated moving on! If you’re planning on moving abroad, I hope this becomes your biggest problem too.