After all of your researching and planning, you’ve decided on a destination and have begun to pack. You attempt to sift through your belongings—distinguishing wants from needs—but still struggle to envision your new life abroad and what it will entail. Will you make friends? Will you be accepted? Will things go as smoothly as you hope? One of the best pieces of advice I received from a friend before my own migration was “Don’t have any expectations. Then you can’t be disappointed.” I took her advice. I prepared myself mentally to enter a barren wasteland. I didn’t count on finding favorite foods or making friendships. I went expecting so little that I was consistently grateful for most of what I encountered. But if I could’ve given myself some advice after six years of living abroad, it would be as follows:
Scout your new terrain virtually.
With an abundance of expat websites and forums, you have a fertile ground for finding answers to your seemingly endless list of questions. The unwritten rules about being an expat include making the next person’s landing a little smoother than your own. Often, you can find dedicated recommendations and frequently asked questions that help you decide what to bring or leave behind. But more importantly, you can find information to help you formulate realistic expectations for what a new locale can offer you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but keep in mind that that there are some answers you’ll never fully know until you’re on the ground—seeing and experiencing it for yourself.
While scouring the web and making your inquiries, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. There’s no commitment to become best friends with every contact you make, but it helps you connect with likeminded individuals. Similarly, the appropriate answers for your questions require some knowledge of you, the questioner. You may find co-nationalists residing in your new home abroad, but there is no guarantee that their values, social life, and interests will be akin to yours. It may actually surprise you to discover a new cadre of colleagues awaiting you that share common interests but whose nationalities span the globe.
Plan for homesickness.
Naturally, we long for the familiar. Places, faces, and experiences furnish our concept of home. Even when your home country is less than ideal in one way or another, you might find yourself missing it. In addition to keeping in touch with your family and friends, it’s important to create a new community right where you are. Having even a single companion for an occasional meal or outing helps to stave off the longing you feel to return home. Filling your free time with new or old hobbies is another way to keep your mind busy with the present, instead of lamenting over the past. If you’re not likely to find your favorite cuisine in your new locale, bring familiar spices and specialty ingredients for an occasional comfort meal. Try to make your new home aesthetic and comforting to all of your senses so that it can be a true sanctuary and refuge for you when difficult times arise.
It’s important to remember that every region, country, and town has its advantages and limitations. Relocation requires reorientation. Sometimes you have to adjust to the weather, language, culture, and a different set of norms. The transition may be frustrating, but be clear about your purpose for moving abroad and try to focus on the benefits to be accrued and not the losses. If your move is short-term, soak up the experience for what it’s worth. If your move is long-term, constantly evaluate your circumstances and don’t be afraid to modify your plan for the sake of sustainability. Be aware of the socioeconomic and political climate around you and be wise enough to move on if a particular place no longer suits you.
This article was originally published on Ethos International.