I’ve traveled a lot and lived in six countries. I’ve been through the good and the bad of moving from one place to the next. I’ve fallen into the pitfalls and enjoyed the highs. In this article, I share from my learnings.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s that it is possible to build a life in a foreign country and be happy with it! Here is how to start a new life in a new country and prevent unnecessary stress.
People are friendly
I’ve been stuck with no money in Paris. I’ve had car breakdowns in the middle of nowhere in California. I’ve been lost in the streets of Marrakech at night. Each and every time, someone helped me. Why? Because I asked for it. Nine times out of ten, people will help travelers.
Something I learnt early on when traveling is always to ask for help when needed. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language fluently (most people are flattered if you just try), or if you aren’t at your most presentable. A smile and a genuine wish to be helped will make most people want to help you.
Of course, use your judgment. Don’t ask the wrong people for help. Don’t let strangers into your home. Don’t stop in a deserted street in a slum at night. Learn about the place you are going to so you know the pitfalls, but whenever something happens—whether you need to get hold of a doctor or you need to find your way—ask for help.
Find other foreigners
You won’t be the only expat in town unless you’ve chosen a village of fifty people. Even so, there’s probably a larger city nearby. Expats go through the same things you do—the same difficulties with their paperwork (and there’s always some, trust me), the same language barriers, the same culture shocks and so forth. It’s good to know some so you can find support and ask for advice.
You find other foreigners through:
- InterNations: a forum and meet up group for expats.
- Facebook groups: search for groups like “Swedes in Cape Town” or “Expats in Paris”
- Publications: in Paris, there’s Le Fusac, for example, which is a free magazine for expats
- Google classes in English/bilingual classes in whatever it is your hobbies are. In Paris, there are a lot of English and bilingual (French and English) drama classes (which is what interested me when I lived there).
- Church: most countries tend to set up a church in bigger cities around the world. These churches become a social gathering place for people of that nationality. Sometimes the American church attracts all sorts of nationalities—anyone who speaks English, basically.
- Check out bloggers: You might just find that someone of your nationality lives in the city you are and is blogging about their experiences. If they sound cool, suggest getting a coffee together.
- Google things like “Americans in Athens” and you’re sure to find some society/social group that’s dedicated to this.
- Join A Small World (ASW): it’s an online private members club for travelers where people are usually keen to meet up if you’re new in town. They also host events all over the world. Similar to InterNations, but a bit less about the meet ups and more about the hook ups and business opportunities.
Meet up groups
Meet up is a lifesaver when you move cities. There are meet ups for everything from screenwriters and entrepreneurs to party goers and fashionistas. It’s the easy way to find friends with similar hobbies.
When you first arrive in a new town, instead of having pre-arranged long-term living, try using Couchsurfing for the first week or two so you get to stay with locals who can show you the city. This site is for travelers who offer their couch for free, and many people now travel the world this way.
The site is also for members to arrange social events, which usually happen frequently in any big city.
The great thing is that every person on the site gets reviewed, so you won’t end up staying with some douchebag. The only trouble is you need reviews to get invited to stay with someone as well, so get your friends to sign up and review you as friends (don’t lie and say you only slept on their couch) to get the ball rolling.
Or, just start attending events in the city you are currently in and ask people to review you.
Private membership clubs
If, like me, you are creative, there are membership clubs just for this. Some smart person figured out a lot of creative people work from home as freelancers and like to get out and mingle.
So, clubs like SoHo House and the likes started popping up everywhere. Now, there are also places for co-working space if you, indeed, happen to be a freelancer who wants to meet other people.
Some membership clubs offer special deals for younger people as well. Sometimes they will ask for a reference from other members, but if you play it big that you’re new in town, it might just work. Chances are if you start mingling in town, you will soon enough find a member to introduce you anyway.
If you’re keen to get dating as soon as possible, online dating sites and apps like Tinder will help you along. Just remember that it’s just as important to build your social life.
* There will come a time when you have a flu, miss your family and feel like you just want to run away. It’s normal. Let it pass. It will pass.
* There will also, likely, be a couple of months when you feel lonely. No matter how many social events you attend. Plus, you might have to go to the events alone and the people you meet won’t always be people you want to be friends with.
In fact, the people you first start hanging out with might turn out to be temporary friends. It takes time to build a social circle you really enjoy, though it does sometimes happen over night. You just never know.
* Even when you don’t feel like it, go out. Go to the gym, go to the coffee shop, take classes in your hobbies, attend social events and discover meet-up groups. You just never know where your new best friend is lurking.
* When sick and in doubt, call a doctor. You are alone. You might need help. Don’t be proud.
* You will need to challenge yourself, be it to speak a new language or to go to social events you’re scared of attending on your own. At home, other people could help you with things you now have to do yourself.
* You knew where everything was and how everything worked. Now, you will have to find out. And, chances are you will do something socially awkward at some point as you come from a different culture. It’s OK. It’s how we grow.
* If you really find doing the social bit by yourself scary, read Nail Strauss’s The Game. Yes, it’s a pick-up book, but it’s also a great insight into how easy it is to talk to strangers and how much strangers want you to talk to them.
After all, everyone came to the party to make friends and/or find love/lust. I’ve heard the classic How to Make Friends and Influence People is also great in this arena—and possibly a bit more on point.
* Laugh. Laugh at your bloopers. See it as a sitcom where you have the lead. Also, read The Xenophobe’s Guide to… if it’s available for the country you’re going to. Read blogs from people who have been new to the place you are going to.
It will help you to avoid some disasters and make you laugh at others as you recognize yourself. If that doesn’t make you laugh enough, watch a comedy to perk yourself up on days when you’ve screwed up.
* Give it six months and give it your all those six months. Then make a decision. Before that, you’re still going through the trauma and exhilaration of being in a new place.
* Moving countries is hard: it’s an adventure, it’s thrilling and it can be the best thing you ever do. You just have to bear in mind there is a transition period; during this period, challenge yourself to learn about the new culture and go out as much as possible to meet new people.
* Do join Couchsurfing, Meet Up, ASW and so forth. Do take classes, join a gym and sit at a coffee shop as opposed to at home. And, when it gets too much, buy a bucket of ice cream and watch a comedy. Homesickness can and will pass. Soon, you will be homesick for your new home!