You’ve decided to move abroad for an extended period of time. Culture shock is a thing and can cause loads of anxiety and fear for some. When I moved to Spain at the ripe age of twenty in my Ugg boots and Unniversity hoodie, I experienced this first hand and the struggle was real. I had never been abroad nor did I know the language. I didn’t honestly know anything about Spain, full stop. With some trial and error, Ok a lot of trial and error- I became accustomed to the lifestyle.
However, there are things I wish I would have known to do right away to make my transition easier. These things might seem like common sense but I assure you, they are not. First of all, if you think moving abroad is similar to Diane Lane moving under the Tuscan Sun or filled with celebrity cameos like an Olsen twin movie, you’ll be majorly disappointed. It is hard and it is a struggle, but don’t most great things come out of pain in the name of improving yourself? Fighting with the bank and trying to remember how to ask for a stamp in Spanish is an uphill battle. Despite all of the drama, I know it was the best decision I ever made and I would do it again. To be honest, I might actually do it again eventually because it was such an amazing time in my life. ALL my expat friends will tell you the same about their experiences as well. I will always support and promote living abroad, but here are five things you can do it to make this life change just a bit easier.
Use These Sites To Find Someone Who Has Been In Your Shoes
I discovered this site after a few months of wandering around whispering ‘American?’ in the streets like a crazy hoping to meet someone, just to talk about things with. After this brilliant discovery, I met some of my dearest friends and it truly helped to meet people who had gone through what I was currently. My first day was with a Hawaiian girl named Lilia who was living with her boyfriend, Josep. We decided to meet at an Irish pub because, why not? It went very well and we were both talking a mile a minute because we could finally speak at our true speed! I hadn’t realized how s-l-o-w I had gotten used to talking.
No matter how nice it is meeting expats, getting to know the locals is very important too! Chances are better that other Americans or Expats who have been living there awhile, know some locals and can even facilitate introductions to help get you into a group of friends. Something which is often hard to break into, no matter the country.
People Watching is Underrated
My favorite thing to do is to sit on a patio in the sun and people watch. You can really learn a lot from that and your first few weeks in a new place is a perfect way to start leanring about the culture. One particular day I parked myself on a corner terrace with a cafe con leche, croissant, and nothing else but a notebook. How the women dressed, what they talked about- I practiced translating as I listened to bits and pieces of conversation. I observed what they ordered and took note. I walked around the city and did the same, what products did they have in the carts at the grocery store? Which bars and shops were the busiest? Do this discreetly of course, nobody likes a creeper, but truly it is the best way to learn and discover things that would otherwise take you awhile to pick up! Plus, you will see that people are people no matter the country! Little Spanish grandmas do the same things as little American grandmas and kids are kids no matter the country. It might make approaching locals a little less daunting!
Find the Familiar
Any hobbies you had in your home country can probably be found in your new one. For me, it was dancing. While there wasn’t hip-hop or jazz, there was Indian Bollywood! I embraced the new foot work and had the best time with it-now I am looking for the same thing back in the states. Another obvious comfort, is food. Oh how I craved the blue box Macaroni and Cheese. I longed for peanut butter. I searched for shops that carried familiar American items and although overpriced, I would splurge sometimes if I was really feeling homesick. Othertimes, my husband and I would go to Hard Rock Cafe. Sounds funny, but the food tastes the same in any chain anywhere and french fries were so very welcomed when I needed the familiarity. Movies in Original Version and even an Irish pub can give you a break when you are overwhelmed with a new culture on a daily basis. Don’t be ashamed of needing a respite once in awhile!
Do your Research
There are many resources out there to help you with paperwork, and it is always better to start as soon as you know you are going. It can take 90 days or longer to get sorted. Since I love researching, I’ve done some for you incase you don’t.
A few good sites are Currency Fair , Transitions Abroad, Expat Women and USA.gov for important information regarding taxes, currency, embassy information and more. If you know where you’ll be living, see if Google street view is an option and check it out before you arrive to get an idea of what your new neighborhood is like. Find out where the closest bank and supermarket is or anywhere you think you’ll need ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling last minute to find one in a pinch. Forget about bringing hair dryers, straighteners or anything with a plug as converters aren’t the most reliable. I once melted my curling iron because the voltage was too strong. You can buy it all there!
Comparing Home to Your New Country is No Bueno
It’s very easy to do and if it happens negatively, it will take you out of the moment and tarnish something you already are obviously disliking. Was Spain often inefficient and slow? Yes, all the time! I was often annoyed when shops would close between the hours of 2 and 5 for ‘siesta’ when those were my hours I was able to run errands. However, whining about how I wanted a 24 hour Target wasn’t going to make the shop open and it certaintly didn’t make me feel better. Instead, I had a siesta with the rest of em’ in a-if you can’t beat em join um kind of way. Making conscious choices to roll with it will make any rough experiences all the better!
And truly, the best thing you can do is remember why you made the leap to move in the first place. I haven’t ever met anyone who regretted moving abroad but I have heard time and time again people who have regretted staying behind. ‘The American Dream’ of having a house in the ‘burbs, a 9-5 job and a couple of little ones is all well and good but there is an a world out there to explore and it’s ours for the taking! If you can, go for it and then tell me all about it! You may meet the love of your life, make lifelong friends, learn a new language-anything can happen when you step outside of your comfort zone and into a new timezone.
Any other questions? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer! If you are currently living abroad, tag yourself on instagram with #wanderfullifestyle and share your story!