I’ve lived in five countries on four continents over the last 15 years and I am fortunate to say that I always found a home away from home. It never came easy, but I always knew that every move abroad holds endless opportunities to dive into a foreign culture, to get to know interesting people and to fall in love with new places.
If your career takes you to a place far from home, it is important to build a life outside of work if you’re serious about being happy there. These three tips have always helped me settle in quickly:
1. Prepare yourself mentally
For me, preparation is key. A plane will take you to a totally new environment in just a few hours. Everything you see, feel and hear will be new. You will be surrounded by strangers speaking a language you don’t understand. This is often quite overwhelming and some people retreat into a mental and physical shell. Obviously, it takes time to process all this new information; however, if you come prepared, you’ll adapt to your new environment even faster.
Gather some information about your new location. Find out about the local specialties, what’s the local sport, what do people do in their free time. Maybe you have a colleague or friend who can share their experience with you. Knowing about these things will give you some orientation upon arrival.
I recommend planning your first week. It will help you to explore your new home right from the start.
2. Stay curious and embrace cultural differences
When I lived in the Indian countryside, I often found myself in situations where people were irritated by my actions. I am left handed and consequently found it quite difficult using only my right hand when eating, which – for good reasons – is the local custom. It led to awkward silences at the table when I forgot to pay attention.
I quickly learned that what might seem harmless to me could actually be considered rude or offensive to other people. Don’t ignore cultural nuances – instead, embrace the differences, be curious and ask people about local customs. You’ll learn that people appreciate your interest in their lives and I’ve found that in quite a few cases they’ll gladly share even more than you ask them to.
3. Look for a team
Nothing beats team sports if you quickly want to get to know new people. No matter where I’ve lived, I always engaged in different ones. I played hockey in Uruguay, softball in Canada, and handball in Chile. Before joining these teams, I had never even played these sports and it was never a problem. Sport transcends cultural differences. It even helps you to overcome language barriers. My team members explained the rules to me with their hands and feet and it always worked out. Soon, my teammates became friends. We gelled together by team spirit. Consequently, I also always found someone to ask for help and advice off the court, so don’t miss out on this opportunity and make sure you bring your sports gear wherever you move.
Moving abroad can be quite overwhelming, but if you come prepared, stay curious and use the power of sport to meet new people, you will always see that it is possible to find a new home away from home. Obviously, my tips are just a starting point. You might have also made some experiences that have helped you to settle in quickly.