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.

A group of friends sit together on the bicycles in front of a fountain in a park. friendship, bonding, guided tour, outdoors
Plan your first week. Why don’t you take a guided bike tour around the city to get to know the area?

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.

A group of woman stand together wearing traditional Indian clothing. family, culture, tradition, India
The more distant a culture is to you, the more you will learn and grow. Just stay curious.

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.

A group of children stand together holding a team flag after their team sport in front of a goal. teamwork, teammates sports, achievement, success
Join a local sports club. You don’t need to speak the language as long as you share the same passion for sports.

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.

I would love to hear your tips in the comments below.

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by Lena 04.04.2018
So true! Great tips! I’d add: Don’t take yourself too seriously when you fail or end up in an awkward situation. It will happen for sure, far away from home, so better focus on the positive things and laugh! :-)
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by Annalena Lena 05.04.2018
Thank you, Lena! I cannot agree more. In the end these awkward situations probably will make the best memories – or stories at least!
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by Chris 05.04.2018
great article! I made the experience that topics like: favorite local dish, band or sports team work very good as an icebreaker in conversations.
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by Katherina 11.04.2018
I cannot agree more with your tips, thank you for sharing. I just moved one week ago to a new country which language I don't speak (yet).
Your comment motivated me to start already now looking for a handball team whereas I initially thought of waiting a bit to learn the language first.
Another experience which I would like to share is that sometimes it is worth while also to not planned too much for your first weeks, but to be open to spontaneous decisions. After my first working week I was really exhausted and decided to use the weekend to catch up with sleep and then just walk around the city, drinking coffee and feel the atmosphere around me. For me that helped realizing where I am and getting familiar with my surrounding.
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by Annalena Katherina 11.04.2018
Hey Katharina,
I am super happy to hear that! I can assure you that looking for a handball team already is a great decision. It really helped me to get to know a lot of new people/friends and settle in so much quicker!
And I also totally agree that you should take your time to get to know the city - stroll around and stop at nice coffee shops is definitely one of them. I wish you all the luck at your new home away from home!
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