As I climbed back into bed with our morning coffees, the crisp Autumn air flowing through the windows, I had a little revelation.
‘Rodolpho, do you realise that if we were to break it down, we have lived in a different city for every year that we’ve been together?’
It’s true. Seven years and seven cities, across four countries and three continents. Not bad, eh? And suitably jet setting for a couple that met on an aeroplane, somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we have moved once every year, but we have spent a significant amount of time in each of them. That, my friend, is a lot of packing. Add to that the six years that we had each spent before we met living overseas, and you’ve got yourself a set of passports which are positively riddled.
I left Scotland straight after graduating from university, and bar six months spent in Edinburgh and Glasgow, I have been living abroad for twelve years. It takes a certain type of personality to not only enjoy, but to cope with so many new places, and often without initially speaking the language. You need to be adventurous, yes, but you also need to have a thick skin, and an innate ability to adapt. Plonking yourself down somewhere brand new takes an awful lot of effort, and there are many things to be tackled. New job, new house, new friends, new language, new local bar, new arthouse cinema, and lots and lots of paperwork. It can be tough, but if you put the effort in, it can also be one of the most rewarding and exciting ways to live.
Being an old hand at the international shuffle, I have a checklist for things to do to help me settle in and feel at home. For those of you who are considering a move, or have perhaps just arrived, suitcase in hand and eyes wide with wonder in a new city, I have put together my top tips for feeling like a local.
Find some friends
It is absolutely essential to your mental well-being to have at least one person who you can call a friend when you arrive somewhere new. It requires effort on your part to go looking for them, but it is most certainly worth your time. Meetup is a great place to start, and you will usually find some groups in every city (provided you’ve not just set up shop in the Amazon). A lot of the time you’ll go along to an event and find absolutely nobody that you connect with. You’ll be sat in the corner, shyly making conversation with someone who has less personality than a bar of soap, and wondering when you can slink away. But if you go to enough of them, and really push yourself to chat to people, you will find folk that interest you. In the beginning it’s a numbers game, so make sure you are putting yourself out there and just keep on going.
Find an expat group
Even though you should try as much as you can to assimilate yourself into the local community, it’s always good to have a few people who are also foreigners to talk to. Those who have lived overseas share a certain mentality, and they understand that sometimes it can be damn hard. Finding an international women’s group (if you’re a woman) is particularly helpful, and often you can make connections that can help you with other opportunities.
Learn the language
Living in a city where you don’t speak the language can be daunting. It takes a long time to be fluent, but start off by being able to say:
1 – 10
Can I have a…..?
Where is the….?
How much is….?
Sorry, I don’t speak…….
You will find that if you at least make the effort to speak the language, people will be much more receptive to you. Nobody minds if you’re not fluent, but just speaking English (or whichever language your native tongue is) and assuming that they will be happy to reciprocate can often make people cold or hostile. Sign up for language classes as soon as you can, but the above will see you through in the beginning.
Learn a bit about the culture
Every culture has its own quirks, and this can be miss-interpreted if you don’t understand it. You might think that someone is being rude, when actually they are just being straight forward. There are a lot of articles for every country to help you learn more about the nuances of their culture, just have a Google and see what you find. If, like me, you are in Germany, you can have a look at this blog to help you understand why you’re the only one wearing your swimming costume in the sauna.
Find your local
When I’ve moved in to my new home, I like to scout the area for a gorgeous little coffee shop or bar that I can make my local. Be extra nice to the staff, and tip well. You’ll find that you are soon greeted like a regular, it makes all the difference feeling like you are welcome somewhere when you feel so far from home.
Find Facebook events
It’s important to enjoy your new city, and there’s no better way to do that than by getting stuck straight in to the local culture. Almost every nearby event will be listed on Facebook, so start saving those that you’re interested in, be it live music, food festivals, art exhibitions, or sports. It’s a great chance to discover new venues and clubs, and to meet likeminded people.
Realise that it’s ok to feel lost sometimes
You are not failing if occasionally you feel lonely or a bit lost. Even the most frequent travellers will get a bit down from time to time, it’s completely natural. You are outside of your comfort zone, which means excitement and new experiences, but also feeling uncomfortable. It’s worth it, so give yourself a break and know that it will get better. Settling in takes time, but if you want to make it work, you will.
Are you living in a new city now? What are your best tips for feeling at home there?
Subscribe to my blog for more expat tips, and join the community.