…to move abroad, that is?
Before my first trip abroad, in January 2008, I had no idea what living in another country was like. Naturally. I could have, and did, read anything and everything that came my way, devouring Spain for Dummies and Study Abroad 101. I searched high and low on Google for hints, tips, and tricks to surviving in a foreign country. Google did not lack such tips. Indeed, the Internet has what one might call an overabundance of such inside information.
Luckily for you, dear reader, I’m here to add to the myriad advice.
- Be flexible. This is my number one tip for a reason. Travel is nothing if not unpredictable. Living abroad can lull you into thinking that everything is routine, going swimmingly, when BAM! Something sideswipes you and knocks you off your proverbial feet. You have to be prepared to adjust, adapt, and not get flustered. (This is one of my weaknesses, I’ll admit.
- Independence. It takes a while to make friends, to set down roots in a place. If you’re like me, you may feel as though you’re floundering for a while, reaching out again and again and yet ending up with no “real” friends. It helps to be self-confident and independent, to realize that those friendships will evolve. Eventually.
- Openmindedness. Things are done differently in Spain (and in China, in Brazil, in Iceland, etc.) Shocking, I know. But you may not be able to find peanut butter or fresh milk. You may have to learn how to get to the bank when it’s only open from 9-2. You may find a place quite politically incorrect. You may deal with stereotypes of Americans. You may find a cultural tradition to be shocking, even immoral, whatever that word means to you. That’s okay…just remember, you seem weird to them, too.
- Courageousness. If you move abroad, you’ll most likely be speaking in a foreign language. You’ll have to suck it up and just do the things that make you uncomfortable. When I first got to Spain, even going to the post office was an exercise in courage. I mean, when you aren’t even sure how to say envelope, the experience can be difficult, let alone when you don’t understand the whole “take a number” process.
- Perserverance. You can’t give up the first time you really screw up. It’s going to happen. Face it. You may have visa issues. You may find yourself lost while trying to get home. You might, at one point, be convinced that you’ll never learn, never understand, never fit in. That’s the real turning point – will you give up? or will you keep on truckin’? I hope, for your sake, that you’ll keep on keepin’ on.
So, fellow expats, what advice do you have for those who are just starting (or hoping to start) their experience abroad?