Living abroad is different from any other type of meaningful travel, particularly if you do not have a set date to return to your home country. The ambiguity of living abroad changes the way you consider your new digs and how you adapt to a new environment. The following tips about living abroad contain advice I frequently share with study abroad students but also include specific advice geared towards long-term visitors and expats. As someone who has lived abroad a few times and is currently living abroad right now, here are a few of my Do’s and Don’ts.
Let Go of Your First Culture
Don’t bring a suitcase full of your favorite granola bars with you to your new home. The sooner you become comfortable with your new ‘granola bar substitute’ the better! Clinging to your first culture doesn’t allow you to fully immerse into a new culture.
Living Abroad is Different, But Not Better
Remind yourself that the local way is different but it’s not better or worse. Grading aspects of the culture and local ways will drive you into depression.
You will experience culture shock. Work Through It.
No matter how old or how experienced a traveler you are you will experience some degree of culture shock from the honeymoon phase of euphoria and newness to the adapting stage. Accept it and work through it.
Don’t talk politics!
Critiquing local politics can create instant enemies and bashing your own government won’t make you feel much better. Be careful when you throw your opinions out that they are not offered as a lecture from the rich and successful.
Don’t Get Ripped Off, But Don’t Be Paranoid
This is particularly difficult in a developing country where you are often seen as a way to make a quick and easy buck. Don’t become so paranoid about being ripped off that you reject a friendly gesture or haggle endlessly over pennies.
Get Connected On-Site
You may not want to find the local American disco but the local American business group or English language newspaper may prove to be a valuable resource or community for you. For example the Tico Times (an English Language Paper) in Cost Rica provides info on how to legally own land or start a business. Local business communities are a great resource for working your way through the local systems.
Relax… But Don’t Get Too Relaxed!
In Latin America ex-pats often adapt quickly to the relaxed view on promptness. While this may suit you occasionally you may still find it difficult to deal with this characteristic when making plans with others. Sometimes going ‘too’ local can cause an internal struggle between what you want and what you expect from others.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Study abroad students who are victims of petty crime are often doing things they would never consider doing in a similar setting at home. The same goes for living abroad. Relax and understand the local culture, know the local health and safety risks.
Living Abroad is Great For Kids
If you have kids and they are moving abroad with you don’t worry, they will have an amazing experience. Children adapt and make friends quickly. Some aspects of the new environment will be challenging but ultimately they will share your love for travel and cultures.
This is the single most important advice I can give, the more you know the better prepared you will be for living abroad. The internet has made it very easy to find someone who has done what you are about to do.
Work, Volunteer, Teach & Engage
The best way to love your new home is to know your new neighbors and the best way to do that is to get engaged via a job or volunteer gig. If you are traveling with a partner or spouse and they are working you may quickly become dependent on them. Get out and get involved!
By living abroad you will be counted among a select group of truly global citizens. It will be an often challenging but overall rewarding experience!