Imagine having the opportunity to experience a totally new culture. Adapting to living abroad can be an exhilarating and daunting experience whether you’re planning to move abroad permanently or just going for a gap year. Any type of change can bring about a mixture of feelings, let alone uprooting yourself to a totally new environment.
I’ve been living in France for almost 7 years and even though I moved from London to Paris “over the pond so to speak” the cultural shock is real. Adjusting to living abroad is a challenge in itself.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up from personal experiences living in a foreign country (some the hard way) that I would love to share for all you out there who are consumed by wanderlust.
1. Positive Attitude is Everything from the Moment You Land Onwards
When adjusting to life in another country it’s all about how you deal with the situation. Keeping an open mind is crucial. In that way you will be willing to accept change and try out new things. Try not to compare too much the ways things are back home. I fell into this trap and wish I hadn’t been so caught up comparing as I feel it's time I wasted.
2. Get ALL YOUR DOCUMENTS READY at LEAST 1 WEEK before DEPARTURE
It’s a good idea to do some research before you leave. Things such as having accommodation sorted and having up-to-date administrative documents that you might need. That way you won’t feel like a deer in headlights once you arrive.
3. Set Yourself a Goal
This one isn’t a must; you can totally do the laissez-faire style travelling and go with the flow. I myself had to re-evaluate the purpose of why I wanted to live abroad. What were the things I wanted to gain from it?
Once I had a clear idea of what I wanted, then I knew what steps to take to achieve it. I wanted to improve my French language skills and truly experience the French way of life, whilst maintaining my own identity.
4. Communication is Key
I'm not at all fluent in French and I had my go-to phrase “Parlez-vous Anglais?”. I had a mental block and would panic and revert back to speaking English. The language barrier does get easier with time but I still have my ‘blank’ moments. I think it’s important not to get disheartened if it takes you longer than expected to learn the language.
Another thing I learned was that spoken French is completely different to textbook French. There are slang terms that you will pick up through trial and error.
It's a good idea to enroll yourself in a language class. This can give a structure to your learning. A quick way to enforce this is to change your mobile phone settings to the language you are trying to learn. This will subconsciously reinforce your language learning through functions such as auto-correct spellings and vocabulary.
5. Be Adventurous and Explore
Get out of your comfort zone and try something that you wouldn’t usually do. Go sight-seeing or wander around: you never know what gems you might discover.
Try a new restaurant or do an activity that interests you. Once you have completed it you will feel an immense sense of accomplishment. After all, you want to gain the most from your experience abroad. It’s a great way to broaden your horizons and challenge ideas and perceptions that you had.
6. Get out There and Socialize
Make friends with local people who you can practice the language with. They will also have an abundant amount of local knowledge that is invaluable.
They can tell you about places to see and things to do as well as helping you understand the system better.
I did get stuck in an ‘English bubble’ living in France as I was comfortable with my English-speaking friends. I was happy that I could communicate with people in a similar situation as me. However, in order to progress, I had to find a balance as well as challenge myself.
7. Fake It Till You Make It !
When living abroad shifting from being a tourist to true local is one of the hardest things I found to do. And I still don’t consider myself to be a local Parisian, I’m still in the process of learning. One way to achieve this is to totally immerse yourself in every way possible.
A good way to achieve this is to find a job, an internship or a volunteering program. You can practice your language skills and it’s a good way to meet new people and get out and about. Try to watch movies and programs in the local language and read newspapers, magazines or blogs, in short whatever catches your interest.
8. Tickle Your Taste Buds
What better way to experience a culture than through food? You can start by tasting the local delicacies. Find the specialist shops and experience the overall ambiance. The French are known for their chilled-out bistros and cafes.
You can include local dishes in your weekly menus and try to make them at home. You can get really creative with this and hunt around for local produce.
9. #Treat Yourself
I absolutely love exploring French pharmacies that is where I find the best skincare gems. Whether you're into makeup or fashion find something that interests you and treat yourself. What better way to learn about a country than to have a little shopping spree?
10. Keep Connected
Living in a foreign country has its positives and negative points. One thing is for sure is that there will be a day where you will get homesick. Don’t totally cut yourself off from friends and family from back home. Use social media to keep connected. Your friends and family can see what you’re up too and it becomes a sort of journal about your travels and experiences. I couldn’t do without my weekly Facetime call to my mum.
11. It Takes Time
Initially, there is a honeymoon period but when that wears off it can get quite frustrating. As I previously said it's about how you approach it. You could cut yourself off and hibernate in your home or you can take it as an adventure. There will be a light bulb moment where things will get easier and you will adapt to living abroad. That will only come with time.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Have you relocated to a foreign country or thinking of doing so? What was the hardest thing for you? Please share in the comments section.