This is part two of “What They Don’t Tell You About Moving Abroad” and it’s all about feeling at home. If you’re looking for part one, it’s all about how to prepare before you leave your home country.
Feeling at home in your new country can really make or break your experience. And because we want you to have an amazing experience in a new country, we have some suggestions on doing what you can do to make it great!
Make a home
When finding a new home, research the market before leaving (even if you aren’t buying/renting before you move). Know how quickly things move, if there are agency fees (or if they are illegal as many cases in Amsterdam are!), what average rent is, etc.
Do you need it furnished or unfurnished? We definitely recommend staying in a short-term place before you rent so you can scope out neighborhoods to see what feels right for you. We used Airbnb to get started and were lucky enough for the owner of the apartment to offer us a short-term lease to register ourselves.
Bring pieces of home. Have something that grounds you and makes you feel safe. We have a few framed pictures/prints. Most of these are of Amsterdam or from other travels, but we also have some from our wedding and honeymoon and a print of our college. It means the world to me and represents when I became who I am.
Now that you have a new home city, you need to find time to explore! I would first suggest acting like a tourist. Head to the tourism office, grab a city card (or just a map with suggestions) and start discovering your new surroundings. That way, when people come to visit, you can show them around!
Of course, you don’t always need a map. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little lost. Since I lived in the same town for 18 years of my life, moving to college in an unfamiliar area was frustrating. I didn’t know north from south or town from town. So, I just drove around. It didn’t take long to figure out how to get to the shopping center, the movie theater, or my favorite restaurant!
Find out what local festivals are going on. This is where you’ll get a good feel for your new home. They are fun, full of local foods, and people just doing what they do. Have fun and expand your bubble!
Stay in touch
Once you get to your new country, it will be exciting to catch up with people from home and you’ll be excited to tell them all about the new “weird” things and the immigration annoyances. But at some point, you’ll just be living life. It’s not as exciting and routine will find a way back in your life.
The time difference can be a challenge and something to keep in mind when planning your Skype calls. I suggest grabbing a Google voice number before leaving the U.S. (if that’s where you are coming from) as it makes dealing with things in the states MUCH less stressful as it’s a free call to cell phones and landlines. You can get a local number for your hometown making it easier for people to call you. Granted, unless you find a way around it, it’s best for the computer, so they can leave you a message and you can call back later.
The old adage, “out of sight, out of mind” is very true. It takes work to basically do the same social routine as you used to while creating a new social circle. You will lose some friends, and some friendships may get stronger. And hopefully, you have family that understands that we aren’t all good at staying in touch unless there is something to share. And even then, sometimes it’s just easier to write it down in a blog post or a Facebook status to share with everyone so you don’t have to say the same thing a dozen times!
Making a Network
This is important! The biggest reason expats leave their new homes is that they didn’t feel like they fit in and they didn’t make friends. Find your people! I have friends from very different circles, a good variety makes for great parties.
I go into detail on many ways to find new friendships when you are in a new place. If you have additional ones to add, please let me know in that post! Just always be open to meeting people. You really never know where you might make a new friend.
If possible, I suggest finding some people from your home country that might share in some similar traditions. Of course, it’s great to share your traditions with others, I mean, don’t you enjoy learning new things? Others will too! But it’s nice for things to be effortless sometimes. So, yes, we did Christmas with Americans, and we’ll do Thanksgiving this year with some Americans and some Dutch friends.
Locals make great friends too! To really be part of the culture, you’ll have to learn how to act, where to go, what to do. What better way to do that than with people who know? They’ll know all the cool places too. It’s all about having an enriching experience.
If you’ve worked on your networking, then hopefully finding a job might not be so difficult. Talk to your friends and let them know you are looking! We all need a little help in the beginning. Maybe consider visiting a career coach at the beginning. Some work specifically to help expats with integration and teach them how the job search and interview process might differ than what they are used to.
Speaking English makes traveling around the world a bit easier sometimes, but if it’s the ONLY language you speak, it might be a bit harder to find employment. So, look into industries that are very international…or maybe a U.S., U.K., Australia, or New Zealand based company where the main language would be English.
Keep your LinkedIn up-to-date! There are great websites that give advice on how to utilize LinkedIn to its fullest. I really like LinkedIn Makeover because it really helped me straighten mine out! Check them out and see if there’s anything you can tweak to get found.
Learning a new language is hard. I don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. Unless you are learning it when you are young, it can be difficult. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I know plenty of people who learned languages as an adult. You can too!
Classes and tutors can be pricey, but depending on the type of course, it could be exactly what you need. If that’s not an option for you. I actually really enjoyed Rosetta Stone (pricey–but you get it for a year). I think the format of the program it is is quite helpful and I felt I was more prepared by using it.
Free is always good. Ok–usually good. In the case of Duolingo and Memrise, there are easy daily activities that you can stay on top of and you can get the app. A little bit each day is the least you can do!
Do you have Meetup.com in your city? Check and see if there is a language meetup! Some are free, some ask for a small donation (I’ve seen 2 euro asked), and some might be a little more. But if a casual environment is what you’re after, maybe that’s the way to go.
Being an expat can be so challenging and so rewarding at the same time. Being pushed a bit outside of your comfort zone is good and helps with growth. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it! I hope this post – as well as part one – helps you to decide if expat life if right for you, and how to power through the frustrations to create the life you want.
Remember that today is the first day to the rest of your life. How do you want to spend it? Make friends? Getting settled? Finding a job? Learning a language?