The thought of moving abroad has always been a part of my dreams. Living life in what was the “normal” context was not appealing. The feeling was so strong that even when I was dating, I would ask their feelings to adventure through life outside of the U.S. However, living abroad does not come without challenges, and a mental struggle that will force many people back to the U.S. (or their country of origin). The expat life is not for the weak heart.
As I reflect on 4 years of living abroad, and doing business in a foreign country, here are some suggestions that I wish someone had given me.
Make connections before arrival.
This was the single most important advice that no one ever gave me. As you settle on where you will move and the business that you will conduct, begin making connections with others working the same or similar fields. Local groups exist which will be a valuable support network, and offer a way for one to begin automatically giving back to their host culture. Too many times, this gets overlooked, or people think they will grow their network upon arrival. However, this can be a slow process depending on the culture. Research and find out who the influencers and more interactive people in the community where you will move, and reach out to meet as soon as you arrive. Making connections before arrival will speed up trust building a relationship prior to setting foot in a country.
Social media is your friend.
Before leaving the U.S., I was warned of the “dangers” of being too active on social media when trying to adjust to a new life and culture. It would cause me to be too homesick, worsen culture shock, etc. For me, this was not the case. Social media can be and should be your friend for building your network, meeting new people outside of your normal context, and keeping up with current events that are not available because of language barriers. A majority of the people I meet come via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. I have been able to meet government officials because of one tweet. Relationships for me have started long before meeting someone for the first coffee or business meeting because of the interaction through social channels. Active and genuine engagement are important for social media and the personality that is put out there, but this is a later post.
Begin learning the language before departure.
Another valuable insight that did not get mentioned. Learning the language is important, and usually gets emphasized upon arriving in a new country. However, one can start prior to arrival. For most, hearing the language is a struggle. Before leaving for your new home, take time each day to listen to music, radio, or stories in the host culture’s language. This will begin tuning the ear to the new sounds. Most linguists say it can take up to 6 months of just listening before one truly hears the unique sounds. This is an easy task to complete each day while driving, working, cooking, etc. that will pay off in the long run. Also, learning simple phrases and introductory conversations is easily accessible online. There is no reason to wait. Start the learning process before departure.
Learn new skills. Adopt new hobbies.
I am an advocate for life long learning. Many people will pigeonhole themselves based on their degree or background. Never stop learning. Moving abroad is the perfect context to take up a new hobby or learn a new skill that has been sitting in the back of the mind. We are never truly defined by our past, and should look to move forward in our careers and activities. The internet makes acquiring new skills such as coding, marketing, along with other the skills highly accessible. Again, social media, will open opportunities to learn about local clubs and hobbies that peak our interest. For me, it was cycling, blogging, and photography. These have been two things that have introduced me to new people, and given me another creative outlet. Do not be afraid to try something new and stretch yourself.
Humility goes a long way.
a lesson continually learned: humility. Sometimes approaching a new culture can bring a sense of pride as if the one entering has something to teach their host. The opposite is actually more accurate. The one entering has much to learn from their host. Enter the new culture with humility willing to ask those you meet for help. A space of humility creates trust and builds friendships faster and stronger than acting in the reverse. Maybe this one was told to me, but I was not humble enough to receive it.
These are some suggestions for moving abroad. Some things can be done to help the transition process. Those mentioned have been what has impacted me the most. If you live abroad, where do you live? And What lessons have you learned?