Moving abroad is a challenge in itself, but it’s mostly a practical challenge. Once you have made the move, how do you ensure life in your new home country is as successful and fulfilling as possible? Here are some sensible tips about making the most of expat living.
Do your homework
The more prepared you are, the easier your life will be. That way you avoid unpleasant surprises. Make sure the whole family is involved with the research side of things, including your children, so everyone feels as though they have a stake in their future happiness.
What is your definition of success?
What does ‘successful’ mean in an expat living context? It helps to decide what your criteria for success are, so you know when you’ve achieved it.
Language isn’t everything
While learning the language is a good start, it isn’t everything. If you are working a short term contract somewhere like Singapore, for instance, English is generally good enough, since it is so widely spoken in the business world. If you are moving abroad long term, learning the local lingo is much more important if you want to fit in and feel at home.
Even if most people speak English in your new country, learning how to speak the basics of a new language can still open doors, helping you show respect for local people. If you can master things like hello and goodbye, thank you and you’re welcome, it will go a long way towards helping you fit in. And feeling as though you fit in is half the battle.
Nonverbal clues are also important. Remember that gestures mean different things in different countries, and research before you leave so you don’t end up embarrassing yourself or offending others. It’s much better to get it right first time than have to put it right afterwards!
Researching the working world
What about work? The management style you are used to might not have the same positive effect in your new home country. Again, research the way business works there before you go, so you don’t end up burning important bridges that it might be a challenge to rebuild. Expats who take the time and care to navigate cross-cultural minefields are usually happier than those who keep falling foul of them.
Expect culture shock
It’s wise to expect culture shock, no matter how prepared you are. At first everything seems exciting and fascinating. But once you have been there a while, frustrations can soon come to the surface. Rather than either fight against things you don’t feel comfortable with or do the opposite and dive right in to the deep end, it is probably best to take things easy and feel your way towards solutions that you can live with.
Adopting local dress the second you get there might not be your best choice, but ignoring local customs and going your own way might be equally unwise. As a general rule, give yourself time to settle in. Don’t expect instant perfection. Once you ease into your new host culture, you will become less aware of the cultural differences, unfamiliar situations and habits. Given time, you will become better at decoding and preventing cross-cultural conflict before it arises.
Talk, talk, talk
Talk openly about everything rather than pretending everything is OK when it isn’t. If your family has moved with you, be there to listen and support each other. If your partner is relocating for your sake, they will need just as much support as you, sometimes more if you have a job to go to and they don’t. Set up an expat support network before you leave so they have people to turn to while you are busy finding your feet in the business world.
School can wait…
It is very important to find the right school. It may be much better to wait until you find the perfect school than rush into things and have to move your children later. Take time to explore the schools and facilities, and involve your children in the decision to give them the best chance of feeling happy and fitting in.
Does the school you like best have a welcome group for new parents? If so, grab the opportunity – it may help you settle in even faster and can provide a ready-made support network of like-minded people.
You are living in someone else’s home country, so it is down to you to integrate yourself, not the other way round. Make a conscious effort to pick up the local culture. It’s a really good idea to ask locals for help if you get stuck.
Can you get involved with your children’s school? Maybe there are informal organisations or groups you can join through work? There might be a ready-made expat community you can tap into. The more you involve yourself with life in your new home country, the easier you’ll find fitting in.
Stick at it
It might be tempting to rush home at every opportunity, but it won’t help you settle in. Invite your family to visit you instead, and take holidays in your new home country.
Acknowledge it won’t always be plain sailing
Never underestimate the pressure moving abroad can put on everyone concerned. When you prepare for the possibilities in advance, they are much easier to handle. On the positive side, dealing with problems together tends to bring families together. When you put in the extra effort, you should find you become even closer. There will be bad days – it’s inevitable – but a sense of humor will help.
What about your best tips?
What is your best tip for a successful and fulfilling expat experience? You can leave a comment below, or connect with us on Twitter @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.