When Granny Wanderlust was here visiting us in the summer she commented on how settled we seem. She’s always admired how we make the most of where we are. And she asked what I would say to new expats arriving here (or anywhere) for the first time.
I don’t think you can ever be truly settled in a place that you know you’ll leave. We’ve always known we were leaving other places but this place is different. Because we can’t stay.
As far as we can be I guess we are pretty settled. I am pretty proud of how we get on with things wherever we are. We do make the most of it, whether we want to be there or not.
And we always end up enjoying the experience.
13 Pieces of Advice for New Expats
1. Get Out of the House
Do it and do it every day.
Now I get it. In some places this is easier said than done. If you’ve moved to a place where you need to drive everywhere, you mightn’t be able to drive straight away or even ever. It might be a mission to leave the house and get somewhere else. You might live on a compound and have very little reason to leave on a day to day basis.
The advice still stands! Take a walk or get in the car and drive around. The first day I got a car I drove it round our compound with Thing 1 and we had a blast! 2.5 years into our assignment I still stick to this rule. The odd day on compound now is a fun relaxing time, not a cause for cabin fever.
A change of scene can really do you the world of good.
2. Be Spontaneous
Say yes. Say yes to everything.
Go out when you don’t want to. Accept that invitation to coffee or dinner or a play date. It gets you out of the house (check off advice no 1!) but it also gets you talking to people and making friends. It works both ways too… My friend Laura (of Life With Baby Kicks) sent out a distress signal when she arrived here not knowing anyone and I invited her for coffee having read one blog post. She was spontaneous in accepting but you know what? I was pretty spontaneous in inviting her too. Its not the sort of thing I do every day but I did it that day and we would be 4 friends down if I hadn’t. Not to mention my blog would have a different name (her husband thought it up and I love it!). To be honest I might not even have a blog at all!
You just never know what might happen today so just say YES!
3. Be Adventurous and Brave
Get stuck in!
My point is that you have made the decision to leave your comfort zone so make it fun! Make it an adventure! Get to know the culture. Do something or go somewhere you would never have done or gone to if you had stayed at home. Try new food or learn a new language. Do the exploring that you should have done at home but never did because it would always be there. There’s a stereotype about trailing spouses but I can assure you these days it’s very rarely true.
There have been so many times when I have left a location saying “I wish I had…”. Despite my best intentions I know that will happen again this time but only because my list is too long, not because I took the time for granted.
4. Be Friendly and Kind
You never know what sort of a day someone is having. They might have just received bad news from home. Their kid might have been up all night. They might be waiting on the next job move news. Or they might just be having a bad day. Everyone has bad days sometimes and bad days can seem so much worse when you’re far from home. Whatever the reason, most people are not intrinsically bad people and you can make their day better by extending a helping hand or just a smile.
The expat community is a super friendly and supportive community on the whole. When I had to go home for a family emergency last summer play dates were arranged my absence. Meals appeared on my doorstep and my kids got picked up from school… I hope it goes without saying that I look to repay those kind deeds wherever I can (and I tried to pay then forward before).
Random acts of kindness go a long way and will never work against you.
5. Avoid Negative People
Now. All that being said about being nice to people…There are SO many awesome people to meet on the expat trail.
BUT there are some people who are just going to complain about everything. That might be because of the situation they are in or it might be the type of person they are. You might know their background or you might meet them in passing and never know their story. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need negative people in your life at any time but you especially don’t need them when you are a new expat.
I still remember meeting the first people who we felt were genuinely having a brilliant time here. We’d only been here for 3 weeks when we met them and asked them how they found it. And instead of the slow inhale, lack of eye contact and mumbling about “yeah…its great…I mean it is what you make of it”… We got “We LOVE it!” with a bucket load of enthusiasm and 2 bright unwavering smiles. I immediately knew we needed them in our lives and I asked for her phone number on the way out. (Don’t think you could do that? See number 3 – be brave!!!) (PS Thanks Gemma!)
6. Be Positive
Negative people can bring you down but you can bring yourself down too. Look for the positives in the life around you. Life here isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but then again, where is it? There’s always 2 ways to look at things.
Gave up your career to move? Enjoy the time to pursue a new career or interest. Or be grateful for time spent with your kids.
Feeling far away from family and friends? Think of some super cool places you could meet them for a holiday. Can’t understand the locals? Take lessons and learn a new language. Missing the sport that you did at home but can’t do here? Take up a new one or learn a new hobby.
7. Let Yourself Whinge
We all have off days whether it is here or at home. Bottling it up doesn’t help and being Polly Positive about everything get annoying to everyone – including you! Have a vent but do it and move on. Don’t get caught up in those conversations that spiral and whip up negativity and discontent.
8. Find Your Tribe
They are there. I PROMISE!
Sometimes you’ll meet them in the first few weeks. Sometimes you’ll have to look for them. But they are there and you will find them.
Your tribe will understand you, let you vent, pick you up when you’re down and feed your kids when you’re exhausted. They will celebrate with you when your kid learns to swim or ride a bike and will love your kids as much as your time at home does. They will be there to whinge and they might even go on holiday with you if you’re lucky!
I have a regular breakfast date with 2 other people who arrived at the same time as me. One of the group calls it their therapy. We joke about it…but (for me at any rate) it’s true!
In all my international moves I have arrived wondering how on earth I could make friends that were as good as at home or in X location. Sure enough I turn around after a few months to find my kid of people are already in my circle.
And I’m already realising how hard it will be to say goodbye.
9. Be Realistic
We leave our homes and go where we don’t understand the language. We don’t understand the health system and we certainly don’t get the processes and bureaucracy. Home is remembered as somewhere where it is easy to live, where we know the quirks of the systems and have grown up living and breathing cultural norms and rules. When we go home to visit the weather might be glorious and we spend time rushing around seeing all the people we want to see.
We forget that our own countries can drive us crazy. That it rains sometimes (lots) or that we can go for weeks and weeks without seeing our best friends because life is just so busy. Life is good at home but make sure you’re not remembering it with rose tinted spectacles or you’ll have a rude awakening when you move back.
10. Make It Home
We make it a point to make our place ours as soon as we can. We unpack all the boxes as soon as we can (except for the standard one that has moved with us since 2009 without ever getting round to unpacking it lol). Our standing joke is when you open the last box you know that you’ll get the next job move.
In all seriousness, you can’t expect it to feel like home if you’ve made no effort to make it feel like home. We decorate, we put up pictures, we ship furniture wherever we go. Expat life can be pretty unpredictable and you might not know when or where you will be next but you can’t live life always thinking about the next place or on the What Ifs.
We always say we are where we are until we aren’t and it is worked pretty well for us. Home for us isn’t bricks and mortar and it certainly isn’t a country. Home is a feeling. It is where you are happiest. It is people.
As we tell the Things… home is where the 5 of us (can’t forget the dog) are together.
11. Have Plans
You always need a plan, something to work towards. For some people it might be financial like saving money towards a house or education for the Things. We are saving and I guess you could say that is part of the plan… but my plans are more short to medium term. When’s the next holiday? When will I next see my mum and my best friends? When will I meet my nephew? As travel addicts we need to know when the next trip is. As expats we want to know when we will see those people who have known us forever. We might have made new friends but we most certainly have not forgotten the old ones!
12. Ask For Help
When my new friend was hospitalised within days of arriving, they had no option but to accept help from total strangers. When Laura arrived here someone even offered to let her borrow their washing machine. I see people on Facebook groups asking for advice before they have even arrived. And if you are really struggling, maybe you have depression. It’s so common in expat circles and so so important that you get help for this as soon as you can.
There are always people who can help you. You aren’t alone in this ride.
13. Work Hard and Be Patient
Finally I guess I would say that it might sound easy enough to do all these things (or maybe it doesn’t). But the reality sometimes it’s just really hard work. Sometimes you miss people more than you ever knew you could . Sometimes you are tired or sick or you’ve just had enough of trying to decipher the medical insurance quirks.
It does take time and it does take perseverance and it doesn’t happen over night. It will get better! Keep on keeping on and one day you’ll turn around and you’ll be… Settled.