Maybe living abroad has been a lifelong dream. You’ve concocted this idea in your mind of what your life in another country will be like. Perhaps it’s roaming cobblestone streets in Europe or snapping selfies in New York’s Time Square, learning all sorts of new languages.
While it’s good that you’re excited, don’t let your daydreams interfere with the truth: living abroad comes with its own challenges and frustrations. Living abroad is also different from a vacation, and it often means you won’t always be sunbathing beach side. Homesickness, culture shock, bureaucratic paperwork, long lines…the list goes on.
When those start to get to you, here are some ways you can start to relax into the experience.
Having high expectations for what you anticipate will happen increases your chances of being disappointed. There’s so much to discover at every turn in your experience in a new country, so don’t sell yourself short by thinking you know what’s coming next. Try to let go of delusions of grandeur and let your experience just be what it is.
You may also have to let go of some luxuries that you’re used to, like complimentary water or readily available paper products. But this is a great chance to gain some perspective and start to become more flexible about the way you live.
Take it day by day
Perhaps you arrive in your new country and you’re overwhelmed by the challenges. You’ve got to adjust to a new language, culture, foods and, on top of it all, you’re starting a new job (which can be overwhelming just about anywhere). It’s a lot of change all at once.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your new life abroad. You’ll want to fit in right away. It will feel uncomfortable that you just don’t know many things. And that’s okay. Uncertainty is okay.
Take time to absorb your surroundings. Ask a lot of questions. Bare in mind that one day, you just might get it. It might not be today, but one day. This is the beauty of living and working abroad, you’ve got a little more time to be in the space. So take it.
Respect the culture and those around you
There will be aspects of another culture that will drive you nuts or that, because of your own culture, you just won’t agree with. But always remember that you are the guest. You are on their land. You’ve been welcomed into their home.
Being respectful of others and their way of thinking is why you signed up for this.
Speak up if you feel mistreated
While you should respect the culture, you should also vocalize, like in any workplace, if you feel overworked, under appreciated, under-utilized, or even left out. I’ve worked in many environments abroad, and there’s always been someone tasked with the responsibility of my well-being in the country. Go to the person you trust most and tell them how you’re feeling.
Expressing injustices you feel is worth vocalizing. So, speak up.
Little things might get to you: how slowly people walk on the sidewalk, punctuality or lack of it, the way people stare. But if you internalize those things too much, take it personally, and get frustrated, you’ll miss a lot of your experience living in a different place.
When you find yourself frustrated, stop for a minute and ask yourself why you’re frustrated. Is it a cultural difference? Are you always in a hurry and the locals never seem to be? Do you feel singled out for having a different appearance from the locals?
The answers to why you’re feeling frustrated may reveal a lot. They might even open up a whole can of worms, so to speak. So just stop and take a deep breath. It’ll be okay.
Above all, stay open and curious. Ask questions when you don’t understand something. But when you get frustrated, remember that you chose this. You wanted to experience something new, for better or for worse.
But also remember that travel is a privilege. Living abroad is a very humbling experience that often changes you in ways you never expected. It’s a transformation process through which you’ll see yourself and your place in the world that much more differently. All it takes is a little patience.