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Tips for a Successful Start as an Expat

Expat assignments are great opportunities to pick up new skills, travel the world, and learn invaluable lessons. InterNations member Gabrielle Byko put together some tips for newly-arrived expats to start their life abroad on the right foot.

Choosing to accept a job offer abroad is the first big decision in starting an expat career. The transition process following that choice however requires different considerations from a standard job relocation. Moving to a new country will have an expat encounter new norms of cultural conduct, business ethics, as well as other possible unexpected hurdles which can be emotionally straining.

Although relocating to a new country provides a new set of challenges, they are certainly not impossible to overcome. For the past five years I have been an expat myself, as well as encountered countless others who have been in the same position. From what I have observed here are some helpful strategies to help guarantee a successful start and transition into life as an expat.

Learn the Local Language

Whether or not you need to be able to speak the language of your new country, learning the local lingo is an invaluable skill which allows an expat to gain back some independence, and helps to form stronger connections with the locals.

Expats sometimes feel frustrated in the beginning of their assignment because they need more help than they are used to with setting up their new home base. This reliance is usually because of language limitations. By being able to speak the local language you will be able to sort out more of his or her daily business and only need to depend on the locals for more complicated matters. This gain of independence can truly help in one feeling confident and correct with their decision to move abroad.

Being able to speak the local language also allows for forming stronger connections with the locals. It is very easy to assume that “well, everyone speaks English!” Although many people do speak fluent English, it does not necessarily mean that it is everyone’s preferred language. Coworkers and other people encountered may want to engage more with someone when he or she can also speak their native language.

Though learning a new language requires an investment in time, as well as discipline, knowing some of the local phrases and being able to hold basic conversations will help with connecting with the natives on a more personal basis, show respect for their culture, and make the expat feel more like a part of the community.

Be Open and Adaptable

Being placed in a new country is certainly a guarantee to be confronted with new ways of thinking and doing things, which may even result in a bit of culture shock. Although it is easy for the expat to start off with the assumption that they already know how to do their job, it is important to let go of this rigid mindset. Be open and adaptable to the way how things are done and approached in your new country.

Learning to embrace the new culture and customs is what sets expats apart. The ones who take the new ideas from all angles into consideration become more developed and well-rounded thinkers which overall helps them in advancing their personal growth as individuals and in their careers. Be open to new thoughts, new ideas, and new people to create a better and new you.

Develop a Support Network

Building a strong support network is an especially critical aspect for all expats in maintaining a healthy mental well-being. Being in an unfamiliar environment with many new things to learn as well as adapting to all of the changes can be very emotionally taxing on one’s psyche. Having a network of people who understand what you are going through, or at least be able to listen and provide comfort is a necessity.

Moving to a new city may mean that the expat may not immediately have local friends unless they have previously established contacts there. In the beginning phase the expat may need to initially rely primarily on friends and family at home or turn to other online communities.

Once more settled into the new life, branching out from the digital world and connecting with the people around you is important. Have lunch with your coworkers, invite them for a mid-day coffee. They do not have to be your best friends but it is good to connect a bit more on a personal and professional level to make the environment more pleasant.

When working in more solitary professions or if making connections at work is not a viable option, try to explore what is going on in your community. Seek out groups and clubs that meet your interests. Another really great way to build a support group of like-minded people is to look for a local or nearby expat group.

Be Patient

One of the hardest things about being an expat is when things do not always turn out as planned and frustration and impatience takes hold. While some people might be able to jump right into a new culture and immerse themselves from day one, others it takes a bit longer. Not everything is going to come together immediately — finding an apartment, making friends, learning the language, etc. — but be patient with the process and allow things to sort themselves out bit by bit.

Be patient also with yourself. Some days will be good, while others will be bad — accept that truth and try not to dwell too long.

Switching to an expat position is no regular job switch, but like any new experience, after time you will acclimate and before you know it you will adapt to not just the company culture but to the culture as a whole. The invaluable lessons you learn such as new language skills, establishing networks, and intercultural and interpersonal skills are priceless for your career development.