Expats often struggle to completely adjust to living in another country. But sticking exclusively with the expat community may ultimately prevent you from really understanding and immersing yourself in the local culture. InterNations helps you leave your comfort zone!
Many expats living in another country find comfort in mingling with other expats. After all, as we have explained in our article on living in a foreign country, they share the same experiences, the same problems and the same culture shock. Living in another country can be tough, and sharing your experience with someone who understands it immediately can have a very comforting effect.
However, if you get stuck in the expat bubble, you will miss out on the most exciting experiences you can get out of living in another country. If you want to make non-expat friends, you need to be ready to speak the local language and get out of your comfort zone. This may seem scary at first, but it will help you to quickly adjust to living in another country.
Living in Another Country: Become Fluent
The language barrier is one of the obstacles that are especially hard to overcome while you are living in another country. The less knowledge you have of the local language prior to your arrival, the longer it will take you to become fluent while living in another country. Your language skills will improve promptly if you use your time abroad to chat with random people like your neighbor, the mailman or the shop assistant at the corner store.
And not only will your fluency improve. While living in another country, you will also begin to pick up common expressions and colloquialisms. Maybe you will not use them correctly right away. You will be recognized as the stranger living in another country and some of the locals will get a good laugh out of you. However, practice when you are in a relaxed environment and you will soon get a grasp on how to use them.
Becoming fluent in the local language will help you to become familiar with your new home town while you are living in another country. So, don’t just try to talk the talk. Instead, go out and take some time to walk the walk.
Living in Another Country: Make Mistakes
When Michael Protected content to Madrid to work as a brand specialist for IBM España, he had already taken a business Spanish class back in the UK. Unfortunately, he was nowhere close to speaking the language fluently yet. Although he could hardly follow a conversation in the beginning, he still tried to speak Spanish whenever he could.
Living in another country, he was, of course, bound to make mistakes:"One day, I tried to ask a saleswoman at Hipercor where they kept their milk. Unfortunately, I confused the Spanish word for milk (leche) with that for bed (lecho) and caused some raised eyebrows."
After a while, and with a little help from his Spanish colleagues, Michael quickly caught on. Today, he could not imagine a day of living in another country without chatting with the waiter at his favorite café over some magdalenas and a cup of coffee.
Many expatriates tend to spend most of their time with other expats. Of course, this makes a lot of sense and is an important part of living abroad. After all, it’s what InterNations is all about! However, if you are in it for the long haul, you should try to blend in with your host country’s culture.
Mingling with the Locals
There are many reasons why you should mingle with the locals. The most important one is that they know all the good places. Locals and long-term expats can show you the most beautiful spots around town. No tourist guide book can ever give you the same inside information on where to buy the freshest food, where to get the cheapest deals or where to sip the best cocktails in town.
“Even though I had lived in Hong Kong for almost half a year, I was completely detached from Cantonese culture. I spent most of my time at work or with other expats,” Antonia Protected content . She moved from Milan to Hong Kong on a work assignment for an international designer brand in Protected content .
However, her outlook changed rapidly when she was invited to celebrate the Chinese New Year with some of her Cantonese colleagues. Antonia learned about the various traditions and customs surrounding the New Year celebrations. "We ate dumplings and nián gāo, a very sweet and sticky cake pan-fried with eggs, and they explained to me how they would send pieces of nián gāo to their family members over the next few days."
How to Meet Non-Expats
When she started spending more time with her co-workers from Hong Kong afterwards, Antonia learned which behavior is considered appropriate in Hong Kong’s society and what social faux pas she had committed when she laughed about feng shui architecture in their office building.
But most of all, Antonia met people who helped her understand this new culture she had often avoided at the beginning of her stay. Sports clubs, networking groups for professionals, or arts & crafts classes are great places to meet local people. Most expats also get in touch with locals at work or via their children’s school.
If you have accompanied your spouse abroad and are unable to get a work permit, you can volunteer for a local charity or become involved in a community organization instead. If you really want to, there is always a way of mingling with the locals.