Many expats who live in another country find comfort in mingling with fellow 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. Life abroad 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 abroad.
The language barrier is one of those obstacles that are especially hard to overcome when 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. However, 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 a stranger and some of the locals might 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 hometown 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.
When Michael (43) came 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.
As a non-native speaker, 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.