Ten Ways to Make a Country Feel Like Home
Before a move abroad, excitement is usually high. You are probably imagining all the great things you will learn at your new job and how they will advance your career. You are probably already dreaming of all the delicious local foods you will get to try and the wonderful friends you are about to make, but then you arrive and feel out of place.
Even when prepared, most expats are still surprised when culture shock and homesickness hit them. We have put together ten tips on how to make your new country feel like home.
Bring along Your Favorite Things
Your new room, apartment, or house still seem rather bland and impersonal? Luckily, there are various ways to make your new place your home. Think of an item that you have had in every place you have lived in and bring it along. This can be anything, from pictures of your family or your favorite piece of art to your beloved old leather couch or your favorite blanket.
When you have something familiar to hold on to, settling down will be much easier than expected.
Build an Expat Network (Before You Arrive)
One of the main things expats-to-be fear when moving abroad is the lack of connections in their host country. While they have a wonderful support system of family members, friends, and colleagues at home, the country they are about to move to is often a strange place where they are completely on their own.
Getting in touch with other expats before your move does not only to help reduce stress and anxiety, it also allows you to build your own small support network right from the start. In this way, you will know who to ask for advice or who to vent to when the culture shock gets overwhelming.
Get the Tedious Paperwork Sorted
Residence permits, insurance policies, bank accounts — moving abroad comes with a lot of bureaucratic challenges which are tedious at best. Unfortunately, trying to get everything sorted, all while not speaking the same language as the person at the local bank or foreigners office, can get in the way of turning your host country into your home.
Although dealing with paperwork can be an endless source of frustration, it makes sense to get it taken care of as soon as you can. That way, you will have more time and energy to enjoy everything that’s great about expat life.
Learn to Get Around
Depending on the country you moved to, your preferred way of getting around might be very different from back home. The infrastructure, the traffic, or the public transportation system can be quite overwhelming for newly arrived expats. Wrong stops, unplanned U-turns, and taking twice as long you’d planned to get home — all of this is rather frustrating.
However, the more you explore the place you live in, the more you will learn to get around. You will learn how to use public transportation, how to make your way through local traffic, and you will discover the fastest way to get places. Before you know it, you’ll be an expert and your friends will be amazed at how well you know the city where you live now.
Find Your New Favorite Place
Even if you have made your apartment feel a little bit like your home by now, you may not yet have the same feeling about your neighborhood. However, getting to know your immediate surroundings is an essential step. Walk around for a while and figure out where the closest grocery store, bakery, or pharmacy is. Maybe there is even a nice park where you can go for a run or a playground for your kids.
On top of that, everyone has a favorite place outside of their apartment where they go to relax. Do you like to browse the shelves at a local bookstore or to spend some time reading at a coffee shop? Even if these places aren't open due to the COVID-19 pandemic, try to find your new favorite place in your neighborhood for when you have some time to yourself and your apartment just gets a little too small.
Learn the Local Language
For many newcomers, being an expat can feel like being out of place. Everyone seems to know how to communicate and behave, except for you. Learning the local language is an important step towards feeling like you belong. Breaking down the language barrier will make things a lot easier for you, be it setting up a bank account or figuring out public transportation, but it will also help you understand cultural codes.
Why are locals greeting each other this way? Why are they dressing that way? These customs will become easier to understand and adapt to if you speak the local language. Language tandems are a great way to improve your speaking skills, especially if you already are somewhat fluent. More importantly, they are a perfect opportunity to meet native speakers who are just as curious about your language and your culture as you are about theirs.
Make Local Friends
No matter how wonderfully supportive your circle of expat friends is, nothing beats making friends among the locals. After all, the expat bubble may be quite cozy but it can also keep you from feeling fully at home.
Start out by chatting with your neighbors, asking them about their day, or if they could help you find your way around. Joining local clubs and organizations which are not specifically for expats allows you to meet people from your host country. Before you know it, you will have a local network of friends who will gladly let you in on all the secrets and quirks of your new home abroad.
Try New Things
One of the best way to beat the initial culture shock and homesickness is by going out and trying new things. No matter if there is a film festival in town or if your friends invite you out on a hike, make sure to tag along. This will not only allow you to get out of the house, you will also get to know your new home abroad, and experience it in a whole new way — not as a “visitor” but as someone who actually lives there.
A move abroad can also be a great chance to try out activities you never thought of or dared to try before. Ever wanted to go skydiving? Go for it! You always wanted to learn how to windsurf but had no opportunity to do so in your home country? Why don’t you try it out now?
You may not just discover a new way to spend your free time but you will also meet some great people along the way.
Check In with Yourself
No matter how much time you spend making friends, trying new activities, and exploring your neighborhood, homesickness might still hit you hard at times. There is even a small chance that, if you don’t allow yourself to feel homesick from time to time, you will just put it off and never get the opportunity to work through these emotions. That is why you should take some time to check in with yourself every now and again: do you feel lonely, lost, or out of place? And when you feel like this, what would make you feel better?
Even for well-prepared newcomers, the adjustment period can be stressful and overwhelming, so set some time aside for self-care.
You were really excited for your move abroad, you prepared yourself well, and maybe even followed all the steps above but still the country you moved to doesn’t feel like home? It is okay to miss your family and to experience culture shock. Making another country your home is not as easy as flipping a switch, and it can take some time until you finally feel like you belong. Until then, it is important to be patient with yourself.