Moving out of your comfort zone and into a whole new world (Aladdin reference anyone?) is such an enormous step. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re considering it or going to do it or maybe even did it already, and if so, great job for being so open minded! Sometimes people take for granted what a big change it is. Yes, there are physical things you need to do to make yourself more comfortable for a new move like these.
But there are also things within yourself that you need to make sure you follow. That way your experience is as best as it can be. This blog has 10 characteristics I wish someone had told me before I moved. That way I could have been more open and enjoy life sooner rather than struggled for almost 2 years. But my struggles have taught me for my next move. And my main hope is to help you to not have to go through things like I did.
1. Be Brave
I can’t even begin to explain how important this characteristic is. (Any Jane the Virgin fans hearing Rafael say “be brave”?) When starting something new, it’s natural to feel shy or anxious about everything new around you. And even how to go about doing even the basic things. But the sooner you begin opening up and experimenting with different things, from discovering new areas to trying new foods, you’ll quickly realise that it isn’t as scary as you once believed. Of course, make sure you are aware of any safety concerns.
My first exploration was in Colombia, by myself most of the time. I was so intimidated by the image that we give Colombia that I was worried about going out by myself. But as I got more familiar with the areas and people, I was able to see differences from safer neighbourhoods, for example structures! And of course, stay on major roads. Even the differences in people’s face and demeanours so I’d know how much risk there was from people around. From that I may have decided to create some distance between those people. Or sometimes, go as far as crossing the road just in case. As you explore more, your confidence and knowledge will grow.
2. Be Open-minded
Remember you’re living in a different country, it’s likely that the culture is different. Thus, everything about the way they were brought up was different from yours. As well as so many other characteristics. If that’s the case, then it’ll be a good idea to humble yourself. You need to look at everything with eyes wide open and that goes for your mind too. Probably everyday things that you don’t even think about, will be done differently in this new country.
For me, a big difference was the way everyone hugged and kissed on the cheek when they meet each other, even with people from work. This would be how I would greet family or close friends. However, when I went to dinner with my husband’s colleagues, they greeted with hugs and kisses on the cheek. This was the first time I was meeting them. And I was absolutely uncomfortable with the fact that these random people were treating me with such affection. I never met them or even spoke to them in any way prior. Usually, for work events like that, I was used to shaking colleagues’ hands. Hugs and kisses were saved for situations where there were deeper connections grown over many years! Even though I was uncomfortable, I realised that this was their way. Rather than offending anyone I just had to accept it.
3. Don’t Take Things Personally
Some people won’t understand you, some people will laugh at you, some people just aren’t very nice…and that’s not a reflection of you! It’s just how they are, their characteristics and it’s human nature. I visited the north of Colombia which is a tropical tourist destination, Cartagena. When I was walking throughout the streets, often people called out “India” simply because of the colour of my skin. But that was pretty offensive to me because I’m not from India, never been there, nor had I any association with the country. However, it was just the locals’ way of referring to tourist by the country they think that they come from…unfortunately, without truly knowing.
I know this sort of thing is a sensitive topic in today’s society. But you may experience things that offend you however, they are not necessarily intentional. You are coming into their country and their way of doing things and people do things differently. Don’t let people make you feel bad, you know what you’re about so just keep moving and keep being you.
4. Patience and Forgiveness
Take a deep breath in and release the air slowly. You should get used to doing this because you’re gonna need a heck of a lot of patience. This characteristic will help you to be patient with the differences of the cultures. In your progress. With things not going according to plan…that one was a sting for me. To be patient with yourself. To be patient with your partner, if you have one. Give yourselves a break! You’re both learning so much and both trying to adapt to an entireee new lifestyle – inclusive of everything from the weather, to the drinking water, even down to the different brands of toilet paper.
There are so many changes that you are trying to figure out as well as come to terms with. And it is a hard process, but you have to forgive yourself to go through the motions as you need to. It took me about 2 years to find the right school for Spanish classes which is where I met some great friends, got to teach English, and just overall felt better about life.
It took me almost 3 years to realise that I wanted to start a blog. And right after I finally decided and started doing all the research, I got a job. I was filled with so much regret that it had taken me so long to figure out my blog. Almost 3 years of my life had been wasted. But I decided that I could do both, I took the job and soon after, started this blog. And I keep having to remind myself that “it’s ok”. I know now that I had to go through everything that I did to get to this point. Imagine if I’d had a job sooner, I never would have even thought about writing this blog. You can check out my other posts for more advice about how to get a job as an expat. Everything when it’s meant to happen with these characteristics, be patient, forgive.
5. Be Inquisitive
I love doing research online! But sometimes it’s hard to find everything you’re looking for or the information is outdated. And well not everyone is like me, and lots of people don’t like research for this characteristic. The other option is to ask people questions, more times than not, they will answer that specific question and not give any more details. So, anything I need to find out, I always have a general idea of what I want to know, do the research, and then make a list of all the specific questions.
All this, with the hope that I can get the right answers if I research or ask the right questions. For my first trip within Colombia after moving here, I had no clue how to take a bus between cities. No one I asked could tell me how because they all had their own cars. I found a couple different scenarios online that would possibly be the route. And if we wanted to go, we just had to go with it.
Fortunately, it worked out! We took an Uber to the terminal, got on the intermunicipal bus. The bus had taken a detour, that took an hour extra, to pick up passengers. Once I knew we were near to our destination, I followed on a map to see our stop. But from the track, I mean “road”, we could not see the hotel and as the bus moved. However, to my surprise, I noticed we were getting further and further away.
I went up to the driver and tried in my best Spanish to ask where we should get off. He said that we had passed our stop, but we can get off now. We had to walk on the muddy track back to the hotel with our hand luggage that couldn’t even be pulled smoothly on the track. But eventually we made it and had a great few days of extreme sports! Anyway, all that to show that you may not necessarily know exactly how to do things, but once you have enough of an idea, you can be on your way. This was a disturbing idea for someone like me who planned everything but that’s how you explore.
6. Willingness to Learn the Language
Just learning the language can make life much easier but of course, we must be willing to put in the work. That’s the most important part of this characteristic. For me, I actually learned Spanish back in my home country, but it was not enough for fluency. I could have avoided so many struggles if I had just known the language properly. You can see my advice on things you need to do before you move here. Also, I would have been far less shy if I actually spoke the language of the people. Especially in Colombia where it’s rare to find anyone who speaks English, except the foreigners…who are also scarce. Even when learning a language, you have to make sure that the words are particular to the country. Back in school, I learned “sandia” as the word for watermelon. But when I asked for “sandia”, the salesperson looked at me confused. I pointed to where it usually was and she said “oh, patilla”.
All my language struggles actually made me just create a barrier to protect myself but also, block myself in. It’s really no way to live. Despite being able to communicate, it was still difficult because I felt stupid all the time. Especially when I had to stop and think about how to conjugate a verb. I don’t know about other languages but if you know Spanish, every time you use a very it changes either by the person doing the action, AS WELL AS the tense it is in. So much to change! Every time! I don’t think languages were made for a brain like mine, but still I try.
I don’t mean the yoga type to fold so that your head can touch your knees, which I can’t do. But for this characteristic, I mean flexibility in terms of being able to go with the flow. In a country that’s not your own, even more things in your life is out of your hands because they do things differently. You think you know how to do something because this is what you do in your home country, but every country has different ways of doing things.
Aspects pertaining to this are also very important to know. In my home country, I usually walk around with my phone in my hand. If I do that in Colombia, it’ll be stolen in minutes. (Not bashing Colombia but phone safety is one of the first things someone will tell you about). I have heard people say that this is similar in big cities. We’ll have to cover the specifics for Colombia in an upcoming post.
Maybe you’re used to people being on time, people being kind, predictable weather. So many things we take for granted but they will never be the same in every country. So just make sure you prepare yourself to learn and understand these new things. You are going to someone else’s country, it’s up to you to do your due diligence in understanding how they are rather than pushing your ways on them. No offense, gotta be real.
8. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
A lot of times, we tend to be our worst critic. We aren’t as forgiving to ourselves for making errors or doing things incorrectly. However, when moving to a new country, the critic in your head is definitely something to get rid of. Or at least turn down the volume for this characteristic. There will be so many things that you do for the first time and may not get right. And that’s ok! I wish someone told me this. Too many times, I thought I was doing a terrible job. Also, I was having such a hard time coping with everything and homesickness. But it’s normal and it’s ok to take some time to figure things out in your new country, it’s new for a reason.
It took a long time for me to realise how to use the bus. In Bogota, to me, it didn’t make sense to have a car. That’s because you can only use it on certain days due to “pico y placa”. Initially, I used to use Uber for everything which of course, ended up costing a lot of money! I was worried about using buses for the safety aspect. But as with anything new you are trying, there will be a learning curve. And it’s totally normal. I asked someone how to use them. Then started noticing the different bus stops and which ones went to which stops and where they go from there. Eventually, I was even comfortable to take the bus by myself. This opened up so many more options for me. It was cheaper and I was able to go out of my walking comfort zone.
Often, it’s easier to be negative and block yourself from doing things, but you’re learning so many new things, so you need to give yourself space for error and to grow. It’s all part of the learning process and I’m here to help you through it.
9. Sense of humour
And while not being hard on yourself from the last characteristic, you also need a good sense of humour. There are so many things that you are going to do wrong. You may be embarrassed and shy away or you can laugh at it. Sometimes you don’t know better, and that’s okay! We all learn somehow. And unfortunately making mistakes is the way to learn as an expat, unless you have a genie accompanying you everywhere. (Unintentional Aladdin reference again!). Almost every example in this blog can work for this category because there were so many things that I had done wrong and I had to learn to be ok with it and get a laugh out of it. Otherwise, I’d have never left my apartment.
10. Optimism and positivity
So many things change when you move countries, and it can play a lot on your mind. Despite all that, and constantly feeling stupid like I did, because I didn’t know things in this new country, you must have the characteristics of optimism and positivity! Locking yourself up in your apartment doesn’t make you safe, it just makes you even more lonely. It makes you think more. Makes you feel sadder. And just creates a cocoon that makes it even harder to get out of. No one said that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be sad. But you have to make sure you pick yourself up instead of going to hide. You have an opportunity that many others can’t even afford. Living in a new country, experiencing all the food, culture, events, plus so much more that some will never even get to see.
So many are envious of this life you will have, and they have every right to be. It’s such an enriching experience and you realise how much you take for granted that shouldn’t be. Finally, I escaped my cocoon and I realised that I could make a difference. This expat life didn’t have to be the pitiful experience that I was making of it. And once I took that step, I began enjoying Colombia so much more. I began truly living and made the effort to interact with more people. Especially if I was lucky enough to hear an English-speaker. I was able to make my life better and you can too.
In conclusion, don’t be afraid of the new world that now surrounds you. Be open minded to all that is new. But with mistakes some people may laugh or make you feel bad but don’t take things personally. And have patience and forgiveness through your struggles. Further, in an attempt to lessen these issues, it definitely makes it easier to do research and ask questions. Also, making it simpler would be learning the language. Further, don’t be too hard on yourself because everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn. And when things go wrong, laugh it off and be flexible for the next time. With positivity you can get yourself through anything! I’ve been through this and had such a hard time when I moved countries, and this is the list I will be using and will recommend to anyone else who’s planning on moving soon.
Do you have an example of something you adopted to make expat life easier?