Is it really possible to settle quickly in a new country? I know you’re probably thinking but I left my job behind, my family, my friends, the comfort of my home, I left everything behind to move. And I completely understand that, I was in the exact same position and guess what? I made it through (eventually)! And this list will help you do it even more quickly.
The most crucial aspect in your move to a new country is being able to settle in and be comfortable. Why would I know anything about this? Because I moved to a new country in a different continent with different weather and scariest of all, a different language. My first move was to Bogota, Colombia. Sometimes not crying for one whole day was an achievement (and I’m not really the type to cry that often). I had felt sooo alone and sad most of the time while my husband went to work.
I can say in hindsight, I took way too long to figure things out. Struggle after struggle, I finally discovered the best ways to make myself feel like I could belong in another place. And, not only be okay with it, but enjoy myself as well. Now I know how to do things better for my next relocation and I’ll be giving you those 5 tips. Plus a bonus tip if you keep reading.
Side note: I don’t have pets or kids (yet?) so it does not include schools but I’d think that’s an important factor to consider.
1. Make new connections
The hardest thing was leaving my family and friends behind. I’ve never felt more lonely than I did then, I had absolutely no one except my partner. Thankfully for technology I could still video call my family back home. Plus the few friends that would bother to still reply. But it was still different. It wasn’t the same as saying to my bestie, “hey, let’s go get a coffee/bubble tea”. And that would’ve been on a good day, just wanting to talk.
Can you imagine how much worse it was on the hard days? I don’t even want to think about the days of not having someone to physically talk to and comfort me. I felt so alone, extremely sad, and I kept wondering if I had done the right thing. No one had gone through what I was and I had no one to talk to. Not even my partner understood what I was going through. He would be at the office everyday, interacting with people in English and not having to scrape by in a life with no purpose. You can read more way on how to conquer feeling homesick here.
After experiences of people laughing at me, it just made me more shy. I was more afraid to go out and try, so I locked myself in my apartment. The four apartment walls kept me safe from the mean people who didn’t understand, and didn’t know I existed. I felt so alone that I used to keep my apartment curtains open so just in case anything were to happen to me, someone would see and hopefully call for help. In case that didn’t work, I considered getting those buttons to press in case of emergency. So I could press a button and someone would rescue me.
I wish someone told me to start making connections even before I had gotten there. It is so simple to look for expat groups on Facebook to whichever country you’ll be travelling to. I looked up “Expats in Colombia” and joined so many groups. I eventually left any that weren’t quite relevant but there are 3 different groups that I can use now. Also there are women or men expat groups as well. Any query I have, I can write a post in one group (or all three of the groups which some people hate) and hope for some good responses on information that isn’t very easy to Google.
“I wish someone told me to start making connections even before I had gotten there”
Something as random as “what can I use to make whipped cream?”. Classically, I would’ve used heavy cream to make it. However, when I whipped the “crema de leche” which I thought was the equivalent, it just separated. I ended up having to throw it out. Apparently, I needed Chantilly cream. This came in two forms, ready made like those in the cans or a powder form that is mixed with milk. You can also look for Facebook groups about activities you like, for example hiking groups that I found. All of which are completely free to interact with because it’s just on Facebook. I also just started a group for expats to help each other because that support would’ve made life easier for me and it will for you.
Aside from this, there are physical groups, for example, language exchanges. Here you can play games in the language you are learning and some even have activities after like salsa class. There are even sites like Meetup and Internations where you can join and share you interests. Then they will send you invitations to events. Internations’ basic membership is free so you can attend an event and decide if you want to pay for membership. I know people who went to an event, made friends, exchanged contacts and hang out together since then.
2. Find a job
Even though a big part was leaving everyone behind, but also my main activity, my job. I had to leave behind my (1) amazing friends who made work worthwhile, (2) the thing that kept me and my brain occupied, and (3) the ability to make an income. I previously discussed the first point but it was hard to leaving the main activity that my life revolved around. From going to be occupied for most of the week, to being completely free of any obligation. People think it sounds like a dream, but what do you do when you’re given all this time? How do you occupy yourself?! Worse yet, when your brain can quickly turn against you.
All I had to do was housework and study Spanish (which I quickly got fed up of). Again, I took way too long to help myself in this situation simply because of the fear. Eventually, I made a list of all the thing I wanted to do. This included online courses, exercising, meditation, read books online, work on Etsy and Upwork. So I started up profiles on both of the latter. Other options include finding jobs on LinkedIn, checking company websites, find recruitment agencies and recruitment sites. You can read more about getting an expat job here.
3. Get exercise
It took me quite some time to build up the courage to do something about it. In hindsight, it took too long to realise that I could change the situation I was in. No, I don’t mean returning back home (even though I wanted to at times), but to figure out ways to get myself more active other than going to the supermarket or mall by myself.
By February 2019, I found out that the malls had free Zumba and yoga classes. Having 4 malls close by, I had quite some options. Although the thought of Zumba didn’t quite appeal to me. Because I saw it more as a dance and I was as uncoordinated as a…well, me!
But I decided to try it, bright and early 9am, I went to the mall’s outside area to do Zumba. I wasn’t sure where I was going but I followed the sound of the blasting music. I’m not the party type but I do love good vibes and good music. When I got there, I went to the back of the rows of mostly women and watched the instructor. I stood there for quite some time just watching because I didn’t even know how to start. This was completely new to me. Never had I done anything with dancing or aerobics or coordination in general! I was 100% lost!
After already waking up early and walking for 20 minutes, I decided to give it a try. But there was one thing I hadn’t thought about. That was exercising in a high altitude city (8,000ft above sea level), where oxygen was already pretty scarce. After a few minutes of whatever uncoordinated moves I was doing, I was gasping for breath! GASPING! I took a break and started back which continued for the next hour. It was difficult to say the least but I enjoyed it. They even played a soca song (from Trinidad and Tobago) which reminded me of home. This would definitely be an activity I would continue and, got better at….who would’ve thought?
4. Learn the language
I had the worst experiences in almost everything I did mainly because of the language barrier. My native language is English but I did study Spanish back home so it was not brand new. The big difference was that school was academic oriented. This meant that we did not have nearly enough oral practise to actually learn a language. I did not know anyone so I could not just ask someone for help if I had any queries.
Worse yet, when I tried to talk to stranger, often, they would laugh at me for not being able to communicate properly in Spanish. When I went to the supermarket, it was like walking into a world where nothing made sense. It was to me, because nothing made sense. I was beyond confused, I didn’t know what things meant or what they were because brands were different. So I couldn’t even use prior knowledge to think ok, “I cant believe it’s not butter” when here it was called “Rama”.
I felt guilty to spend the money I wasn’t making on Spanish classes. But eventually I realised how much I needed them. Finally, I found classes that were interactive (which makes a big difference in learning a language) and enrolled. This was a golden opportunity! All the other foreigners were here as well! So I was able to make new friends at the same time.
5. Get into activities
This 2 in 1 helps you find activities that you are interested so you can do the things you love. And the bonus of meeting new people. The easiest way to do this is to follow pages or join groups on social media so that you can see any upcoming activity that you like. One of the malls in my area had several weekday activities that you could be a part of.
The first class I joined was a painting class. I timidly went to the mall on the day of the class and saw tables and chair set up. It was pretty empty as Colombians are notorious for their punctuality. Nevertheless I registered and took a seat. Slowly people started coming in and sitting at other tables. People looked at me differently as I stood out as not being a local. It was not unusual for people to keep their distance but by this time, it was not news to me anymore. Gotta just brush things off sometimes, that’s how people are and nothing I could’ve done would’ve changed that.
Eventually the tables filled up and we got a ceramic to paint. Everyone at our table introduced ourselves to one another. In my introduction I let them know that I don’t speak Spanish well so they need to speak slowly. As we started painting, we made jokes about our paintings as well as trying to figure out what we were supposed to do. It was nice to feel like I wasn’t the only one confused for once. And a couple times, I was actually able to help them.
Don’t know how to start over your career? It may actually be helpful to speak to a Career Coach to help guide you out of the tunnel you feel like you’re trapped in. Right before I decided to launch my blog, I spoke to Bertha Nibatete. She is also a trailing spouse and has gone through a lot of the struggles that I did. She was able to connect with me in a way that was very refreshing. So many times in our conversation, I would say “exactly!” or “me too!”. I appreciated having someone who knew exactly what I was going through and how to get out of it. I wish I had met her sooner! Use the discount code BNC2020 to connect with her and let her help you figure out where your passions lie and how to make them reality.
In conclusion, these 5 tips: making new connections, finding a job, getting some exercise, learning the language, and getting into activities will all help you to settle into your new country. And if you need some career help, the bonus tip is for you. After having a very difficult first move, I don’t think anyone should have to go through the experiences that I did. And I do hope this helps you make your new country feel like home and you are able to find yourself. I will definitely be coming back to this article before my next move. You can also check how to choose the perfect house abroad here. Thanks for reading, which tip do you think is most important?