foreign (adjective): of, from, in, or characteristic of a country or language other than one’s own / strange and unfamiliar.
Moving into and living in a foreign country can be a lot to handle, both emotionally and physically. Perhaps you live thousands of miles away from your family and miss them, or the ways and practices of the country you live in are so foreign to you, that you don’t know how to deal with it. Trust me, I’ve been there! I basically threw myself into the deep end 2 years ago when I moved to a European city without much planning or expectations. This led to an emotional whirlwind, where my feet felt like they were uprooted from the ground.
From all this I was able to stand back up again, and support myself — gaining a better understanding of myself, and what I needed to do to remain empowered and strong while living in a foreign country.
Below I share with you 5 points that I followed, and I hope that you too will find the inner strength and happiness while living in another country. Enjoy!
1. Plan Ahead
Preparing yourself on what to expect and what possibly may come your way in a foreign country is probably one of the most supportive things you can do for yourself. Make a document of the essentials necessary for your well-being and survival, do your research and bring this document with you to the foreign country.
Some essentials are: Getting your visa, information on the country’s culture and customs, any laws you need to know, the country’s basic history and politics, the typical diet and where you can go to find food (or where are the health food stores?), the language (can I get by with just English?), which doctor to go to, understanding how the system works (are shops closed on Sundays, how does public transportation work, where is the nearest pharmacy, and where to go to buy toilet paper at 9pm?), etc.
Make sure you gather all the essential information prior to moving to the foreign country, so that you will be prepared and the culture shock will not be so intense.
2. Find and Connect with a Community
No matter if you are moving into a foreign country alone or with family, finding a familiar community is important. This ensures that you have a place to go to, where you can connect with and meet others in the same boat as you. It is helpful to meet with those who have experience in the foreign country and are willing to help answer additional questions, or lend an ear for any complaints you may have.
The community can be online or in person. Facebook has one of the best platforms for expat groups, as well as Meetup.com. Connecting specifically to a group you are comfortable in may just be the medicine you need, and if you can’t find one in your area, start one yourself! You may be surprised by the growth and support you will receive.
A crucial point within this is to never isolate yourself when you’re in a foreign country. Depression and anxiety are emotions that can easily take over the more you isolate yourself from the outside world. So stay active — physically meet people and attend events — not only will you feel a sense of belonging, but you will be more grounded and emotionally stable. Hey, it was even mentioned in a Ted talk that you live longer when you’re part of a community!
3. Take Care of Yourself
When you’re living in a foreign country, if may feel like your feet have been uprooted from the ground and you have to start all over in creating a new routine and a new way of life for yourself. You will encounter situations and people that may set you off emotionally and you may have a difficult time dealing with all ”the new” especially since you left the old and comfortable.
Always make sure your health and well-being is priority number one. Ensure you are eating nutritiously, and take the necessary supplements you need to keep yourself stable. Exercise is also supportive, and you can make a weekly challenge for yourself to explore a new part of town, or walk a new path. Really have fun and get to know the area you’re living in, and it can be great to discover new cafes, shops and restaurants!
Also, blogging and journaling about your experiences is an incredibly supportive tool you can use for yourself. Track and express your joys, your concerns, and your discoveries with your words and photos. A few months down the line, you can go back to your old writings and photos, and see how much you’ve learned and changed.
Make sure that you end your rants and complaints with solutions on how you will empower yourself from them. If you continue to complain about your foreign country experiences, you are going to feel helpless. That attitude will stay with you, and will affect your work and your communication with people.
Living in a foreign country can be tough, but if you empower yourself with the reminder that there is a solution to every problem, you’ll know you can get through anything!
4. Understand the Adjustment will Take Time
Adjusting and feeling comfortable in a foreign country will definitely take time, no matter how much you prepare yourself beforehand. You have come from “the familiar and comfortable” to “the new and unknown”. This can have an emotional and physical impact on you, which is why it is important to keep yourself healthy, connected, and empowered through this journey.
Homesickness can last anywhere from 3 months to 2 years, so it depends on who you are and the time it takes for you to process things. You may walk down the street and see something that brings up a memory from your old life back home, making you homesick. Just breathe, let the thought go and trust yourself that it will take time for you to process and adjust to your new life – but you will get there eventually. This adjustment is NORMAL, everyone who moves to a foreign country goes through it, so it will take time for you to stabilize and feel comfortable.
5. Keep in touch with Family and Friends
Just because you live in a foreign country doesn’t mean you have to completely shut off what’s going on in your home country, or with your family and friends! Keep in contact with those you want to stay connected to, have daily or weekly Skype chats, go old-school and write letters or postcards, financially assist a family member to ship over products and treats from your home country (or if you’re lucky enough, receive the package as a gift!). Listen to your country’s radio station, or read your old town’s newspaper online… whatever you can do to stay connected helps.
If keeping in contact with family, friends or events in your home country is emotionally too much for you, and you become homesick, then take a break, breathe, do some journaling, take a walk, talk about your experiences with people in a community, or find another way to stabilize yourself. It can be difficult seeing and realizing that you are so far away from your home country, (especially if it takes a long time to travel there). These experiences are similar to when a child leaves his/her parents on the first day of school – it can be a lot to handle. But, over time, the (emotional) waters will settle down as you continue living and doing what you need to do.
All the best!