Moving to and living in a foreign country can be a lot to handle, both emotionally and physically. Therefore it can seem impossible to stay strong living abroad.
Perhaps you live thousands of miles away from your family and friends, 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! Five years ago, I threw myself into the deep end when I moved to a European city without much planning or expectations. Living abroad led to an emotional whirlwind, where my feet felt uprooted from the ground.
Foreign (adjective): of, from, in, or characteristic of a country or language other than one’s own/strange and unfamiliar.
From everything I experienced as a US citizen in Austria, I was able to stand back up again and support myself — to gain 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 5 points that I recommend to gain inner strength and happiness while living in another country. Enjoy!
1. Plan Ahead
It’s important to prepare yourself for what to expect and what possibly may come your way in a foreign country.
For example, you can create a document with essential information for your well-being and survival. Do your research, and access this document with you when you’re in a foreign country.
Some examples of the essential info in the document can be:
How to prepare and receive your visa
The dominant language of the country and how to start learning
Information on the country’s culture and customs, including laws you need to know
The country’s basic history and politics
The people’s typical diet, and where you can find food
Pharmacies and doctors available (the Embassy of your country should have a resource on this)
Understanding how the system works (are shops closed on Sundays, how public transportation works, etc.).
Ensure you gather all this information before moving to a foreign country so that the culture shock will not be so intense.
2. Find and Connect with a Community
Whether you are moving into a foreign country alone or with family, finding your community is crucial. You’ll have a place to connect with and meet others in the same boat as you. Plus, finding the right people can help answer your questions or lend an ear for any complaints you may have.
The community can be online or in person. Facebook and Meetup are two of the best platforms for international groups. Connecting specifically to a group you are comfortable in may be the medicine you need, and if you can’t find one in your area, start one yourself! You could be surprised by the growth and support you will receive.
A crucial point is never to isolate yourself when you’re in a foreign country. Depression and anxiety are emotions that can easily take over the more you separate 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. Level Up Your Self-Care
When you’re living in a foreign country, you have to start 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 have difficulty dealing with all “the new,” especially since you left the old and comfortable.
Always make sure your health and well-being are number one. Ensure you eat nutritiously and take the necessary supplements to keep yourself stable. Exercise is also supportive – you can start a weekly walk challenge and explore a new part of town or path. Have fun and get to know the area you’re living in, as it can be great to discover new cafes, shops, and restaurants!
Also, journaling about your experiences is an incredibly supportive tool you can use for yourself. Track and express your joys, concerns, and discoveries with your words and drawings. A few months down the line, you can go back to your old writings and see how much you’ve learned and grown.
Make sure that you end your rants and complaints with solutions to empower yourself from them. If you continue to complain about your foreign country’s experiences, you will feel helpless. That attitude will stay with you and affect how you live and express yourself every day.
Living in a foreign country can be challenging, 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 take time, no matter how much you prepare yourself beforehand. You have come from “the familiar and comfortable” to “the new and unknown.”
Depending on how sensitive you are to new environments, it can have an emotional and physical impact on you, which is why it is crucial to keep yourself healthy, connected, and empowered through this journey.
Homesickness can last anywhere from three months to two 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, and trust yourself that it will take time 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 your loved ones. Have weekly video chats, write letters and postcards. Listen to your country’s radio station, or read your old town’s newspaper online – whatever you want to do to stay connected.
If keeping in contact with family, friends, or events in your home country is emotionally too much for you, then take a break, breathe, and find ways to stabilize yourself. It can be not easy 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 their 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!