Like it or not, to travel is to become a stranger. To live in a new place is to get labeled “the Foreigner”. Hard as it can be at times, it is also pretty rewarding to live the expat life – to be The Foreigner.
Among others, here are a few things that you’ll need in your expat survival kit:
1. Confidence: Confidence – not arrogance. All I mean is don’t be shy. Don’t be shy to talk, to learn, to have fun, to try new things. Have confidence in yourself that you can do this. It will be challenging at times to live the expat life, but you can do it.
2. Openness: We are told to always keep our guard up and be wary of strangers – which is true. But when you’re an expat, it won’t hurt to sometimes be open. Be open to accepting invitations. Be open to asking for or giving directions. This often leads to meeting really nice people and discovering cool places you would have never probably found by yourself.
3. Enroll in a language school: Try to learn the local language and SPEAK it as soon as possible… even if you sound like a lame-o. The best way to get immersed into the culture is when they see how hard you are trying. It may just be my own personal strategy, but often they feel so sorry for you that they either switch over to English or buy you a drink, and then switch over to English. #Winning
4. A sense of adventure: When you see a flight special or cheap train ticket to a city nearby, buy it! Don’t be scared to travel and explore alone. Some of the coolest people I’ve met was through travelling alone and meeting other solo travellers on the road. Confronted with a local delicacy to eat? Just give it a try. One of my favourite life mottos is: “You’ll never know if you don’t try”. This does not apply to drugs, kids.
5. A sense of humour: If you can’t laugh at yourself, then the expat life will be a miserable one for you. You will take trains in the wrong direction. You will probably get lost. You will make mistakes. You will pronounce some words wrong and end up cursing someone instead of complimenting them. And that’s okay… and actually really funny. Just learn to apply a sense of humour to everything and life will be much lighter.
6. Eagerness to learn: Many expats I’ve met have basically been living their “own hometown life” in a different country. How sad. After a couple of years living as expats, they’re still not keen to learn the local language or befriend local people. Instead, they choose to hang out with other expats only. Because it’s easy and because it’s comfortable. It doesn’t require a lot from them. In reality, they never get to enjoy the fullness of living in a different country with a different culture. Don’t let this be you. Do some research before you go to see what you can learn over there that will make your experience authentic and awesome.
7. Curiosity: The worst thing you can do as an expat is to be boring. You have to always keep that sense of curiosity alive. No matter how much you’ve seen of your new home, there will always be something new to do or see.
8. Join an online expat community: This is often a great place to find support. People exchange tips and advice to help each other out. It will also help you to stay up to date with events (which is another opportunity to meet people). A nice one to check out is internations.org.
9. Find a local church community: Depending on where you go in the world, this could be easy as pie or really difficult. Research online or ask around. Even if you struggle to find a church, or don’t find one at all where you feel comfortable, try to find a local Bible study you can join. If that also turns out to be a challenge, why don’t you start your own one and invite people to join you to spend time around God’s Word? Precept Ministries has some great resources to assist you with this.
10. Volunteer: There is so much need all around us these days. From refugee crises; to forgotten orphans and elderly people; to terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Find an organisation with values that are on par with yours and invest your time, energy and talents into it.
11. Make friends: You don’t have your real family nearby, so gather yourself some new framily (friends who become family) to get through those sad and lonely days. How do you do that? Well, from the list above alone there are already plenty of ways to do this! Get to know the people in your language school. Go to language nights at a local bar if they offer it – otherwise, try and initiate it. Reach out to someone at and event or church gathering. When you find a cause to volunteer for, don’t be the little wallflower on the side. Put a smile on your face and try to have a conversation. Always make sure you exchange contact details with new acquaintances and follow up with them.
At the end of the day, the expat life can either be fantastic or it can be horrible. Make sure you get the best out of it!