My first two months abroad were filled with cloud-nine explorations of my new home. There was so much to see, and around every corner was something new and exciting to be discovered. My adrenaline seemed to pump non-stop.
But after that initial “honeymoon period,” life settled into something of a normal rhythm. Homesickness and loneliness crept in, and I found myself struggling through a roller coaster ride of soaring peaks and melancholic valleys.
Once I made it to my one-year anniversary of living abroad, however, things leveled out, and for the first time, I really felt like I’d be able to make it as a long-term expat.
An expat’s first year abroad can be one of the most thrilling, but it can also be one of the most challenging to get through. Yes, you should try to learn the language of the country you’ve moved to and reach out to other expats. And of course you need to find a place to live; and getting a job always helps when trying to put down roots. But here are 5 additional tips for making it to that one-year mark that I’ve noticed often go unmentioned:
1. Go ahead, eat at Hard Rock Cafe every once in awhile.
For me while living in Prague, it wasn’t so much Hard Rock Cafe that tempted me but TGI Friday’s, which had three locations around the city. That first month I had zero desire to eat there and scoffed with disdain at the American tourists that filled the tables. My second month I began peeking at the curbside menu as I strolled by. And by month three I’d caved and found myself digging into buffalo wings and a brownie sundae with no remorse. You’re not a traveler in the city for a week; you’re an expat. You’ve left everything familiar to you behind and embarked on the, often overwhelming, challenge of setting up roots in a place where you probably don’t know a soul and may or may not speak the language. It’s okay to spend an evening now and then transporting yourself “back home” by way of some familiar restaurant.
2. Hang a huge map of where you’re living on the wall as a reminder of how cool you are.
During your darkest moments of living abroad, seeing that map on your wall (I simply used tape) will be a reminder of the fact that you’re living abroad. How cool is that?! Very cool! Congratulations on being so cool.
3. Find a best friend.
I know, I know, easier said than done. But it’ll go a long way to helping you make it through that first year. This can be a friend friend or a “more than friends” friend. Either way, find someone who you can look forward to hanging out with every day (or maybe every other day). It’s nice, of course, to have a group of friends, but I’ve found that having one extra-close person is even better. How to go about doing this? Here are some places to make friends abroad:
- Expat clubs
- International meetups
- Language courses
- English-language bookstores/cafes
4. Keep up your hobbies.
Whatever hobby you had before moving, keep doing it! Yes, this can be a challenge depending on what exactly your hobby is. Sailing, for example, might be tricky if you moved to a landlocked country. But finding some way to keep your hobby alive is important, even if at the beginning that simply means finding other people to hang out with and talk about, say, sailing rather than doing it.
5. Go ahead, grumble about the local customs and norms of your new country. Then move on.
There’s a good chance that you’re not going to love all the little quirks of daily life in your new home. That’s okay; nobody’s asking you to! There’s also no need to keep your frustrations bottled up. But you do need to be polite. So lament to your expat roommate about the horrible bureaucracy, the weird eating habits, or whatever’s got you annoyed, but don’t take it out on the locals; you did, after all, chose to move there. And, while a little griping to an empathetic ear can be cathartic, going on and on too much can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth, so best to keep it short and sweet, then move on to talking about what you do love about your new home.
Guest post by Dana Newman, writer and expat vlogger at Wanted an Adventure
Dana Newman is an expat YouTube vlogger and writer whose debut novel, entitled Found in Prague, is based loosely on her experiences living in the Czech Republic when she first moved to Europe in search of her roots. For the inside scoop on expat life (such as the truth about beer gardens and why the German sauna culture is like mayonnaise) as well as travel videos from around the world, check out and subscribe to her Wanted an Adventure YouTube channel. She can also be found on Twitter @WantedAdventure, sharing her international thoughts and musings in the most concise form the Internet has to offer.