I have lived away from my homeland for a decade plus and I feel some reflection is in order. It’s hard leaving one’s country for pastures new especially if you are like me. I am an American, more specifically from California. Make of that what you will but it honestly makes very little difference to the story. You see Americans have a reputation as anything from imperialists to completely oblivious and somewhere in between.
So, I have the chance to share some nuggets of advice if you are thinking of relocating or have recently moved yourself into the brave new world beyond your borders!
Thing 1: Know the basics!
I know this will seem like a ‘no shit’ piece of advice but, know a bit of the language before entering the country you are coming to. Yes, yes! I know pretty obvious but hear me out. Most Americans or other Anglo-Saxons are notorious for their limited range of simple vocabulary. Yeah the whole rest of the world is learning English. However, you will win hearts and minds by showing off and ordering a few drinks at the bar. Trust me, nothing makes you more of a target than ordering in your native language.
Thing 2: Immersion
This is tied up into the first one so understand where this comes from. Don’t immediately set out to find the local group of expats. If you are looking to integrate, for the love of all things holy, DO NOT HANG OUT WITH THE LOCAL EXPAT GROUP!!!. If you want to get the full experience, then you have to get lost. Few things are better drivers of improvement than needing a place to stay or companionship. If you don’t know how to ask for food and can’t use your language, you’ll find a way to get it done. The consequences are high and that promotes learning in order to survive. Now after ten years my language skills are passable but nothing like they would be if I had complete immersion. If you don’t take this advice you will limit your interaction with the locals and this is where the true experience lies, in the culture. Don’t mess this up.
Thing 3: Say Yes!
Throughout my time abroad I truly started to enjoy things when I let go of my inhibitions. Mostly when it came to food; it wasn’t easy though. I remember back to my first trip to a central market. This is a place where you can get fresh food similar to a grocery store in your country. Or so I thought. Butchers, fisherman and farmers the whole lot! All ready to show their wares and my hosts were cackling at my response. Severed pigs’ heads as well as chickens being cut to bits were just some of thing I had never seen before and was mortified. Thankfully it only slightly put me off. I realized quickly I had to adapted to the culture and try some of these things. One turning point specifically was the dish called ‘black rice’. It’s exactly what you picture, squid ink and rice with some other seafood mixed in. The explanation to me was disgusting but I was assured that it would be good. I weighed up my opinions and said okay! It changed my life. Silly perhaps but what was clear was in order to get the most of this experience was to jump head first into it. Saying yes without much thought proved to open doors that unknowingly had closed without realization. This is only one instance on how my life had radically changed but still there were some opportunities that I had passed up for similar hesitations that I now live with as regrets.
So my things that I had learned throughout my time abroad will hopefully give you some pointers but I picture the lot of you saying that well yeah that seems obvious. Certainly on the surface this is true, but you won’t know until it’s too late. Knowing the language might seem like a layup in terms of a requirement until you actually are in the situation where it’s necessary. Staying away from the local expat group in the beginning will be a herculean effort because you won’t have the ability to express yourself like you would like, this will come though! And lastly if you are too set in your ways you might miss out on some of the beauty the area has to offer. Get out of your comfort zone and make an ass of yourself or try that strange dish; it will only make you grow. I say this as a man who is completely transformed by this whole experience and I wouldn’t trade anything for it but it didn’t come without heartbreak and struggle along the way. I believe these 3 things will help in the transition from foreigner to adopted resident in no time.
Good luck and God speed.