As all expats will know, moving countries is not an easy task.
Yes, we do get better at it, and yet every new location brings with it a whole new set of challenges and learning gaps that makes the move feel overwhelming at the best of times. On top of that, as expat families we also evolve. Children come into our lives, and they bring with them a whole new level of complexity into our already stormy lives.
As we move around the globe, we expand and grow in so many different ways, that had we stayed back home, we wouldn’t have experienced. This continued growth and evolution force us to redefine ourselves, our identities and our course of action as we try to settle into our new location and our new lives.
Add to the mix the logistics of your move, like finding a nice, comfortable place to live, a good school for your children. A location that makes getting around your new city bearable, whilst allowing your partner to avoid long commute times. Finding your way around, learning the basics of the local language if necessary, finding food that resembles what you are used to, places to go out to exercise, to eat, to enjoy yourselves … and of course one of the most important aspects of settling into your next destination, is to find like minded people, to help you connect and give you a sense of belonging.
In essence, we have to start afresh, from the very beginning. We need to redefine and recreate our lives, if possible to be as good as they were before, or even better.
Even though adapting to a new place and life may be a daunting process, there are many upsides too; we become incredibly resourceful individuals. Our ability to think on our feet develops dramatically. We grow radically, as we are often faced by ‘out of comfort’ experiences that we must conquer in order to get what we need; we become pros at decision making skills and solving everyday problems. These are just some of the many examples of how expatriates enhance and expand their capabilities during their various moves.
So what can be done to make the process of adaptation into our new countries and our new lives easier? Let me share with you some proven tips to help you become a pro at adapting.
Strategies to help you become a master at adaption
1. Don’t limit yourself.
Let go of any predefined ideas or expectations that you may have about your new location. By all means read about it and talk to people that are living there. But do not let other people’s accounts of their experience dictate your own experience. We are all different, and come from very different backgrounds. Someone’s “hate” could easily be one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life, or vice versa. Do not limit yourself about how you may enjoy your next move based on other people’s stories. Write your own story and create your own unique life in your new place.
2. Research intentionally.
If you can, do an orientation trip prior to your move. It is worth investing some time and money travelling to your next location to intentionally research and gather as much information as you can about potential locations, valid ways of transport, favourite schools, and other important things in your list, and test it out. It will save you a lot of hassle and added stress when you get there, and a possible house or school move later on. Dive in and test it all out; interview your top schools, test the journey back to your potential new home to/from the school and workplace, etc.
3. Give it time.
Give yourself plenty of time to get settled into your new life. It is always easier to get into a routine for the working partner. For the person at home, there is a lot of unpacking, sorting, shopping, finding and exploring to do, so don’t expect to arrive and hit the ground. So next time you spend a whole day trying to find wrapping paper and birthday cards, don’t beat yourself up. Unrealistic pressures will only add to your already hectic life; so give yourself a break and accept that adapting to your new life does and will take time.
4. Write it all down.
Even if you think that you know what you’re doing, and you’ve done it all before. Creating a list with all that needs to be done, down to the very specifics, will help you free up some space in your head, and help you progress and get things done in a more productive and orderly manner. The good thing about a master list is that, once done, you can pretty much continue to use it for all future moves.
5. Befriend social media.
Thanks to social media, a whole new world of opportunities has opened up to us, especially for expats.You can join an array of local Facebook and Meetup groups, such as running groups, yoga, meditation, parenting, crafts, business, etc. The choice is overwhelming. There are also many networks that you can easily connect with that meet up weekly – all you need to do is look for them, and sign up. Additionally, there are country specific groups and clubs that welcome you with open arms. If you are unable to find them online, you can ask your local embassy for contact details.
Breathing is going to be one of the cheapest, easiest and yet most powerful tools that you can use during the period of adaptation. You will have good days, bad days, and impossible days … on some days all you’ll be able to get through is breathing, so since it has to be done, do it right. If you start feeling overwhelmed, sad, frustrated … it is time to intentionally do some deep breathing. You will oxygenate your body and it will help you get out of your head and emotions, become more mindful and energised, so you can move on.
7. Loosen up!
Be open to the new experiences that the new country may bring. You many not be able to find the same things you loved in your previous place, and yet many more opportunities will be available to you, if you are open to them. When I moved to the Borneo jungle from the big city, I thought I wouldn’t be able to survive there. Then I started trying out the very things I thought I didn’t enjoy, like running, jungle trekking and yoga. Well, I fell madly in love with them all, and have enjoyed them ever since. Just because you haven’t tried it, or you didn’t enjoy it a long time ago, it doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy it this time around. I guarantee you that if you are prepared to get out of your comfort zone and just give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised.
8. Stay healthy.
Try to eat healthy nutritious food as much as you can, exercise and sleep and rest well. Your body is your temple, and you will need it to get you through this period of intense stress. A healthy mind is also critical during a relocation. Practise gratefulness and try to focus on the positives, rather than the negatives. Your choice of thoughts will have a direct impact on how you experience your new location.
9. Put yourself first.
For the partner staying at home, it is so easy to fall into the carer’s role and do it all for everyone, attending to their every need, whilst completely denying yourself. Let me tell you that it is not selfish, in fact it is necessary for you to put yourself first, if you are to care for others as well. A person that cares for her/himself fully, will show up with much more energy and focus – and will improve the quality of their relationships at home too. So make time for breakfast, go for a walk, read a book you enjoy, meditate, do yoga, catch up for coffee with friends, take a relaxing bath, have a massage… do what you need to do to recharge and top up your feel good vibes.
10. Show up.
When you are in a new location, for many of us it can bequite difficult to get out of the house and meet new people.There are some ways in which you can more easily get toknow people, which require little effort. School is one of the best ways; attend parents meetings, greet parents at school drop off or pick up, attend a class or gym regularly, greet people in your building … Remember that most people are in a very similar scenario as you. Ask questions about them, people love being listened to. You’ll have friends in no time.
Pursue a hobby or activity that gives you purpose and makes you feel good. You can do volunteering work, help out at school, join a craft or sports group, paint, study, create an online business, write a book … the possibilities are endless. Doing something just for you that brings meaning and fulfilment into your life will help you beat the blues and will bring much joy into your life.
12. Let it out.
Make sure you have someone to share your ups and downs with; your partner, family or friends back home … ensure that you reach out and open up to someone you trust. Talking it out will help you release stress,help you reflect on it, make you feel better, and help you move on. If you don’t have anyone who can support you during this time, engage in the help of a coach or other professional that can help you navigate through the waves of change. Or write a daily journal.
13. Get real.
Accept that this experience will be a ride, with ups and downs along the way. Allow yourself to feel the feelings as they come, without judgement. No one said it’d be easy. And sometimes we just have to get on with it. It will pass. If you start noticing yourself being anxious, depressed, constantly focusing on the negatives and unable to cope with it all, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a professional that can help you sort it at once. If you take decisive action, in no time, you’ll be looking at the good in life. Let go of how things used to be. You simply cannot replicate fully your previous life in a whole new setting. But you can adapt and creatively enhance it.
14. Ask for help.
We are all on the same boat. Ask your embassy, contact the school, online groups, etc. If you are coming across a hurdle, chances are most of us have been through it too, so ask people around and you’ll be surprised how easily you can get through those hurdles.
Find a group of people that you enjoy spending time with. Most people feel disconnected when they arrive in a new place. Many are too shy to instigate connections. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and ask people for a coffee, or offer help, or set up a kid’s playdate… you’ll be amazed how many people feel the same way you do. You are not alone.
I hope that you found some of the above tips helpful. Put some or all of them into practise, not just on your next move, but anytime you go through changes, and you’ll be able to navigate through it all with swag and ease!