The struggles of fitting into a new country

September 28 2016, Joana Kroon

Moving to a new country can be both an exciting and daunting experience. Perhaps you are moving to another country due to a transfer, because you are seeking greener pastures or even because you found love in that country. Whatever the reason may be, relocating to a new country with a set of norms and values different from your own, can be either a learning experience or one of total horror.

Moving to a new country

Stages of cultural adaptation

It is difficult to live in a new country, what with the different language, unusual food and unfamiliar surroundings. More importantly, you do not have your social circle to fall back on. You will find that your initial excitement about moving to that country will wear off after a while and then what do you do? Homesickness sets in and all you want to do is move back home. It does not matter how much money you have spend to move to this new country. You just want to go back home.

First of all, you have to know that you are not the only one who goes through these stages. Most people who emigrate to a foreign country go through the stages of cultural adjustment or adaptation. Some experience the stages in a different sequence and at different lengths. The key factor here is knowing that you have the power to do something about it.

Cultural adjustment or cultural adaptation
Removing barriers

So what if the language spoken in the new country you want to move to, or have already moved to is foreign to you? Why not make some time to learn the language! Take a few lessons before moving to that country and if you have already moved, find out where you can take language classes. Language is a barrier you can overcome if you want to. Moreover, it gives you the opportunity to meet other people going through the same struggles as you. Another way to learn the language is to get a language buddy or partner, a local with whom you can practice the language. 

Making friends with the locals is an important way to integrate into a new community. You can do this by enrolling yourself in a class that interests you. Do you like painting, theater, sports? Find out what local sports clubs or painting classes you can join. Meet the locals whilst doing something that you like or something you have always wanted to learn.

The worst thing you could probably do when you move to a new country is to keep to yourself for fear of not knowing anyone or that they will not accept you. Make small talk with the local vegetable vendor, go to the nearby pub, get to know your neighbours. It may be difficult at first, but you will find that the locals will reciprocate the gesture. Explore your surroundings, find out what amenities are near you. You can also find out from the town hall the schedule of local events. Join a local organization or volunteer to help with community activities.

Are you working in your new country? Then don’t turn down the first invites to do something with your colleagues. Make time and get to know your colleagues on a personal level. Find a routine that will instigate a sense of normalcy, but don’t be afraid to do some exciting activities that may be a little bit out of your comfort zone.

Great things never came from comfort zones

“Your own people”

If you find that you are feeling homesick you can always seek out people from the same country as you. There are countless expat forums and Facebook pages dedicated to nationals from the same country going to events together. You can also follow your embassy in the country you want to relocate to since the embassy sometimes organises events as well.

Keep in mind however that seeking out “your own people” too many times can make you lose the authenticity of living in new country. It is totally fine to seek out nationals from your own country, but make an effort to actually integrate into the local community of your host country.

The last and predominant tip is to keep an open mind. Listen before you speak. Try to withhold judgement of things you may not understand about other cultures. It is probably the most difficult thing to do. It can be sometimes a bit frustrating when you notice cultural differences that you may not understand or agree with. However, you will go a long way with a good ear, showing empathy and trying to understand the other culture and its people.

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