We’ve all been that expat. The one frantically looking up the fine print of their contract while wondering just how much it would cost to throw in the towel and fly home tomorrow. We get it: homesickness is a very real and heart-wrenching condition to navigate, but we have a number of tricks that will help you reap the greatest benefits from your expat lifestyle, while mitigating feelings of homesickness.
- Use public transit. Public transit is a great equalizer because, even with language skills, we are all at the mercy of the driver. Most cities will offer transit information in English, and a good transit map doesn’t even require translation. When we ride subways, trams and buses we see the real parts of a city missed by many expats when they rely on a car service or established work carpools. Public transit takes you to other neighborhoods and forces you to become intimate with the city. It encourages you to learn street names, use the language, and it provides you with endless opportunities to interact with local people. When you have days off, get wild and just hop on public and let your new city take you where it will.
- At least try to speak the local language. No one is expecting you to have mad skills the moment you arrive in your new country. But, nothing is going to allow you to integrate better and feel more confident in your new community like tackling the language hurdle. Enroll in community college courses, get the Rosetta Stone, download Duolingo for your phone, stream the heck out of some podcasts. Truly, the options for acquiring basic new language skills are almost endless in today’s tech-dependent world. And coming to grips with the bare minimum will allow you to express yourself, hopefully detouring around the isolating experience of not being able to communicate. And, let’s be honest: committing to learning the language of your host country is just good manners.
- Get uncomfortable. You might think that it’s easier to just shuttle yourself between work, the English yoga class, and your flat (that after your shipment arrived was recreated to look exactly like your apartment on the Upper East Side). You’d be wrong. After a while, without all that “back home” minutiae and human contact, things are going to get tough and you’ll be begging for a chance to go home. Stop expecting to feel comfortable all the time. Try. New Things. Discover the cultural festivals and social mores of your host country and dive right in. Instead of buying the overpriced shipped-in “back home” food products, buy local food and source local attire instead of traveling all the way to Paris to hit up the closest Gap Outlet. Successful expats allow themselves to sink into their new country while still remaining true to the components of their culture that they love.
- Have a solid app game: Nothing makes navigating all aspects of being an expat easier than Smart Phone apps. Where is that drug store in your commune? What time is that grocery store open? How on Earth do I get down to the Prater on transit? I drank too much and could really use a taxi. Where is the nearest WiFi? Apps make expat life a heck of a lot easier and should be a top priority during the first few weeks of settling in anywhere.
- Stop saying “yah, but back home”: Just stop it. No one wants to hear it, and it doesn’t help you acclimatize to your new surroundings. This isn’t “back home,” and endlessly comparing Rome to Philadelphia is just going to get on the nerves of everyone around you.
- Make friends: Making connections of the human variety plays a huge role in how effective a person will be able to adjust to a new country. These people don’t have to be your bosom buddies, and you don’t even have to invite them to your wedding, but make an effort to be friendly with the folks that inhabit your new work and social circles.
- Harness the power of social media. I’ve told you to pull your socks up and stop complaining about how great the grocery stores are back home, but a highly successful expat is going to acknowledge the difficulty of being away from the people that they love — and make sure that they are expanding their socializing toolbox to deal with the distance. You can’t rely on running into your oldest and dearest friends while at the launderette or in the gym change room (awkward), and you might be making new pals, but there’s no replacing the person that has known you since you were 8 and still wearing Rainbow Brite t-shirts. Letter writing might be romantic and nostalgic for some of us, but it lacks the immediacy that social media offers expats who are dealing with a longing for home. Get all over that Facebook, and hook up that Instagram account you’ve been thinking of. Use Twitter hashtags to stay connected to your community and the things that you love about your home country. Social media can close even the biggest distance.
Tell us some of your tips and tricks for navigating your expat world! We would love to share them on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.