Going on Erasmus? Or maybe you have just changed your job? Perhaps you decided to taste a new culture by living in a new country? No matter of what your motives are, moving abroad is a big deal. It takes energy and time to adapt, can be stressful and not always successful from the start.
I have started ‘a new chapter of life’ in a new place 4 times already (plus a 2 months trip to Lithuania). Had its ups and downs, all of them been incredible adventures but also brought me many learning points, which often came out of silly mistakes. If you are about to move abroad, apply those 9 most important mindset shifts and enjoy an amazing, unforgettable experience of living diversity.
- Do your homework about basic services
When you settle in a new place, you will need a few primary things managed as soon as possible. Stuff like SIM card with a new number, a bank account, insurance and address registration. Do not wait until you absolutely need it, otherwise you’ll just run around in panic and loose lots of nerves (not mentioning money).
Do not repeat my mistake, when I waited 5 (!) months to get a Portuguese phone number. Just ask somebody you know (can be even a new colleague from work) to recommend the best solutions or simply compare them online.
- Get familiar with bureaucracy
Let’s face it – nobody likes to wait in a queue of public service office and try to get one signature on some document. But that’s just something you got to do. When you want to avoid lots of frustration and time wasting, do a small research of all the needed paperwork when moving abroad. You can find this information either through a local friend or online, on official office’s websites or expats’ blogs.
Once you have the list of all required documents, permits and registrations, try to do it all in one day and start very early in the morning. Preferably be the first one in the office to avoid long lines and even longer lasting grumpiness after this unpleasant experience. Also, check which of the affairs can be managed online and use that opportunity as often as possible.
- Taste and try
No matter how much you’ll try to blend in, as ‘the international one’ you will always be treated as a special guest. Typically, people are kind and always try to impress their guests. So just let them do it by respecting their culture and traditions, food, drinks and customs. Unless you really cannot, don’t say no to new tastes and experiences, just because ‘meh, it seems really weird’.
If I was like that and if it wasn’t for wonderfully hospitable people in Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland and Lithuania, I would never have:
- spent almost the whole night singing and watching stars in the forest at night
- got a habit of drinking a super strong espresso every day after lunch
- got totally addicted to commuting EVERYWHERE by bike
- eaten a grilled octopus
- worn a high-school uniform (and then cutting out some parts of it to make it look cooler)
- tasted delicious local snacks and drinks, while listening to a world-class musician
Bottom line: always be a good guest. Your life will get much more beautiful.
- Pitch your nationality
Not all of us will physically travel around the world in their lives, but at least we can get a glimpse of it from the stories we hear and the stories we share. So return the kindness you receive and tell a bit about your own culture and country. Bring a traditional dish to a house party. Teach others few words in your language. Tell why you are proud to be where you are from. And ask others to do the same.
When you are a single representative of your nationality, you automatically become its ambassador, who can clear out certain doubts about the country. For example, Polish people are supposedly known as supernatural human beings who can endure the lowest temperatures, just because ‘winters are so cold in Poland’ (this being said from a perspective of people living in the south of Europe). By repeating: ‘doesn’t matter if it’s freezing outside, we are not used to cold. We have HEATERS at home!’, this funny stereotype was explained, at least in my closest environment 🙂
- Learn basic words in a new language
When I first went to my summer job in a hotel in Italy, I thought: come on, everybody will speak English there. Oh how much I was wrong. Turned out, not all the hotel staff understood English and somehow I had to communicate in Italian, without understanding a word. That was one of the fastest learning experiences of my life and till today I am grateful for it because I simply HAD TO start speaking Italian.
My advice though: if you do not want to get very stressed in your first days in a new country, just learn few basic words of the local language. Even saying a simple ‘can I have a coffee, please’ and answering ‘thank you’ will instantly make you the most liked person in the room.
- Work on your non-verbal communication
Sometimes you’ll face situations when a basic conversation is not enough. This usually happens when managing a complicated case with an administration, university or, say, a plumber. As much fun it is for me now, I wasn’t laughing back then in Ireland, when instead of ‘you can sweep the floor’ (spoken with a very strong Irish accent), I understood from my boss: ‘you can sit on the floor’.
Just remember that non-verbal communication is a very helpful tool when you want to be understood. Don’t be afraid of using it or otherwise you will make a fool out of yourself, just like me back in Ireland, sitting on the floor on my first day at work.
- Have a local buddy
Nobody will guide you better through a culture than a local. Both when it comes to getting to know the new country’s traditions or picking the best place to have an afternoon coffee. When you’re going on Erasmus, the chance of actually getting to know natives is, paradoxically, very low. When I moved to the Netherlands for my Erasmus adventure, I didn’t get to know many Dutch people – and that’s my fault!
As much as it’s awesome to be surrounded by an international bunch of friends, it is always good to have a strong local connection with somebody who has lived in the city for some time. You can find them at work, at university, in the apartment next door, on organized cultural events, or simply, by meeting ‘a friend of a friend’.
- Check the proximity measures
Different cultures have a different way of understanding interpersonal distance. The best way to understand the ‘why’ behind it is by getting to know this brilliant Dutch social psychologist, Geert Hofstede, and his cultural dimensions theory.
So don’t be offended when you won’t receive a smile and a hug each morning from somebody you like, or you’ll feel uncomfortable with another friend touching your arm every time he/she speaks to you. Just, by curiosity, check what ‘proximity’ means for the people of the country you’re moving to and prepare for a certain understanding of personal distance.
- Make a bucket list of experiences
A great way to get rid of worries and start excitement about moving abroad is to make a bucket list of places, things and skills you want to experience. Research about the country, ask a local, go to Instagram; whatever inspires you, and write a list of experiences you cannot wait to live.
Maybe you want to learn surfing after moving to Portugal? Or become an expert in making pizza thanks to an Italian adventure? Start negotiating like a pro while living in India? Or visit magical Bavarian castles during your stay in Germany?
You choose it. Above all – don’t judge, just stay smart, embrace positive diversity and be open to all the wonders of cross-cultural experience. Happy traveling!