What to Expect when Moving Abroad
Contributing Author: Maureen Hochdorf
Prepare for your Journey Abroad
Becoming an expat is an exciting new challenge. Moving to anew country and diving into a new culture can bring forth lots of new feelings, fears and questions. After living as an expat for the past 17 years in Brazil,Botswana and now Israel, I’ve experienced the highs and the lows of being an expat and what to expect when moving abroad.
Immerse Yourself into the Culture
The best tip I can offer anyone moving abroad is to fully immerse yourself into the culture. This will be your new home and your chance to really get to know all you can about your new country. Meet new people. Eat at local restaurants. Shop at the local markets. Travel the local roads. Learn the language. Make lots of new memories.
Don’t keep yourself ‘walled-in’ as an expat. Open yourself up to experience the full package of what your new home brings.
Learn the Language
If you’ve moved to a country with a new language, it might be tempting to “just get by” with the basics. But if you want to truly experience your new culture, learning the language is key. Take private lessons, learn in a group setting or even online.
When I first moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I was a young,24-year-old. Learning Portuguese came easy to me with my background of Spanish and French. I didn’t need to take formal lessons and I learned most of it by just submerging myself into the culture.
Fast-forward 8 years later and I was 32 years old and stepping into a language and culture completely different from what I was used to. Hebrew & Arabic were like nothing else I had learned. The letters weren’t letters, it's read right-to-left and the sounds were alien to me. There’s no way I could just learn it on my own, so I took language classes. It was such a challenge compared to my past language-learning experiences. But it helped me tremendously.
Whatever method is best for you, just go for it.
Don’t Just Rely on the Expat Community
Having an expat community is a tremendous help for your entry into the new country but relying completely on that community isn’t the best idea. Depending on how long you end up staying in your new country, you could slowly see yourself losing dear friends within the expat community when they move on.
After living in Israel for 10 years, I can honestly say thatI only have one original expat friend left. People have come and gone, being the last woman standing isn’t easy. Making local friends who’s lives don’t depend on “coming and going” can help you feel more connected and give you a deeper sense of belonging.
Make the First Year a Learning Curve
No matter how comfortable you feel in your new country, the first year is the learning curve year. You might find yourself feeling 100%immersed and localized but be ready for new surprises to hit you harder than you would have imagined.
I always tell others not to be so hard on yourself during that first year. Cry when you need to cry. Call friends and family to get you through difficult times. Find something that brings comfort to your soul. And just breath.
Get Ready for Reverse Culture Shock
Everyone talks about culture shock and how to prepare for it.Yes, it’s definitely a thing. Especially if you move to a completely opposite culture than your own. But one thing that most people don’t discuss is the culture shock of returning to your own country.
When I returned to the States for the first time after my time in Africa, I experienced reverse culture shock to the highest degree. And it was the little things that got me. Walking down the cereal isle of a grocery store with unlimited choices. The crazy amount of fast food chains. And don’t get me started on Target. These were all luxuries I’d had my entire life, and all of a sudden, they were overwhelming me. This is the impact of reverse culture shock. I had a harder time re-adjusting to my own culture than I did my expat culture. Prepare yourself for your re-entry.
But when all is said and done, just enjoy the ride! You’re in for an incredible, life-changing experience!