Maintaining a sense of self and sanity while living in a new country

You are moving (or have moved) to a foreign country.   Whether you made your decision with excitement or dread, here are a ten tips to help you get over the biggest adaptation hurdles and appreciate your new lifestyle.

1.  Maintain close friendships through the internet:  Even if you feel isolated and far away, the internet has increasingly better tools of communication.  Commit to talk with a close relative or friend at least once a week.  You need ways to remember that just because you have no deep relationships in your new home does not mean that you are socially inept.  Do not cut ties faster than you need to; that will happen naturally over time and with less emotional upheaval than if you are trying to "be strong" and adapt too quickly.

2.  Keep a list:  If you have the advantage of being in contact with someone in your new location before moving, ask them for a list of what they cannot buy (or is expensive) in that country.  Think about your hobbies.  Do you enjoy baking?  Maybe you should pack a few bags of chocolate chips.  Do you only use a certain kind of soap?  Slip in a few extra bars.  If you do not find out beforehand, start keeping your own list now.  It's surprising how a small piece of material familiarity can increase your sense of security and identity.  

3.  Expect the honeymoon (or nightmare) to end soon:  Some people arrive in a foreign country and are captivated by the differences between their own culture and the new one.  Others are miserable and struggle immediately with homesickness and deep feelings of loneliness.  In either situation, your moods and attitudes tend to be much more dynamic in a new place than at home.  Your conscious mind cannot even begin to grasp all the details of the shift in your physical and emotional landscapes; expect your subconscious to surprise you and keep a balanced perspective as you go through sudden changes in mindset.

4.  Write, talk, photograph, film: Many people use blogs to record their new experiences for family and friends.  If you are not a writer, find a different way to share your observations and feelings.  You will appreciate the memories down the road, your friends and family will have more to talk about with you when you visit home and you will have a place to express the myriad of changes occurring in your life without forcing all of it on a single listener.

5.  Make an effort to build a deep relationship with a national:  It takes extra effort and you will probably end up in a few awkward situations, but you’ll never feel at home until you connect with someone foreign in the same way you’d connect with someone in your own country.  Shallow friendships based on discussing cultural differences will be nice trophies to add to your shelf of “interesting experiences,” but investing in someone long enough to understand that humans have strong similarities all over the world will make you feel safe and enrich your social life at any stage of life.

6.  Cultivate a community of expatriates:  At the same time you are pursuing meaningful interactions with nationals, do not neglect finding people who really understand what you’re going through.  You need to be able to share your unfiltered opinions and not feel so alone.  Talking to a person who is walking or has walked through a similar life situation can feel like slipping into a comfy arm-chair; in a foreign country, you especially need places where conversation is not a job.

7.  Build a healthy physical routine:  Do not wait months to create the spaces you need for free-time activities.  For example, if you are in a country where walking alone is dangerous, make it a priority to find a buddy, park or gym.  Plan a healthy menu and work on figuring out the best way to buy the ingredients.  Neglecting the little things because you are going through so many drastic changes is a surefire way to make your transition even more difficult.

8.  Wait to judge:  Wait to judge the country.  Wait to judge the people around you.  Wait to judge yourself.  Whether or not you feel like you are a flexible person, it takes months to settle comfortably into a new lifestyle.  While you can’t stop instantaneous opinions, you can choose not to take any of them too seriously.

9.  Enjoy! You are having the experience of a lifetime.  When you can, stop, look around you, and try to take in this amazing turn in your journey.