Sunday, 19 December 2010

5 Things to Conquer As an Expat

1. Learning the Language In my view, coming to grips with the language of your adopted country is the most important step towards successful integration. You will feel a perpetual outsider if you're struggling for words (say when shopping at a market), aren't able to reply to a friendly remark by a neighbour, or have trouble understanding numbers (makes paying so much more difficult!) Learning a language is fun and it is also an excellent way of getting to know people (fellow foreigners as pupils, or natives as teachers might be your first contacts.)

2. Marginalisation There is no way around this. Every expat will know the feeling of being an outsider. This can either be self-inflicted - because you "feel" you can't be the person you used to be at home (because of linguistic and cultural inhibitions) or it could be that as a foreigner you are made to feel you don't quite belong. It's important to accept those feelings as necessary stepping stones; there's little you can do about it. Marginalisation, especially during the first year, say, is just part of the process. Accept it as a stage.

3. Homesickness
This is the bread and butter of expat life. After all, you've left friends and family behind.Your new country doesn't (seem to) offer the same comforts as home. You feel alienated, alone and awkward. Accept that there is nothing wrong with homesickness but try not to wallow in it. It's probably not a good idea to listen to your favourite familiar tune while reading a letter from your mum, or looking through childhood snaps... Go for walks, look at sites, visit a museum (all visual rather based on language) and try to enjoy your new surroundings for what they have to offer. Another good way of conquering homesickness is taking photos, it helps to make you feel in charge.

4. A (temporary) feeling of dislike of your new country
Believe me, we've all been there! You feel you can't take it anymore, the customs, the people, the language, the weather, the rudeness, the traffic - whatever it may be, it will be powerful, all-encompassing loathing of "the other".Simply because it isn't home, there will be a period where you'll be convinced your new surroundings are inferior. Or that you just "have" to leave. Again, I would say this is a necessary stage you have to fight your way through. There will come a morning when you'll be enchanted by the light, a stranger will smile at you or you accomplish a whole sentence in your new language.

5.Your shyness
It's natural to be shy when you're a stranger. Potentially, a lot of things can go wrong. You don't know your way round - literally and culturally. But try not to be too self-aware and inhibited. People will cut you a lot of slack as a foreigner. There's no need to completely blend in, no need to get everything right. Be yourself, smile, speak the language (however inadequately) and try to make as many contacts you possibly can.