4 Mistakes People Make When Moving Abroad
Moving overseas is not for the faint of heart. Neither it is a nightmare, though. Beginning the journey of life as an expat can be a stressful season, but you can avoid common pitfalls if you do things right. Get your new life off to a good start by avoiding these four mistakes.
Have unrealistic expectations. This is top priority. If you have sky-high expectations, they’ll come crashing down on you before your first week is up. It’s impossible to have no expectations, but get rid of as many as possible. As for the expectations you are bound to have, know what they are and intentionally recognise that they are illegitimate. Write them down. Tell yourself it probably won’t be that way. When you get there, you’ll have fewer bitter disappointments, and still get to enjoy the lovely surprises!
Hang out with just other expats. No matter where you go, you’ll almost always see groups of similar people gathering together and bonding. It’s no different for the expat life, but it’s on a totally different scale. This isn’t college, where people are defined by sports and majors. Now, your main identity is your language and nationality. It’s easy to stick with other people like you, but you’ll never learn to operate in your new culture if you don’t make meeting locals and engaging with local culture a priority. I have heard that it’s best to step off the plane and go straight to the market. Bond with your culture, and bond with your local neighbours! It takes time, but it is worth it.
Try to be one of the locals. You will never, ever, ever be one of the locals. So just get that idea out of your head right now. You’ll always have the accent, the possible pigment difference, and the thought processes that set you apart as a foreigner. Sometimes, it can really wear on you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could unzip my skin and put on a different color, just to fit in once in a while. But to be honest, being a foreigner isn’t so bad. Generally, people will begin to accept you for who you are and look past the differences to the person you are inside. I was once told by a twelve-year-old local boy, “You don’t have an American accent, because I don’t think of you as American. You’re part of the Caribbean now.” Of course, I totally still have the accent, but the acceptance was heartwarming. You know what? Being different is OK.
- Assume your culture does things right. There is more than one way to do pretty much anything. I grew up in the city, where traffic moves along at lightning speed, stopping for no one. Here in Saint Martin, people cruise along slowly, stopping for random goats and kids darting out into the road, or pausing to have a chat with people walking by. Both ways are perfectly fine ways to get around, and both have their pros and cons. I can get super frustrated and honk my crabby horn at people for crossing where there is no crosswalk, or I can just be chill and get there when I get there. Because nobody is going to care if I’m late… dis is de island, mon. Life is a whole lot better when you realise that your culture’s way is not the right way. And that you can learn a whole lot from other cultures, too!
Breana is an American expat living in the Dutch Caribbean. Graphic Designer and writer from sunny Arizona, she has travelled around the Caribbean, Mexico, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya and most of the U.S. You can also follow Breana and her adventures together with her husband, at 3rdculturewife.com.