Expat Musings

7 Tips for New (or Soon-to-Be) Expats

It shouldn’t be a big surprise, but moving to a new country is a BIG deal. It’s stressful. It’s expensive, and it’s tough to find honest real-life advice. I will admit, I’ve had an easier transition moving to the UK as language wasn’t a primary barrier to my new life. Even still, I have had my fair share of moments when I have been completely caught of guard in my first six months living in Wales.

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A snapshot from my first summer here, August 2012, seems like so long ago!

Before I moved, I wish that I could have picked the brain of another expat to learn from their experiences. With that in mind, in sharing the expat love here are a few morsels of advice from myself to any soon-to-be expats or new expats.

1. Don’t Compare: This first piece of advice may be the most difficult on the list, but it is pretty important… that is to not compare your old life verses your new life. In both big and little ways. One little moment of comparison was when I first went grocery shopping with Neal. I remember when I first moved to the UK, I could never go grocery shopping because the prices were so high because I kept converting everything from pounds to dollars. I had no idea how much milk should cost or grapes or cheddar cheese. I knew the prices back in America but no in North Wales. Constantly changing costs in my head was making shopping so difficult, so I had to eventually just stop comparing between the two countries just to save my sanity!

Of course, there will be moments of bigger life comparison between pre-expat life and current expat life. What you would have been doing. What your friends or family are up to. That of course easier said than done, but simply take it one day at a time.

2. Get Out of the House: When I first moved to Wales, I didn’t start working right away, so I didn’t really have a reason to create a new routine or sense of purpose. But I will tell you by simply getting out of the house for a walk through town helped me to get my perspective on my new town. I also have to credit Freddy as a reason for building a new routine, while Neal was at work (and I was at home), he was a perfect excuse to get out of the house for a walk. I would recommend for any new expat to head out of the house a few times a week, try simple errands and learn your way around.

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Not to afraid to admit it, but Freddy was my first companion when I moved to the UK…

3. Make Notes: When I first moved to Wales, I actually carried a little notebook with myself filled with notes. Some more practical than others! In the notebook, I had my mobile number, Neal’s work number…heck I even included our address! The notebook also helped me to write down notes and observations that I would turn int (yes, you guessed it) blog posts. My little notes helped to remind me how much I was growing into my new life on a daily basis which helped to build my confidence.

4. Read the News: I found that one of the quickest ways for me to learn about life in the UK, was to take an active interest in current news. I made a point to read or watch the BBC a few times a week just to learn as much as I could about day-to-day life in the UK. Knowing a bit of news, was one way to become more invested and connect in the culture here in the UK.

5. Ask Questions: Whew, this one is a biggie. Learning a brand new culture with plenty of quirks requires questions, lots of questions. I asked about habits, health care, food and grocery shopping. I asked about best stores for clothes shopping or questions about trying to understand the dry British humor. Questions expat friends! Ask those questions! To be an expat, you must have a curious and adventurous heart, so questions will probably come naturally to you, so ask away.

6. Stay Connected but Not Tied Down: Life as a new expat is a constant balance, between creating a new life while stay connected to friends and family back home. When I first moved here, I created a lot of distance between myself and everyone in America, because it was too hard to miss the daily moments in life.  It sounds small or silly, but those chats (although well intended) made me really homesick and sad. Now that I am much more settled, I am working to bridge the communication gap with friends and family in America.

If I could redo my first 3 months as an expat, I would have looked to build a better balance of communication from the start. But, it’s just that it’s a balance!  It’s important to keep communication constant, but it can’t be your everything when you are a new expat. Waiting to have a Skype or Facetime session will prevent you from exploring your new town. Set up regular Skype or Facetime calls, and get everyone on iMessage or Whats App. Being able to send quick messages keeps day-to-day communication easy.

7. Cut Yourself Some Slack: Moving to a new country is a big life changing moment, and no matter how hard you try it will not be perfect. That’s okay! Just cut yourself a little bit of slack, and don’t go to hard on yourself. There are days when you feel like a rockstar, and you are killing a new life abroad. Then, there are days when you feel like a ton of bricks have hit you. You feel sad or discouraged or homesick or even lost. And that is okay. Just remember to let go of expectations and the idea of being perfect, and to go with the flow.

Tell me current expat friends, what advice would you give to a future expat seeking any (and all) advice? Do leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments as I am sure your advice will help a new (or soon-to-be) expat in the blogging universe!

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