I’ve conducted an informal opinion poll amongst those of my friends who have spent more than six months at a time in a different country and we came up with the following list of things we wish we had known before ever coming up with the brilliant idea to live abroad in the first place! Because no matter how much you want to explore other countries and other cultures, there are going to be some tough times out there…
This is just a short bullet-point type list. I have written a more detailed report about this which will be available on my website shortly. http://www.theculturebroker.co.uk/free/
1. Culture shock will hit you. It may not be when or how or how much you expect it to hit you, but it will come as surely as night follows day.
2. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. You cannot avoid culture shock entirely, but you can prepare for it and thereby minimise its devastating effects.
3. Don’t just survive, learn to thrive. Some people hate their time abroad so much that they go into minimal resistance mode, just keeping their head down until they can go back home. Don’t let that person be you!
4. Build your own expat support network… After all, they are the ones who understand best what you are going through.
5. But learn to let go of the expat community. Don’t live in an exclusively expat bubble, or you’ll feel your time abroad has been wasted (in more ways than one).
6. Be curious about individual people and you will start to understand the culture better.
7. Understanding is not unquestioning acceptance. YOu don’t have to agree with everything you see or hear.
8. But understanding does breed respect.
9. It’s OK to make mistakes. And when you do, handle it quickly, sensitively, and don’t be afraid to admit when you are puzzled and need help.
10. It’s the little things that matter. The two things people most miss about their home country when they go abroad are: food and the weather. Regardless of how wonderful the cuisine and climate may be in their adopted country (and how rubbish it may have been back home), there will always be some little things that provoke strong loyalties and nostalgia – how else can you explain the fish’n’chips and baked beans pubs in Spain? Or me wolfing down a cheeseburger and fries in McDonald’s (a place I normally avoid) after several months in Japan? But what I am trying to say is that it’s not decadent or culturally obtuse to miss the little things, and if we can make our lives easier by indulging in some of these luxuries, why not?
What do you think of our list? Are there any other things you would have found useful (with the benefit of hindsight)? What little things do you miss most of all?