Tips on Surviving your first year of Living Abroad

Moving abroad is like being married, instead of a 7-year itch in marriage, there is a 6-month itch (dip). When you totter on the brink of moving forward – or going back.

It’s the moment my past life drift out of my everyday, and the honeymoon factor of the move – is wearing off.  I’ve not my new location isn’t feeling like home, and I start to question your decision to move abroad.

It’s what I call the ‘6-month itch’.

Packing, sorting, unpacking

Those that have lived abroad may know what I am talking about, although its not often discussed. People who spend all the time abroad in an expat community may never experience it. It’s a reality check to those who think living abroad is all cocktails with mini umbrellas on a beach.   I’ve found it’s simply part of the move, and being a perpetual nomad.

I’ve experienced the 6-month itch in every country I’ve ever lived. I even get it when I move back to somewhere I used to live – a bumpy reintegration. It’s a culture shock either way.

For me, it’s the moment doubt surfaces. Every time, I mention moving to another country to friends, I get the ‘raised eyebrow, quizzical yet doubtful – did she just say pigs are flying’ look.

The look, the laugh, the disbelief….

And they I get the usual round of questions: Really? You thinking of moving to Argentina??  Are you sure?  Have you thought about it?  Why? What’s in Argentina?  What are you going to do? Do you speak Spanish? What if you get robbed/killed? Is it safe?  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if you can’t find a job? Really? Argentina?  Are you sure?? Sure, you’re sure?  Hmm.  Ok….. So, Argentina???

Of course, you can replace Argentina with anywhere I have lived – it’s the same drill, the same ‘look’.  The look comes to haunt me 6 months into a new life in a new country. Were, my friend’s right?  Am I crazy? Do I know what I am doing? Did I ask the right questions……?

It’s at a point that I may not have an established clique of new friends, yet.

I am in a new country; my language isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. And I have lost my rose-colored glasses along the way.  The solution is to admit defeat – look defeat in the face – and cry.

I might mix up the crying  routine with writing poetry, some very sad poetry….

I cry some more, write, cry and write.

Then,  I pick myself up, make a plan, and brainstorm a list of possibilities and ideas to get me up and out and past this dip.

Note: Feel free to skip the crying and poetry part – just start on the plan.

Surviving your move to a new Country:

My first survival step:  I start, by making a list of why I moved, and what I love about living where I do. So, I can also make a conscious effort to do those things I enjoy.

When you first move somewhere, you’re occupied with housing, work, where to buy the groceries, how to get the internet connected, how to make yourself understood in a new language.  We get lost in the details, and our lives become just another ‘to do’ list – just like it was back home.

All work and no play, boring!….

The Gaucho Festival

One of the things I like about living in Argentina is the horses, so, I booked riding lessons, spent a weekend out on a Gaucho (cowboy) farm and went to see a few polo games. Bought some handmade riding boots, voila – feeling better already.

Every country has its pros and cons, what we need to do is find what they are and make sure we are enjoying the pros over the cons, and give the good stuff our time and focus.

The very best thing that I’ve found to get me through this passage of doubt is ‘friends’. Someone you can grab a coffee with, who can share or add to your perspective. It’s always the friends I meet, that make a foreign country feel like home.

It’s your friends that will let you know your dealing with an issue the wrong way – or to avoid the chamuyero (flirty boys/players), they’ll remind you not to walk with your purse down, or to lock the taxi doors – and they’ll give you a glimpse into their culture that you won’t see otherwise.  I value the friends I have scattered across the globe as much as a value my time spent in a particular country.

Meeting Locales, making Friends:

Now, I know, finding good friends isn’t easy. It takes effort; this isn’t like being in school and just hanging out with those you have lunch with. No, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, you need to get off your butt, and make an Effort.

Yes, Effort – Capital ‘E’.

The best way I’ve found to meet like-minded others is through a hobby, doing a course in something you enjoy, be it pottery, fiber art, cooking etc. I’ve meet people through a language exchange, which is great as it also means they are likely to speak a bit of your language – and have traveled. [Caution: be selective of who you meet, and remember the objective – ‘like-minded others’ vs psychopaths, some people the language exchange for dating… and may have other objectives….]

In some countries, there are also great international groups that meet up, through sites such as internations, or Expatica (Europe). You can also find local events through meetups or a local version of the site. In most cities, there are also great international bars where you can find a good mix foreigners or locals – such as Gibraltar in Buenos Aires.

As someone who is shy, especially in group situations, it pains me to go to any of these events alone. Yet I go, I know it’s going to take Effort – I know I need to go beyond my comfort zone to meet people.  I also know, in a short time I’ll get to know a few people at each outing, and some of these will grow into valuable friendships.

Buenos Aires, New Years Even 2012, Hanging out with my Tribe

And, then like magic, I come out on the other side of the 6-month itch: I am doing courses, have a few new hobbies, attending a new yoga class, have been practicing and improving the language and going to the movies or for coffee with new friends.

I am Settled, Comfy and Content.

And, I realize I am now home.

p.s. No doubt I’ll get itchy feet after another 6-12 months is just me, and then it’s time to move on to my next new home – but hey stay tuned – that’s another story.

p.s.s. Are you a fellow nomad, what are your experiences? Do you have a 2-6 month dip in a new country – and how do you cope??….




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