How To Survive Living In A Foreign Country
Allow yourself to miss things: food, clothes, being able to communicate easily. Don’t allow yourself to miss: narrow thinking, getting bored, feeling trapped.
Learn the language but don’t get upset with yourself if it’s difficult and takes time to master. Enjoy the period where you can sit in coffee shops and restaurants and not have to block out inane chatter. It’s effortless when it’s all gibberish.
Get used to the problems of the country not really being your problems. You don’t have a say in them, so it’s easier if you just accept them as they are — out of your control. Don’t worry, it’s an easy feeling to get used to; it actually becomes comforting.
Use the Internet and watch it become even more amazing than it already is. Used together with a little improvisation, you can get almost anything you would be consuming back home — music, movies, books, food, clothes. Almost everything. Where I live the foreigners talk a lot about missing good avocados. You get over it.
If you have a phone, call your family every week. It helps keep you feeling normal. It also preempts them from sending you emails complaining about your absence.
Take comfort in knowing that once you got beyond your country’s borders you already began winning. If you can stay out for at least a year than there’s a very real chance you’ll be able to stay out in the world indefinitely. I spent my first two decades in America. That’s a quarter of a normal life in the same country. More than enough. Once you get the foreign-life inertia in motion, the longer you stay away the easier it is to keep going.
Know that most places in the world where you would end up living for any real period of time can get you to an airport in a day. From there you should be able get home in one more day. You can live on the other side of the world and if something requires you to get home you can probably get there in no more than two days.
Give up on where you’re from but don’t give up on the people. Your friends back home won’t forget about you. They will move on with their lives without you, and they might resent you, but they will still listen to your stories if your stories are good.
On those days when a really simple thing could be easily handled if you were back home, and you get frustrated, and you start really wishing you could go back home — maybe you should do it. Maybe you should go back home and stay there. Maybe you don’t belong overseas. The frustrations are what teach you the most. But if you’re too strong or proud or stubborn for that, then try and remember that every day you live in a foreign country you get better at it. Every day you live abroad you learn something — about yourself, about the country you live in, and about how there is always more than one way to look at something.
Date someone from the country you’re living in. Or don’t. There is no certain way to go about this. It has caused mixed outcomes in my fellow expats. Almost always the relationship improves their understanding of the country and their facility with the language. It also without fail is the cause of no small frustration and trouble. Go forth at your own risk.
Plan on making friends that will stick. Living together in a strange place together binds you. The only problem with the friends you make is that they, like you, have caught a full dose of the itinerant lifestyle, and it won’t be long before they’re off to somewhere else.
Try to keep your head. Another country might make you forget who you are and where you came from, and maybe that’s what some of you want. That’s a big part of it. But no one ever fully escapes where they came from, or who they are, and once you come to terms with that you’ll be able to really enjoy yourself. It’s a good, interesting life if you can handle it.
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