How To Survive Living In A Foreign Country

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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. TC mark

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  • six

    I live in Japan and this is one of my favorite parts about living abroad: 

    “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.”
    I love feeling like I’m in my own world here sometimes. 
    Nice article.

    • beatrice

      Well, i’ve lived 2 months in japan before and I must say that that’s something innately unique to japan. No where else in the world do you feel like you’re in  a whole different universe

  • Carly J Hallman

    Nice. Seoul is so awesome though…you guys have Taco Bell.

  • erin

    Brilliant

  • Anonymous

    This is kind of bullshit to me. I wonder if you live in another country at all or you’re just writing about it because it’s a glamorous thing to do.
    ‘Not your country, not your problem’? Why shouldn’t you learn about the issues of your new home? Sure, if you’re -visiting- I can see it then. But this is your home now, too. It affects you, so learn about it.

    Some of these are ‘do it. or don’t, whatever’. You can’t really go wrong with vague instructions like these.

    I’m not saying the one about blocking out foreign languages is wrong persee because it’s based on opinion, but I DO know that listening to everyday conversations in the language you’re trying to learn helps tremendously. And I love listening to other conversations. If you’re not into peoplewatching though, your call. 

    Sorry, didn’t feel it.

    • --

      from this piece i feel like the author was in a foreign place for a predetermined amount of time and then went back home… easily allowing a ‘do it, or don’t’ attitude, the ambivalence towards national issues, and the ignorance about the language– because, in all, none of it matters when you’re living with an expiry date. 

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I believe the author was/is an expat? Also, with the language piece, I don’t think the author is discouraging that people learn the language. Rather, he saying that there are times where being in an environment where all the chatter is foreign makes it easier to zone out. 

  • Emily

    I lived in China for three years and have now lived in Italy for awhile. I feel you on all of this, though it seems to apply more to China than to Italy in my experience. Maybe it’s an Asia thing. Language, national issues, etc. became more of a reality to me as a Westerner in a Western country, rather than in the East where I was gawked at like an escaped zoo animal every moment of my life and therefore could not escape the feeling of being an outsider.

    Anyway, nice job.

    • beatrice

      which part of china?

    • Anonymous

      Maybe you were gawked at because you don’t aesthetically fit in in Asian countries. I’m Chinese-American and feel at home in most Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, etc.), but I’m on foreign exchange in Germany right now and this article definitely applies. 

  • Caitlin

    I’m moving to Prague in just over a month, so this was wonderfully timed. Thanks for some great tips (and some ambiguous ones).

  • Enah Cruz

    Awesome and informative article. Really helpful. Thanks.

  • Kelly

    I survived.

  • Laura

    I was an expat in south Asia for 11 months, and now “back” in the UK for Christmas. This has just persuaded me to sign up for another 11 months. Brilliant :) 

  • Laura

    Doh, the bit in the scare quotes was supposed to say “home”, not “back”

  • Ehe1988

    That’s exactly what I’m missing: good avocados! I could go for a whopping scoop of guacamole. 

  • Donno

    I am a young Asian from ex-colony Portugal-Macau, grew up and live always in European lands, now am living in France.
    In order to avoid governed by communiste, I’ve chosen to leave my birth place to live in France. But since a while I feel trapped, by the bad development of the French sociaty and the unstable political system. I feel lost and pain every day, cann’t go back to live in my birth place  because of big changes by the communiste gouvment. The only thing that support me to continue is, to finish my degree and find a friendly country to live.
      
    I think what the author said are pretty ture: give up the place where we from but not on the people. It is very important to survivre psychologically. I didn’t learn it until now, it helps.

    But to consider the problems of the country not being our problems, this is a kind of escape the reality. Because in quite lots situations we were directly influenced by the problems of that country. If we cann’t say anything about those, this will make us feel more sad, as we are unhappy but cann’t do anything about it.

    Ten years now that I left my birth place, I still struggling to get a normal life. Maybe, it is because my appearence, a short foreign girl with yello face, then people just take advantage from me and look me down. 

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