Life without a relocation package can be tough and if you’re moving abroad for personal reasons it can be quite hard to find your way.
The truth no one wants to hear is that there are no tricks, and tips are totally relative. Still, there are few bits of helpful advice I’ve managed to collect. Over the years I’ve sent versions of this list to several people seeking advice, but somehow I never got around to posting it until now.
Here we are: Coming in stages, are 10 ( + 2) bits of advice on how to survive the transition to expat (and attain true happiness).
(My) Expat Guide to a Happy Transition (beta v 1.2)
1. Learn the language, at least enough to follow conversation, talk to a cab driver and read a menu.
No one needs to be a multilingual genius, but learning at least some of the language will go a long way towards feeling independent and comfortable in a huge variety of situations. Never speaking for yourself and always having to smile and nod during dinner conversation gets old quickly. Get your voice back, learn some German and eventually you’ll even get the jokes being told on the first run.
I was never a very good language student (having tried and abandoned French, Spanish and even Gallic) but I found that being in the country makes learning the language possible even for people like me. If at all possible, take a month of intense courses before starting to work (or looking for work). Learning a language isn’t an easy task and it pays off to be able to concentrate on that sole task for the first few weeks. You’ll also find it helps you quickly get a handle on the culture and way of life in the town you settle in.
Do everything in digestible steps, but set some daily tasks for yourself that will ensure that you work with the language on a daily basis. Simple things like turning on a German channel and letting it play in the background while you’re at home and watching movies and TV shows with the subtitles turned on can help so much in getting comfortable with the sounds and rhythm of the language. Try reading in German, too. My first ‘job’ in Munich involved typing up media summaries of the top stories in the local paper. Forcing myself to translate and decipher the headlines helped me make huge inroads into my vocabulary.
(coming tomorrow: Being dead beat, doesn’t make you a deadbeat!)