How to move abroad (and survive)?

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!)


3 responses to “How to move abroad (and survive)?

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! I’m definitely not gifted with languages (tried and abandoned French and Spanish), but it has been SO worth the effort (and the headaches) so far. And what better motivation than needing to live your day-to-day life successfully?

  2. I’m glad you agree. It’s hard too.

    It’s so easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by it all. That’s why I think it’s important to take it in steps. I could handle aiming for smaller success better than one giant “learn the language Everest”.

    I run into plenty of expats who excuse themselves from the whole thing, saying they’re too old, too inept, too impatient. Well, I have felt all of those at one time, and I am still working on it. But I feel if you live here, really LIVE here, you need to be able to communicate. Integration starts with language. Gotta learn it, even if not well.

  3. Pingback: Use Your Good Words (Moving Abroad Pt 7) « Still here, Still foreign

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