3 Tips for the Newbie Expat, Round One

February 13, 2012

You land. The sunlight glints off the cement in an oh-so-romantic way, blinding you to all of the annoyances and stressors that will assault you not too far into this foreign future.

Here are some thoughts to ponder while you are still radiant in the brilliance of that initial blissful ignorance.

1. Before you leave home, ask friends if they know anyone in your new location.
A. It can be utterly alienating to find yourself in a new country by yourself with no one remotely familiar anywhere within reach on your first weekend there. Having someone to grab a drink with early on will make your new world seem so much safer, familiar, fun.
B. It just might be handy to have the number for someone familiar if you find yourself in a language-barrier-induced pinch.
C. What if you lock yourself out of your place? It’s not like you can just run down the street to your aunt’s friend the locksmith….

2. Pay attention to random details.
When I first arrived in Beijing, I failed to notice that when people were giving me directions, they weren’t just telling me what train station to get off at, but what exit in that station to look for. I learned that if I step outside through the wrong exit, I just might end up with an extra fifteen-minute walk. I might as well just pay again to go back in through the turnstiles and find a better exit. If someone’s giving you information, take note of it, just in case. It might seem so obvious to them that they don’t bother emphasizing it.

3. As soon as you arrive, make friends with anyone and everyone at every opportunity.
No one is too young, too old, or too different. My saving friend was an old artist I met when studying Chinese characters in a tea shop by the side of a pond in a park near my school. It took great effort for both of us to communicate, but we persisted, and I thereby had someone to talk to when dinnertime rolled around a week later and I was feeling my aloneness so far from home. When I began looking for a new place to live, he was the first one to call his friends to help me find a roommate.

The biggest leap you take when becoming an expat is making the decision to leave home. It’s easy to forget that the biggest challenge lies in the every day details of actually being an expat.

Staying focused, staying active. These are what keep the expat life delightfully live-able.

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