I’m writing from Switzerland where I’m onboarding new YouthCompass staff in the Geneva area. Welcoming new staff always reminds me of the absolute blur the first few weeks and months were living abroad.
Here are some of my compiled thoughts after witnessing and walking numerous families through their first days abroad.
1. Keep your VISA documents organized!
We’ve gone through the VISA renewal process a few times, and after jumping through all of the hoops, I’ve finally organized our documents. At the beginning of your journey, you may have plans to return home. I can’t tell you how many families end up extending their time and wish they had been more organized. I often hear, “We came for three years…twenty years ago.” Amazon has several great options for keeping your docs organized for the whole family.
2. Do your best to stay in contact with family and friends back home.
It can be difficult to stay in touch with loved ones on the other side of the world. Time differences and busy schedules can make staying in touch a major stressor. You’ll feel guilty for not calling your family when you can’t find a time to talk. Reorganizing your schedule and keeping the family up can cause extra stress. We’ve used a few apps to make staying in touch easier.
3. Get a business card with your new contact info!
You’ll be meeting lots of new people and it can be hard to remember your new contact info. I love the mini cards from Moo and think they’re one of the most practical tools for new expats!
4. Get Involved!
By far, the most common phrase I hear when someone is leaving is, “I wish we would’ve gotten involved in ______ earlier.” Transitions are hard, but getting involved, building new relationships and putting down some roots early on will make for a rich experience abroad!
5. Learn some of the local language.
Whether it’s a class, a tutor, or an app take some time and learn some of the local language. It will reduce stress and deepen your experience.
6. Get Lost!
Wander around your neighborhood and explore public transportation. We moved from the US (a country built for cars rather than people) and we were not accustomed to using public transportation. One of the things we did early on was to force ourselves to learn the local trains and buses. Now it’s a regular part of life and incredibly helpful.
7. Give yourself permission to be homesick.
Being away from people, places and things you’ve become accustomed to is hard. A transition is hard. You need to give yourself permission to grieve and miss those people, places, and things.
8. Be grateful, friendly and polite.
People in your new country will behave differently than you are used to, it’s not wrong, just different. Being polite and friendly will get you a long way and you may learn to appreciate the way your host country operates.
Living abroad is incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding. I’d love to hear your thoughts on life abroad or questions in the comments!
Here’s to a healthy transition!