Whether it’s to learn a new language, accept a job offer, or start your studies, moving abroad changes your life.
Step One: Decide to move abroad after endlessly fantasizing about your new exotic life.
Step Two: Arrive at your destination and question everything you thought was true, including the color of your socks.
Your dream life abroad quickly unravels at the seams as you are met with reality. You still have to pay bills and taxes. You don’t know anyone there yet. You bought the wrong adapter for your hairdryer. Wait, what?
It’s true – moving to a new country is exciting, but it can also be downright scary. I’ve moved abroad on my own twice, making the transition from my comfortable American life in Portland, Oregon, to an unknown European one in Hamburg, Germany. I made the decision spontaneously and within a month sold my car, my furniture, my favorite vintage dresses and coveted slouchy boots. Jet-set and hungry for my adventure, my fear took the backseat until I arrived. I didn’t know it then, but leaving behind the familiar would be one of the best decisions of my life, despite the obstacles.
My transatlantic migrations have armed me with valuable tips on how to transition to life in a new country. It’s true that the beginning is the most difficult part. There will be moments of doubt and uncertainty. But don’t sweat it too much. Never let fear hold you back from following what your heart desires. With some insider knowledge and determination, you will feel settled and comfortable in no time. Read on to discover ten tips that help you adjust to your awesome solo life abroad.
1. Research your city & yourself
Moving to a new city means you just have to answer to one person – yourself. Spend some time going inwards and ask yourself some questions. What interests me? How do I want to spend my weekends? What do I want to accomplish while I’m here? I recommend visiting your city’s tourism website. See what your city has to offer and get curious about exploring it. Also be sure to research how administrative stuff works, such as taxes, registration and voting, if that’s applicable to your situation. Set some clear goals for yourself as well.
2. Create comfort rituals
The first two months in Hamburg were quite lonely for me. I didn’t have a social network in place. I was adjusting to a different culture, a new city and a new job. So I made it a point to structure my weekends healthily and happily. I tried new recipes, cleaned my apartment, went for long walks and kept myself busy. I always had something to look forward to, whether it was a relaxing bath, a movie night at home or exploring a new part of the city. I called these “comfort rituals” because it gave me a sense of control and purpose when other things in my life were still uncertain and unfamiliar.
3. Learn the local language
If you don’t already speak the language, be sure to sign up for classes as soon as you can. There’s nothing that will have you feeling more isolated than if you don’t understand those around you. Mastering a language takes years of practice, but you will find just learning some basic phrases that makes all the difference. Knowing what to say in a bakery or at the grocery store takes minimal effort, and you will feel more connected to those around you. This is also true for your travel plans as well.
4. Find a new hobby
Now is the time to get out there and discover a new passion. Maybe you’ve always been intrigued about fencing or chess or kickboxing or fill-in-the-blank. Learning a new hobby boosts your confidence and gives you some goals to work towards. When I moved to Hamburg, I bought a guitar and started taking lessons. I always wanted to learn how to play and figured if not now, then when?
5. Locate people with similar interests
Love to swim? Obsessed with Anime? Look for meetup groups in your area to connect with others. I joined a writer’s group in Hamburg that met once a month on Sundays. Right away, I was introduced to people who were going through a similar “just-moved-abroad-and-know-no-one” situation. You feel much less alone when you realize other people not only share your passions but also are in the same boat.
6. Build a cozy nest
Home is where the heart is, especially when you move abroad. No matter if you have your own apartment, a dorm room or a shared flat, put time and effort into making your house feel like a home. Simple details such as candles, soft blankets, colorful artwork and pictures of friends and family make such a difference. If you are in a place for just a short time, buying fresh flowers and nice smelling candles adds instant coziness on the cheap.
7. Join expat groups and Stammtisch events
There are plenty of online resources, such as FaceBook groups and Meetup.com, where you can find local ex-pat groups. Some people meet up to practice the local language at a Stammtisch event, look out for those. Be brave and put yourself out there. You never know who you will meet, and it sure beats cleaning the grease off your stove vent on a Saturday night (been there, done that).
8. Network with co-workers and classmates
I’m a natural introvert, so at the end of the workday, I usually can’t wait to cruise home and relax. But being social has the huge advantage of expanding your social network. The times I have gone out with my co-workers, I’ve always had a blast. Plus, you don’t want to be that person at the office that always says no to after-work functions. If you are studying abroad, there will likely be lots of activities planned where you can meet new people. Make sure to sign up and take part.
9. Invite friends and family to visit you
I love having people visit me. From getting my apartment ready for company to grocery shopping and planning activities, few things make me happier. You likely have moved to a pretty cool place, why not share it with others? Let the people in your life know your door is wide open. When they visit you, you get to be a tourist in your city all over again.
10. Stay optimistic
Moving abroad is not easy. You will have times where you doubt your decision. Focus on staying positive, no matter how difficult your situation might be. A mantra I’ve adopted over the years that gets me through challenging times is: It won’t be like this forever. This reminds me that every situation in life is temporary. Keep going forward and trust that your current feelings about a situation will also change. The end of the world today might become the anecdote to a hilarious story next year.