Once again, Happy New Year folks! As new expats, huge challenges are lying ahead of you as we prepare to adjust to life in your new homes. The joy that comes along with moving abroad soon fades away upon realizing the long journey we’re set to take on and the goals we’ve set to achieve after settling in.
It’s 2017 and you’ll need to span the breadth and width of the entire year, and try to plan some unusual initiatives that will make it an incredible year! I have some ideas for you upon which to set and realize your own goals. Don’t worry if you come short of attaining them but they’ll be worthy of a credible try…
1. Find and make local friends
Every new year signals new things to work on and this includes reaching out to more people and try making trusted friends. As a new expat, you’ll need to reinforce your friends-list to include a few locals for your personal benefit. Many expats have a tendency of making friends from within their social circles, i.e. fellow expats from their country but this can wrong b’se as a just-arrived expat, you must understand how the local things go about and get used to local life in your new home. So get out of your own bubble and reach out to local folks. The more local friends you have, the better!
2. Learn a local language
According to The Linguist, “If we are able to put in 10 hours a day to learn a language, then basic fluency in the easy languages should take 48 days, and for difficult languages 72 days. Accounting for days off, this equates to two months or three months time. If you only put in five hours a day, it will take twice as long.” So as part of your acclimatization process, you’d need to understand how local people interact, their norms, what’s socially tolerable and what’s not, how to ask for help, etc.
After making a couple of learned friends, ask them to teach you the local dialect and from my experience, local people are more than willing to teach you their own language. At times, you’ll be alone wandering in busy streets, public parks or lost in the mountains. So, mastering the local dialect would be a remedy in such unforeseen situations. Here in Kenya, people easily notice that I am not proficient in Swahili language and would even ask if they can teach me a few phrases. By learning a local language, new expats increase their knowledge about the social and cultural structure of their new home and get to ‘fit’ in quickly.
3. Use public transport more often
Some expats are given vehicles for easy mobility but this shouldn’t cut you off from blending with the locals. I observed that by taking daily matatu rides, I have learned 60% of Kenyan life by using their public transport more often. By doing this, I have had a first-hand observation of local people’s daily lives, how they struggle to make ends meet, I also understood their perceptions, what they love talking about and what they don’t. Their matatus pass through neighborhoods where most local people reside. Besides, public transport in most cities around the world is far cheaper than using a personal vehicle and sometimes they’d take you through shortcuts unknown to self-driving commuters. So instead of looking dumb in your personal vehicle, try commuting using public means once in a while and you’ll not only observe local life but even find interesting local friends.
4. Attend local functions
This is another great way of observing local life easily. Always be on the lookout for local events like trade fairs and exhibitions which would replenish you with knowledge about the local business environment. Others may include national public events, religious and cultural celebrations, etc. The habit of only attending your company’s social corporate events will keep you within a confined bubble that will eventually be hard for you to break away from.
5. Eat from local food joints
One of the greatest excitements that come along with moving abroad is the prospect of tasting local dishes you’ve never had before. It’s a challenge getting used to local foods some of which might at first scare you but eventually you’ll get used to eating them. As a new expat, you should forget all about your native food and get used to eating locally available food almost on a daily basis. I have observed a considerable number of expats here who frequently dine out in restaurants serving their native foods. Let’s say American expats who love to eat from either KFC, McDonald’s or Burger King, but you’d never see any of them in a local food joint. So, stand out and set a standard by buying and eating locally which is even the cheapest option.
6. Traverse and adventure new places
Once you have well-informed local friends, keep asking them to take you out more often and observe the other side of life beyond the urban limits. Search for local tourist attractions or things to do in your new country and make plans to visit them. Probably your friends can take you to their country homes and along the way, they’ll show you marvelous things to look at. Walk through nature while learning about the plant, insect, bird, and animal species in that part of the countryside. Try on local outfits and see how fabulous you’ll look in them. On weekends, make your shopping in local markets and you’ll witness how lively local life can be.
So, dear new expat, stop pretending that you’ll understand local life from the comfort of your Tv b’se much of what they televise doesn’t provide the bigger picture. Get up from your personal comfort to taste and feel local life first-hand. This is highly rewarding b’se eventually you’ll feel as if you’ve been a native for years. Don’t wait to be told, but go out of your pleasant circles and discover your own story to tell. Make this your 2017 priority goal and by the time you approach 2018, you’ll no longer be an expat but a well-informed native!