The10 things I would do to live my best life abroad if I were to start over again as an expat
As a life coach for expats I often see globetrotters struggling with building a new life abroad. Some get paralysed by the overwhelm of so much change at once, others are physically in the host country but mentally elsewhere. And some put all their effort into work or family, neglecting other areas in life.
Here are the things that I would focus on when building my life somewhere (this can also be back in the home country!).
1. Create a home of my house – even if it’s temporary. When I moved to Brasilia, I first lived in a tiny apartment where I was supposed to stay for a couple of weeks, so I didn’t make a big effort to change it into a home. But then the weeks turned into months (of course!), and I still lived in my tiny not-so-personal apartment. I see this with my coachees as well – they don’t invest in their house because they’ll probably leave soon, but 3 years down the road they haven’t made any move. And all that time they weren’t really happy in their house. Your external environment has such a big impact on how you feel, so you’ll want to make sure you have the basics right and feel at home where you live, as temporary as it may be.
2. Learn the language ASAP (at least the basics). Speaking the language of your host country will get you much further when it comes to meeting people, getting issues sorted out and having a better understanding of the culture. Still too often I see coachees who have lived somewhere 1-2 years and still only speak the basics. Even worse in the Netherlands, where I know quite a few expats who have been here for over 5+ years and their vocabulary of Dutch is limited to 10 words – and still wonder why they don’t have any Dutch friends 🙈 I get it – you’re busy and Dutch is a difficult and not practical language. But learning the language of your host country will give you a deeper sense of living there – and earn you kudos from the locals.
3. View your new life abroad as a blank canvas that is all yours to paint. I mean: this is a whole new life you can build, whoop whoop! What have you always dreamed of? In the perfect future, what would you do/be/have? Start daydreaming (don’t let your rational self hold you back) and start being & embodying that person already. You’ve got a whole new life to colour in, so why not paint according to your future self?
4. Ground yourself. Moving abroad is a very hectic, overwhelming period. It’s easy to stay in your head and let yourself be taken over by all your to do’s. Use meditation, grounding techniques or breathwork to stay in the here & now.
5. Make finding friends & deepening your connections a priority. You’re going to have to create a new social circle and as this could take longer than expected, I would focus on this from the start. Local friends can help you find your way which will boost other areas of your life as well. Plus, with 100% certainty you’re going to hit a more difficult phase in your life abroad, and it’s great if you have friends to lean on during that time. Find my 21 tips here.
6. Enjoy the honeymoon phase. Expat life has phases and the first stage of living abroad is the honeymoon phase, in which everything feels new & exciting. As you’re going to come down from this high at some point, make the most use of this phase! Explore your new city, discover the country, and try out new (local) things that you would probably skip later on when your expat life is much busier. Having these fun experiences will help you feel more tolerant towards the host country when the culture shock hits.
7. Implement new positive habits from the start. We all have certain habits we want to change (like quitting smoking) or start including (like meditating every day). From author James Clear I learned that your environment determines a lot whether your new habits succeed or not. And that a change in environment is a perfect opportunity to get rid of unwanted habits and pick up the positive ones. So make use of this opportunity you’re getting by moving abroad, and design your environment in a way that supports the habits you want to include!
8. Sign up for the gym / yoga studio / crossfit club pronto. Like I said before, the overwhelm with an international move is real, and it’s very easy to get swamped by the unpacking, buying new electronics, finding your way around town, understanding public transport, dealing with bureaucracy and everything else. Self-care is often the first thing we push aside when we’re busy. But taking care of your body should be a priority too, especially if you feel stressed. So sign up to a new gym and keep those muscles in shape (and psst – you can meet friends & practise the language there too!).
9. Feed your curiousity with books, shows & podcasts about your new country of residence. As an expat, you can easily get trapped in the international bubble with fellow expats, or even in the bubble of the city you live in if you do hang out with only locals. Learn as much as you can about the host country, so you’ll get a better understanding of (and empathy for) its culture & people.
10. Journal in your first months. Moving abroad is a crazy but rewarding journey, and you’ll be surprised how much you will learn about the new country, yourself and the world. Write it all down before it starts to feel normal. And then read it back when you’re moving abroad / home again – so you can see how much you’ve grown.