Monday, December 19, 2016

10 Tips to Surviving Your First Year Abroad

About 6 months into my first year overseas, loving life in Sendai, Japan

There are a lot of reasons why people temporarily go to live in another country. You might be there for work, for education, for a long journey, or to teach English like me. I'm mostly directing this post to my fellow English teachers living overseas, since there are a lot of unique challenges to doing that and many of the hardest ones you'll encounter in your first year. However, some of this should be relevant no matter why you're living abroad. Hope this advice can help some of you out!

1. Skype

When you live overseas, Skype is going to be the number one thing that keeps you sane at times. In the first weeks and months of your stay, you really need to maintain that connection to your family and friends back home. It's the best form of stress relief and the best remedy to culture shock.

2. Get Involved

There are a lot of ways to meet other foreigners when you move overseas, but probably the best way is through a common interest. Join a sports team, a book club, a hiking group, whatever it is that you're into. It's a good way to make new friends and those connections will really improve the way you live.

3. Learn the Language

Graduating from the Pohang City Hall Korean class
Closing the language gap will make your life overseas better in so many different ways, from helping you make local friends, to opening doors at work, to making you more independent. And it's fun. Join a class or look up a language exchange group in your area, or even try setting up an exchange on your own.

4. Find Local Facebook Groups

Pohang Bazaar, the foreign Craigslist of Pohang

This is a lifesaver. It will help you find jobs, buy furniture, appliances, bikes, etc, and provide all kinds of useful advice, especially when you're job hunting. Most places overseas will have a local foreigners Facebook group these days. Just do a search and see what you find. 

5. Ditch Dave's ESL Cafe

A lot of new teachers go to this site for job hunting and lesson ideas. It can be great for the former, but when it comes to ideas for the classroom it is really hit or miss. There are much more reliable sites for teaching resources, such as BBC Learning English, Movie Segments to Assess Grammar Goals, Lyrics Training, The Internet TESL Journal and many, many more.

6. Cook Like a Local

Taking an Oden cooking class in Busan

One of the nasty surprises you might get when you move overseas is that it's no longer financially smart to cook like you did back home. The ingredients you're used to buying might not exist or they might be two or three times as expensive (more if we're talking about things like cheese or bacon). Figure out where the locals like to shop (a farmers market, a particular supermarket, etc) and try to buy what's on sale or in season. You might have to do a little googling to figure out how to cook with it, but it will be worth the money it saves you. Or take some cooking classes - I've had a lot of fun whenever I've done them.

7. Foreigner Bars 

Every city you visit overseas will have one if not more bars where foreigners like to congregate. Be discerning about where you hang out. There are a lot of bars overseas that just attract heavy drinkers and while they can be fun at times, they can also be a huge drain on your wallet. Try looking around for the more chill places, where you'll find the longer-term "ex-pats" hanging out. They're great for making connections and they won't be so hard on your savings.

8. Be Adventurous with Food

Try new foods! If you can get past the judgment in its eyes....

Don't be afraid to try new things when you go abroad. Food is really one of the best things about living in a different country, especially if you go somewhere like South Korea or Japan where the food is inexpensive and generally very healthy. Yeah, some of it might look or smell strange, but until you try it, you'll be holding yourself back from a potentially amazing experience.

9. Get into the Pop Culture

In some places, the pop culture is a little challenging... but don't give up!!

Okay, depending on where you go this might be harder for you than other places, but if you take the time to look you might find something that appeals to you. Taking a personal interest in something, be it a band, a TV show, a genre of movies, whatever, will help you feel more connected to the place you're living and it will give you something to bond over with the local people.

10. Relax

Nothing says relaxation like your first summer vacation

This is definitely the most important thing. A lot of people get consumed by feelings of culture shock, or fear of looking stupid if they make a language or cultural mistake, or simply by feelings of loneliness being so far from home. The best thing you can do to avoid all that is to just consciously choose each day to be open-minded, to relax and to let yourself enjoy the place you're living in. You're going to make some mistakes. Local people are probably going to smile at your pronunciation, or maybe laugh when you do something the wrong way. That stuff happens. Just try to find the humor in those experiences and learn from them. Have fun, make friends, try new things.

Living abroad can be whatever you make it: if you don't go out, shy away from trying the food, only hang out with foreigners, don't bother to learn the language, you're just limiting yourself and the experience. But if you try to be open-minded and adventurous, there is an amazing world out there waiting to be explored.

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