Five Things Every Woman Should Know Before Moving Abroad
Karen McCann shares her experience in this Guest Blog and offers a free booklet with even more ideas.
Moving to a foreign country can be one of life’s most thrilling adventures. But when you wake up that first morning and stare at a calendar that’s blank for the next 365 days, it can feel a bit daunting. How do you go about making friends, finding out what’s going on, creating a new life that’s authentically yours in a country that isn’t?
I live in Seville, Spain, a city deeply rooted in tradition, where people are slow to befriend anyone they haven’t known since baptism. It takes time, patience and a few essential strategies to feel a part of any new community. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Learn the language
Even if you move to a place where you could stumble along speaking only English, you’ll miss out on a lot of the fun if you can’t join in the general conversation. Take classes, and your teacher will introduce you to the local culture along with the vocabulary and grammar to engage in it.
Many language schools will help you meet others who want to learn English, so you can arrange practice sessions and help each other out.
Your language partner is likely to turn into a friend. In a sociable place like Seville, with its 3000 tapas bars, that’s likely to lead to convivial evenings on the town.
2. Join an expat women’s group
Some newcomers embrace the idea of full immersion and resist socializing with people from their own country. This attitude seldom lasts long. It’s just too exhausting to speak a foreign language all the time. You need someone who gets your jokes and can offer a bit of support for the trials and tribulations of your transition. Long-term expats can provide empathy, advice and introductions to locals and the international crowd. Ask around about expat clubs, join one and volunteer to help.
I edited the club newsletter, which inspired me to start my own travel blog and to write a book (www.enjoylivingabroad.com) about my experiences in Seville. In the process, I met all sorts of great people from around the world.
3. Say “yes” to any (reasonable) offer
Bullfights are definitely not my thing, but when my landlady invited me to go to one with her family, I went along, had an amazing experience and learned a lot about what bullfights mean to Spaniards. When I reluctantly allowed Spanish friends to persuade me to join their art class, I met a lot of wonderful people and rekindled my interest in painting, which I now do on a professional basis (www.KarenMcCannART.com).
Obviously, you’ll want to be a little selective – for instance, avoiding invitations to participate in crimes or undesirable sexual liaisons – but try to take advantage of all legit opportunities.
4. Dress appropriately
Yes, you have a perfect right to dress any way you want to. But the people you meet are going to be more comfortable with you if your clothing doesn’t alarm or confuse them. Wandering around a fashion-conscious city like Seville dressed as if you were on a safari, at the beach or a featured performer in a heavy metal rock concert won’t make it easier for the locals to get past your foreignness to discover the wonderful person you are inside.
5. Accept that you’ll always be different
And that it’s OK. Most Spanish friendships are built over a lifetime, and as a newcomer on the scene you’ll never achieve the kind of bonds that start in childhood. But who says all relationships have to follow the same model? My Sevillano friends find me strange and at times incomprehensible, but they seem to enjoy my company anyway.
Come to think of it, that probably applies to friends from my own country as well. My point is, every relationship is different, and few are perfect. The friendships you make in a foreign country may not follow the patterns that you’re used to. But isn’t that the whole point of living abroad ¬– to do things differently than you would at home?
Want more? You can download a free copy of my booklet 101 Ways to Enjoy Living Abroad: Tips for Easing the Transition to Expat Life, which is available on my website www.enjoylivingabroad.com
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