For some, living a nomadic lifestyle conjures up visions of relaxation, palm trees and cold (insert beverage of choice here). For others, it may be the excitement of new adventures and cool things to see and do. And it CAN be all those things and more, especially if it is your first time abroad. But the challenges of living abroad can be definitely ruin even the most ideal paradise.
For one, the newness of everything will start to wear off eventually. However exotic the location, at some point you will have to make the transition from tourist to local. And this is fine, as it is what slow travel is all about.
It is one thing to carry out the normal one-week vacation routine and quite another one to live in a foreign land day-to-day. Short-term tourists usually don’t have to concern themselves with setting up utilities at the place they’re staying, go grocery-shopping at the local market, or track down supplies that were readily available at nearly every store back home.
There are some concerns that you need to think about addressing if you plan staying at your new place for a significant amount of time. The following are some of the issues that will crop up, and what you can do to solve them:
How to Live Abroad: Challenges
Depending on your personality, this may or may not be an issue. If you were not born with the gift of making a friend every time you walk your dog, you might find yourself calling back home more than usual. Thanks to the Internet, it is very easy to stay in touch. Using communication tools such as Skype and other Voice-Over-IP and video chat tools, “seeing” your friends and family is a cinch. That said, Skype won’t replace experiencing life’s adventures with someone else, friends or partner.
The best way to deal with this issue is to first start developing networking skills and conversational skills. It is easier to strike up a conversation with strangers if you are not the shy type.
Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People“, a classic book on social relations, among others, that will help you develop these skills. Become a student of networking as it will help your social life and your business.
Once you have those skills, it is just a matter you will meet people you have something in common with. Couchsurfing is a great place to meet the locals, who are interested in meeting you as well. Couchsurfing is not only for people who need a pace to stay, but many members abroad will also offer to have a cup of coffee with you as well.
If you live in the U.S., join Meetup.com. It offers lots of opportunities to meet with people who have a hobby in common, without making you feel that you’re a stranger.
Lastly, explore Internet forums built for places you intend to visit. It is almost certain that other people with similar background and interests as yours have already blazed a trail. They will be invaluable resources to guide you in planing your stay before and after you get there.
2) Language Barriers
Depending on the country of your choosing, language can certainly put a damper on your day-to-day interactions with the locals. Even if you choose to live in an English-speaking country, your accent may immediately identify you as a stranger, which may further alienate you depending on the group around you. You may be forced to rub your tummy and make a sad face at a clerk in a foreign pharmacy when looking for a cure for your stomach ailment. The clerk might end up pointing to a food stall across the street, thinking that hunger may be what’s troubling you.
The best course of action is to start learning the language of whatever country you intend to travel to long-term. Learning important phrases, such as “Where is the restroom?”, or its slang form, if you’re in another English-speaking country or region, can ease the transition. If in Hawaii, for example, using the customary phrase “mahalo”, Hawaiian for “thank you”, will go a long way. It will not make you an instant native, but will not mark you as a complete tourist either.
I’ve found that having some of the lingo down will make difference between being charged tourist prices instead of prices locals pay. I have seen this first hand in Guatemala, when I saw someone get charged almost twice as much for the same service I had just paid for seconds before. It is not universal, but it does happen.
Learn the key phrases, learn the local slang and you’ll be well on your way to blending in with your surroundings.
3) Culture Shock
It’s the little things that will catch you by surprise most often. Many of the things you may have taken for granted back home may not be exactly the same way in your new place.
A word of caution: it is very unlikely you’ll be able to change established social customs, no matter how wonderful your intentions may be. A friend was once scolded by a complete stranger for not dumping her trash outside the window of a public bus. When my friend did not comply and held on to the small garbage bag to dispose of it at an proper time, it so incensed the stranger that she snatched the bag and threw it out the window. While not a normal experience, sometimes you will pay a price for sticking out by acting different from everyone else.
It is also likely that government bureaucracy will drive you crazy at times. Or the inefficiency and slow speed at which things get done. It might take countless phone calls and many visits to drop off paperwork at the main government branch to get needed paperwork stamped. Just remember, relax, take it in stride, and plan accordingly. They run on their time, not yours.
Become an observer of the environment around you. Do people tip and how much? How are they dressed? Are you the only adult male walking around in shorts and sandals? Congratulations, you’ve just announced to everyone you’re not from around there, which may invite unwanted attention from unsavory characters who may think you’re a tourist loaded with cash. Be smart, blend in as much as possible and your transition will be a smoother one and less stressful.
This is one issue that may not seem like a big deal at first. You’re likely to find many restaurants that offer the fare you’re used to back home. Which is fine, if you’re on a short vacation stay and are located in or near a popular tourist destination. However, eating out every day what is considered foreign food in your host country can get expensive in a hurry.
If you’re planning on staying for a while, it is best for your wallet and the best immersion experience, to start learning to eat like a local. Ask other expatriates what sort of local food they have found to their liking and where they buy it.
Granted, not everything will be to your liking, but adopt the main staple items of the country you’re in to your diet and you will save tons of money on food. You may even learn to love it as well! A side-benefit of adapting to the local food is that you’ll also save extra money if you’re able to move away from the more expensive tourist areas into more affordable, value-laden locations.
Hopefully this guide has given you an insight into what to expect and has gotten you started thinking about how you’ll best transition. It is in no way intended to discourage you, but rather to urge you to plan proactively. I find that knowing what awaits at the other end of the move greatly reduces my stress and fear of the unexpected.
A great resource for research is Transitions Abroad. Clink on their link here, where you’ll be able to get access to information for each country you’re interested in. Read the traveler-written articles to gain a better perspective on the adaptation process.
A little preparation now goes a long way towards making you for your eventual move.