How to be a happy expat

New job, new house, new language, new country… expats make new lives for themselves wherever they go – use these tips to ease your transition.

1. Make new friends – local and expat.

John Lennon said it best – “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Building a new community of friends takes time, and while you may first be drawn to other expats, it’s important to include everyone in your circle. Local friends can help you understand the language and culture, showing you subtleties you might have otherwise missed, while fellow foreigners can relate to embarrassing faux pas and funny communication breakdowns. Visit The Happy Expat for six tips on where to find friends.

2. But keep the old – invest in a good Internet connection.

… as long as you don’t use it to live vicariously through Facebook. Staying in the know through e-mail, Internet and Skype — whether it’s your sorority sister’s latest boyfriend or your hometown mayor’s latest infidelity — makes you feel closer to home. (And possibly glad you aren’t there.)

3. Learn the language.

Rather than feel isolated by a language you don’t understand, invest in a computer program, book or class to give you a voice – and independence – in your new community. Computer programs, such as the Rosetta Stone, or podcasts are great places to start. (Before moving to Indonesia I downloaded mp3 lessons from Nothing beats live practice, though, find someone interested in trading lessons: your mother tongue for theirs.

4. Research the country and its customs beforehand.

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to moving abroad. Avoid culture shock by making sure you are well informed and aware of major differences between your old home and your new one; this will make the initial transition easier and quicker. Visit Deborah Swallow‘s page for advice on identifying (some of the symptoms are subtle) and overcoming culture shock.

5. Like where you are.

Make a conscious decision to be open-minded, flexible and accepting of your new surroundings. For every con you find, look for a pro. In Indonesia, for example – the con: rarely do the various modes of transport run on time; the pro: the travel options are cheap. Remember, too, that attitudes are contagious, choose to surround yourself with people who can find humor in even the worst situations.

6. Take advantage of the perks.

A maid? Weekend trips to the beach/mountain/lake? Increased salary? More vacation days? Realize that living in a foreign country may have benefits your home country doesn’t, and ENJOY them. They probably won’t last forever.

7. Find some time for yourself.

The need for You Time doesn’t disappear once you’ve moved abroad. Join a club or sports team, make time for the gym, take a class or volunteer. Find something outside of both work and home that makes you happy.

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