Live. Many people move abroad not realizing the effort it will take just to live. Daily errands like heading to the market or the post office become chores akin to washing the dishes and taking the trash out when we were little. What’s more is that now they have to be done only during the hours when a translator is on call, likely during working hours, which makes it almost impossible to get anything done. When going to the grocery store, bank, or café requires a translator to figure out things like what the ingredients are in that soup, or why that chai tea latte can’t be purchased in a large size like the vanilla latte (Ediya, I’m talking to you), it can get exhausting. But don’t let the chores get you down. There are numerous clubs, organizations and associations just itching for more members, all with amazing classes, activities, and events all over the country. Moving abroad can be an adventure, which can sometimes be exhausting, but the adventure is what we make it. Get involved.
If you plan on living in another country, I highly recommend taking language courses. Not only do they help make daily chores and activities easier, but it also gets you one stop closer to understanding where you’ve chosen to reside. Have no delusions though. It’s won’t be easy to pick up a local dialect. You need to put in the hours. Locals will appreciate the enthusiasm and eagerness to acclimate and connections will be easier to make with people though. Learning a language can happen before or during a stay and that leads to another key: prepare prepare prepare. I moved abroad knowing very little about Korea but being very open to every experience I was about to have. It was naive of me to think that was a good idea in retrospect but I was young and just out of university and well.. I was naive. Now, I would recommend getting online and searching for information about a place, going to a library and checking out books on the history of a place and maybe even seeking out other travelers that have already been to that place. What has happened in the past is just as relevant as what is happening now and customs and norms are so important to learn about beforehand so there are no inadvertent rude gestures or sayings that could effect an otherwise fulfilling experience. If you’ll work abroad, make sure to get contact info for people that work there currently so you can get the real low-down on what it’s like. You can also get info from that person on what they should or shouldn’t bring. Use those resources.
Laugh. It’s inevitable that a situation will arise that will bring you to the cusp of banging your head against a wall or yelling in the face of another person. Just laugh. I mean that quite literally. Turn that frown upside down. Open your mouth and make the most ridiculous sounding ‘hardy har har’ you’ve ever made, and at some point it will turn into real laughter. Whatever it is, from the seemingly football inspired way that people run into each other to get on and off the subway, or the ridiculous assumption that you can be asked last minute to write ten pages of student reviews for the next morning, it will not seem so bad after a good belly-holding bout of laughter. Yes, no one likes to be told by one immigration officer that something is necessary and subsequently hearing after waiting in a line for five hours that it isn’t necessary by another officer. The questions every day about age, marriage status, and whether or not you’ll be able to handle a spicy dish because you’re an outsider can be a nuisance but really, get over it. Just laugh. Your expectations for life and how a day should go are different from reality. Rather than cowering in a hole or lashing out aggressively at people that have grown up bumping shoulders, and who are merely taking your taste buds into account before you complain that something was too spicy to digest, laugh. You’ll be happier and so will everyone around you.
I don’t mean to suggest that you should sit around laughing at local customs or the culture by any means. Living abroad can be difficult in a number of ways. Movies make living abroad seem easy and glamorous and maybe like only a lucky few can even do it, but it’s not like that. Even when something difficult does happen in a movie, the outcome or the way to succeed is humorous or beautiful in some ironic way. In real life though, sometimes a bank transfer doesn’t go through and you’re stuck without cash for a number of days or a visa expiration date is two weeks earlier than you remembered it or a waitress said there wasn’t meat in the dish you ordered, but there was spam and she didn’t count that as meat. These things happen and rather than getting angry or peeved, it’s better to have a laugh and look for the good in a situation because what else is there to do? You might not have money, but that’s when fellow expats or locals will step up in ways that you never imagined by giving cash knowing that the first few months while setting everything up is hard. That visa may have expired but maybe that means a side trip to a nearby country. And yeah, that meat in the dish isn’t great, but now you’ve learned that people don’t think spam is meat where you’re staying. Life lessons abound and you just need to be open to them and try to smile while learning them because these are what make life abroad memorable and rewarding.