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Thirteen Tips to Ease the Stress of Moving Abroad
Moving to a new country can be exhilarating, magical, and incredibly stressful. Not only are you trying to establish yourself in a new locale, you’re doing it in a different culture and language. Over the past year, I’ve spent significant time in Singapore, Ukraine, Serbia, and Bucharest, and with every uprooting and resettling I’ve learned new tricks for dealing with the stress of moving abroad.
#1 Get a local everything. Establish your local haunts early, carving out comfort zones in your new life. This includes not only your local coffee shop, bar, and dinner spots, but also your local grocery store. Getting comfortable in these places will alleviate some of the mental pressure of always figuring out new situations, and also the people who work there will get to know you and become friendlier. Nobody’s taken better care of me than the baristas at my daily café in Novi Sad, Serbia.
#2 Make friends early. If you’re moving abroad with a job already set up, you’ll hopefully find your coworkers to be a welcoming and friendly bunch. But even still, you don’t want your whole life to be connected to your employment. Make an effort early to find friends outside of your work. You can do this through Facebook expat groups, international organizations like Rotary Club and InterNations, and conversation clubs with locals.
#3 Find future events to get excited about. Marking local holidays, planning weekend trips deeper into your host country, or purchasing tickets to special concerts and events in your city are ways to enrich your life abroad. Having exciting plans on the horizon gives you something to look forward to when life gets stressful.
#4 Pick up a SIM card. Data plans are so much simpler abroad, and having the Internet at your fingers helps with last minute directions, translations, and on-the-go messaging which can alleviate a lot of stress.
#5 Take time to wander.
There will be a million things to check off your to-do list when you move to a new country. Block out a few hours to unwind and walk around your new home. Wander, and don’t be afraid to get lost. It’s one of the best ways to find local gems.
#6 Figure out your local transportation options. While walking is a great way to get to know a city, it’s important to have other options for long distances, late at night, or when you’re just exhausted.
I always prefer to download the local taxi app instead of hailing cabs on the street. Ease your way into public transport – I find metros are the easiest to figure out first, followed by buses and trams, and finally minibuses if you’re brave (I’ve only taken the local Kyiv marshrutkas twice and then with a local). It’s least stressful to have someone who knows the system help you on your first trip, but if you’re solo and need help, just look for a friendly local.
#7 Learn the local language. You don’t need to be fluent or even beyond elementary. But knowing basic phrases and having survival language skills will make day-to-day interactions so much smoother. Also, when you understand what is happening around you, you feel more empowered and in control, putting yourself at ease.
#8 Become a local. Primarily, this means learning what is considered polite and acceptable in your host culture. Integrating with respect will cultivate goodwill. But it also means learning what things are acceptable, that you might find rude, and learning to adopt them as well. My stress levels dropped significantly when I accepted the fact that elbowing ahead in lines is a national sport in Ukraine. Instead of getting annoyed at the person trying to squeeze in ahead of me, I’d either let them in or pull my own fast maneuvers to defend my position.
#9 Take care of yourself. Exercise is a fantastic de-stressor no matter where you are. Whether it’s going for a run outside or doing a seven-minute workout in your room, getting the blood pumping is a great mood booster. Add in cooking for yourself, and you’re building a healthy lifestyle that will give you energy and positive vibes that will extend in the other areas of your life.
#10 Establish your routines early. Moving is a great chance to seize new opportunities. You’re shaking up your life anyway, so why not throw in some language classes, a fresh hobby, or a new skill? However, the longer you wait, the less likely it is that you’ll have time in your schedule for new habits. Soon, your typical Saturday will be lazying around in bed streaming sitcom reruns – when what you really wanted was to be doing sunrise yoga on the beach. (My own yoga mat is still in the corner of my room in its plastic packaging.)
#11 Keep your favorite hobbies going. Not everything needs to be dazzlingly new and different. Sometimes the best way to keep your sanity is to preserve some remnant of your previous life. Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you need to completely reinvent yourself. Part of the reason I started blogging was to make sure I had a thread of consistency in my life. Carving out that time ensured that I was being creative and investing in a hobby I loved, which was rejuvenating.
#12 Take time to reflect.
Throwing your life up in the air and trying to reorganize it as it comes hurtling back down is a full-time, exhausting job – in addition to your real job. It can be easy to think the best way to ease the stress of moving abroad is to rest and sleep during your free time. But it’s also important to take time to reflect on how things are going. What do you love about your new environment? What stresses you out? How can you cope more effectively? What are you looking forward to? Reflecting and making little course adjustments can help you live the life you want while you’re abroad.
#13 Accept that it’s going to be rough sometimes – and learn to laugh at yourself. Whenever I’ve moved to a new place, I eventually reach a breaking point – and maybe more than once. No matter if you’ve been there before, if you know the language, if you’re excited about your new job and life abroad, it’s going to be a tough transition. Embrace it in all its messy glory. And remember to laugh! Part of the fun of living abroad is the absurdity of trying to pantomime for nasal spray or taking shots of homemade vodka on the night train with newly made friends.
I hope this advice helps! Any other tips you’d share to help ease the stress of moving abroad?
Amy snagged a CELTA from Teaching House New York in 2013 and since then has taught on three continents (and counting). Having a CELTA has made her dream of moving abroad possible, and currently she is slow-traveling through Europe. She loves getting to know students, wandering around cities, and trying to find the world’s best donut. You can check out her travel adventures and mishaps at The Wayfarer’s Book.