10 Tips to Feel More at Home in a New Culture
Living in a new place with an unfamiliar culture can feel like you’re watching life from the sidelines, rather than living it to the fullest. Being proactive, having a positive attitude and taking a few simple actions to become part of the culture you find yourself in will go a long way to feeling more at home.
Moving to a new country brings unique challenges, including facing a language barrier, dealing with culture shock and struggling to make friends. This can leave us feeling very alone and at a loss – and this low feeling may discourage us from taking proactive steps to build a life in our new location. Fortunately there are accessible and practical ways to develop a strong social support circle, become more integrated into the culture and feel happier in our international experience.
10 tips to feel more at home in a new culture
- Understand that it takes time: To build meaningful connections, we need time. To deal with change in an effective manner, we need to take the pressure off ourselves and be patient.
- Step out of your comfort zone: Take the initiative! And do so constantly. It takes courage to ask your colleague to hang out after work, for example, but breaking through the barrier of taking those first steps is very rewarding. You won’t regret it.
- Try to learn the language: This is important for better understanding a culture, and even a small knowledge of the local language will help to open doors (and hearts). There are plenty of online resources and apps to learn languages for free, or at a very low cost. Alternatively, look for people with whom you can practice conversing in the language, or consider doing a language exchange (you teach them your language and they teach you theirs).
- Work through language anxiety: Mastering language anxiety will not only ease your daily interactions but also expand your social circle to be more inclusive. And own your accent! Chances are that for locals it has a certain charm!
- Use social media intentionally: Use social media to create new circles of support and maintain those back home. Facebook and LinkedIn have a lot of expat groups where you can meet people from your own culture, which helps in the beginning if there’s a language barrier. Through Google Circles” you can search for support groups in your area (set up your email and go onto the community function). There are also apps for making friends and meeting groups such as “Hey! Vina” or “Bumble BFF”.
- Volunteer: Engaging in volunteer activities in your free time can give you a sense of purpose, help you feel more connected with the culture and local community, and bring you into contact with new people.
- Establish a routine: Think about what you used to do at home to help you maintain balance and try to implement it here. For example, you might sign up for sports or courses. You’ll also meet new people this way.
- Connect with your neighbours and co-workers: Don’t underestimate what a powerful support system people in your area or workplace may be.
- Maintain the support system you have at home: Maintaining long-distance relationships takes effort but is very important. It can ease the initial feeling of isolation and help you better deal with change. Be sure to stay in touch with your family and friends through phone or video calls or online meeting platforms.
- Be curious: Don’t let your ways of thinking about what is “normal” get in the way. Explore the new culture even if it is very different to yours. Explore your new identity too. It is likely that you will grow and change as you integrate into the culture – and that can be very enriching.
Feeling at home in the new culture will take time. Be kind to yourself as you tackle the steps above. Above all, stay curious and you will keep learning – most importantly, about yourself.
With thanks to Sara Nóbrega for her contribution to this article.
How have you integrated into a new culture? What worked for you may work well for someone else too, so feel free to share it here!
PHOTO: Pexels/Uriel Mont