Moving abroad has changed my life in so many ways and I’ve learned a lot from it.
2012 represented a turning point in my life. I moved from Singapore to Vancouver for a four-year Bachelor’s Degree program.
For the first time, I lived abroad on my own. I didn’t know anyone in Canada, nor am I that familiar with the country in and out (except for a brief vacation to Toronto when I was only 14 years old).
Like most people who move overseas, I was a little nervous and unsure if I have made the right decision, and if Vancouver is the right place for me. At one point, in my second year of university, I even considered putting my studies on hold and debated if I should move back to Singapore.
But flash forward to today, I have not only graduated from university but am currently in Canada (on an open work visa) for 3 years! Having lived here for five years, I couldn’t believe how far I have come.
So here’s 7 things to know for those who are moving or already living abroad.
Keep an open mind
Be open to trying new things and experiences, and to meeting new people.
You may be surprised by what you can accomplish (that you previously can’t in your home country), the type of people you meet, and the places you visit.
As someone who wasn’t active in outdoor activities in my younger days, I never thought I would get to hike up the beautiful and picturesque Panorama Ridge, which has one of the most difficult hiking trails in British Columbia. But I did, and discovered a newfound love for hiking.
Talk to friends and family
If you have problems adjusting to life abroad, don’t bottle up your feelings. It’s not only unhealthy (both mentally and emotionally), but could eventually take its toll.
Let family, friends or even people that you think you can trust know about your problems. They could even offer advice on how to get through them.
Take things one step at a time
Give yourself time to adapt to life overseas.
The first stage of your life abroad is usually the hardest but as you start to get used to the new culture, habits, lifestyle, and norms it will gradually be easier to settle in.
Be comfortable with uncertainty
If you have ever encountered big obstacles or make mistakes, don’t worry. It is all part of the learning process when moving overseas!
Since there’s really no way to avoid them, sometimes you just need to learn to trust your own judgement to make the right decisions. As you learn from these mistakes and situations, you will become more confident and experienced in dealing with them in the future.
Explore your home country
Taking the time off to travel around the country is not only a great way of spending your weekends and vacations but it makes you appreciate your new home even more.
One of the best parts about living in Canada is to be able to ski, especially at Whistler (in British Columbia), which is most famous for its world-class skiing resort. This is something that is impossible to do back in tropical Singapore.
Join social networks for meeting people
One of the best ways of meeting people, especially like-minded travelers, in your local community is to join Couchsurfing as a member. It is completely free to join!
I didn’t know there was such a thing as hosting travelers at your place for free in exchange for hospitality exchange and social connections until a friend recommended Couchsurfing to me.
Since then, I have hosted a couple of travelers from countries such as Italy, Japan, and Germany at my dormitory, and the experience had been very positive for the most part! I also participated in Couchsurfing events in Vancouver, and met one of my best buddies (from Poland) at one of the weekly meet ups.
If you’re an expatriate, InterNations would be the best option. It offers expats plenty of valuable information and advice on expat life abroad, and even has a forum for members to interact with and discuss a variety of issues with each other. Also, there are always events and networking sessions that are organized by InterNations across the world.
Registration for a basic account is free. However, to gain access to additional features (such as unlimited activities and exclusive events), you need to pay for a monthly membership fee starting from US $15 for three months. The longer your membership, the less you pay for each month.
It’s okay to not feel the need to fully integrate into the new culture
Moving abroad (even on a permanent basis) doesn’t mean that you need to adopt completely different belief systems and customs, and only speak that language and have only local friends.
It’s okay to retain your own identity while adapting to life and integrating into society. Sometimes, having a perfect balance between your own cultural self and that of your new homeland is key to avoiding identity crisis and ensuring your mental and emotional well-being over the long term.