Once you’ve made the transition to your new country, it might be tempting to associate primarily with other expats, especially at first. After all, they speak your language and can relate to the trials and tribulations of relocating to a foreign nation. While this can be comforting, if you want the full experience of living in a new country, you’ll need to immerse yourself in the exciting new culture around you.
One of the most important pieces of the puzzle for blending in and assimilating abroad is to learn the language. Although it may be possible to get around, order a drink, or find the bathroom with hand signals and grunts, not speaking the local language is the biggest red flag to others that you’re a total foreigner.
If you have little to no knowledge of the language before your arrival, then a language school in-country will probably be your best option for learning quickly. Once you have a handle on the basics, start talking with anyone that will listen so that you become more and more comfortable conversing with others. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; people will always appreciate that you’re at least trying. Eventually, you’ll begin to learn the colloquialisms. With fluency being the goal, you’re officially there once you’ve mastered the local expressions and can use them properly.
Now that you know how to talk with people, you’re ready to venture outside of that same old expat bar you usually have a drink at. Find the local hangouts, learn to dance, try that funky tea shop you keep walking by. Understanding how your fellow nationals relax and what they enjoy – and trying some of it for yourself – will help you relate. This is also a great way to learn the local social cues and body language, both of which can be more important than your actual words.
As you interact with others more and more, it’s going to start to set in that you’re definitely not in your hometown anymore. Peoples’ interests will be completely different. There’s a chance they won’t understand your enthusiasm for the Denver Broncos or tailgating. Don’t get frustrated. Try to be open to all the newness around you and never stop learning. With time, you might even find yourself thoroughly enjoying that lacrosse match.
Unfortunately, the truth is, no matter how much you try or how devoted you are to immersing yourself in the culture, you’ll always stick out a little bit and be a foreigner. Embrace this role too! Be your genuine self and people will come to love you for it.