Do you live abroad?
Want to live abroad?
Challenges and solutions to having a happier life in a new country.
Living abroad might seem like a fantasy, but nowadays there are more people traveling, working, and living abroad than ever before. Regardless of why you are overseas, the amazing journey will surely throw a few challenges your way. I’ve lived in both Korea and Taiwan for the last five years, and while it has been an interesting adventure, it hasn’t always been easy. Nevertheless, there is always a way to survive and fix any problem that may arise(1). Here are four challenges you will likely face with solutions and ideas on how to improve your quality of life abroad.
1. Dealing with a Second Language
I remember not seeing another foreigner for the first five weeks that I lived in Taiwan. I often went to restaurants alone, and being in a small city, most menus were in Chinese with almost no English. I just ordered random(2) dishes and hoped they would be good (It was a game of menu roulette). Sometimes I got lucky, sometimes I didn’t (I had to eat a whole plate full of liver one night).
I could keep blasting you with stories where language made my life a little more difficult, but it also made life more exciting and rewarding. The first time I ordered coffee using only Chinese felt like a major victory. Using only Korean for a whole night on a date made me feel on top of the world.
Find a way to have fun learning a second language. You don’t necessarily need to become fluent or look at a grammar book all day, but learning your host country’s mother tongue will definitely make your experience more fun–and much more comfortable.
One of my friends wanted to learn Korean to understand the culture more so than to be a social butterfly. I studied Korean a lot because I loved the alphabet and wanted to meet new friends. Whatever your reason, allow yourself to appreciate learning a second language, even if that means just having simple conversations and surviving. Who knows, maybe someday you will be fluent and/or find a second language to be an important part of your life.
2. Community and Hobbies
Do you dance? Write, hike, act, do magic tricks? Regardless of what you like to do, you will probably want to keep doing it in your new host country. It can be hard at first, but with a little patience and effort, you will be able to find a way to keep doing all your favorite activities. As a teacher in Taiwan, I had a lot of free time and managed to write my own book and start a podcast.
First, I think you should find other people that enjoy mutual(3) hobbies. Maybe your coworkers will know people or established communities whom you could meet. Social media can be a good way to find social groups. For instance, I found an open mic bar where I could play drums in Korea. I also joined every hiking group I could find on Facebook.
Secondly, you should try new things. I ended up trying out theater in Korea—which is something I would have NEVER considered before that—and even found a board game group that had a good mix of expats and locals. These groups were really rewarding because they took me out of my comfort zone and expanded my social group, not to mention they were bridges into new hobbies and opportunities.
3. Missing Home
It’s easy to overlook missing home. You’re super excited to live in a new country at first, and if you are only gone for a few months, home may not even enter your mind. However, if you stay abroad for years, there is a good chance you will begin to miss home (you may miss food, family, customs, not feeling othered, etc.).
Travel and learn. It’s easy to get sucked into one area (especially if it is a big city), but be sure to travel around and remain open to new experiences. I always start to feel a little homesick(4) if I don’t have a hike or an adventure to look forward to. Traveling and exploring is quite possibly the best way to feel excited about living in a different country.
The other solution is to learn. Always consider yourself a student of your new host country. Traveling can teach you a lot, but there is also a new language, new food, new customs, and plenty of new people to meet.
4. The Rise of Small Problems
You’ve taken it for granted that you understand how everything works in your native country. However, things like taxes, bills, licenses, visas, tickets, and even doctor and bank visits can be much more challenging than they were at home.
While being independent is great, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will likely have someone like a coworker or a friend that may be able to help you and simplify many of these processes. I have needed the help of friends to rent an apartment, understand labor laws, and fill out my taxes (and I am generally very stubborn when it comes to asking for help).
Take a deep breath and know that small problems will pop up. Don’t let your broken AC or bank visit make your life abroad miserable. Take on one task at a time, know there is a solution, and don’t beat yourself up for not understanding how everything works.
Living abroad is an adventure. It can be a lot of fun, and even when stressors(5) appear, it’s an amazing experience that you will never forget.
Have you lived abroad? If so, what were the biggest challenges you faced? What were the solutions? I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Be sure to leave a comment below.
1. arise (v.)
Def. to come into being, action, or notice; originate; appear
Ex. New challenges always arise. We need to be brave and face them one at a time.
2. random (adj.)
Def. proceeding, made, or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern:
Ex. I like to talk to random people in cafes and find out more about their lives.
3. mutual (adj)
Def. having the same relation each toward the other:
Ex. My girlfriend and I don’t share any mutual interests. I think we will break up.
4. homesick (adj.)
Def. sad or depressed from a longing for home or family while away from them for a long time.
Ex. I feel homesick when I think about the great beaches, lakes, and all my friends back at home.
5. stressor (n)
Def. an activity, event, or other stimulus that causes stress.
Ex. Being around big dogs is a big stressor for her. She is scared of anything bigger than a poodle.