Easy Tips for Adjusting to a New Country
Your adventure has begun. And it can be scary. You’ve landed in a new country, where the language is different, the culture is strange, and the setting is nothing like home. But the unfamiliar feeling in your stomach isn’t something to fight. It is something to embrace.
Culture shock is normal. The definitive beauty of our planet is its diversity: if every country was the same then travel would hold no allure. So, on the first day of an adventure keep remembering that experiencing difference is what compelled you to travel in the first place.
Adjusting to a new country doesn’t mean you must perfect the language or culture. Part of the adventure is to learn from every mishap and miscommunication. Adjusting to a new country is about feeling confident to explore and live out the adventure you dreamed of.
Take it Slow
Travel to any country and you will have certain preconceptions. These are defined by images you have seen and stories you have heard, often world-famous attractions or what was on television. Most people touch down and immediately set off to find the city of their preconceptions. For example, they spend the first two days trying to visit the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums and the Roman Forum and a dozen churches.
As the saying goes, “when in Rome...” And the Romans aren’t rushing around. When you have a month in a country there is no need to rush. Slow your pace and avoid whizzing off to the places you already know about – there will be plenty of time to do the sights.
Major tourist attractions are usually packed with tourists. Unfortunately, tourism inevitably contains an unsavoury aspect, like ticket brokers, crowds and inflated costs. This can give a negative first impression of a city or country. For example, you might decide that the Romans are pushy people if your initial encounters are with ticket brokers around the Spanish Steps: this imprint then becomes difficult to overcome.
Focus your initial exploration in the neighborhood where your accommodation is located. Explore. Get to know the surrounding streets. Try out different cafes. It is much easier to adjust to a neighborhood than an entire city or country. After a couple of days you should feel confident in your home area, which makes you feel confident to explore further afield.
Explore without a Map
On a two or three-day city break you need to follow a map. Time is of the essence and you don’t have enough of it to get lost. But getting lost is an essential part of the travel experience. It causes you to stumble across unique corners and discover an otherwise hidden side of a city.
Exploring without a map and getting lost also helps to tune all your senses. Rather than continually looking at your phone (or a complicated fold-out map), you focus entirely on what is going on around you: smells, sounds, signs, colors. You are absorbing more and more, which unconsciously allows the body and mind to adjust to the local rhythm. You are also learning your way around, another essential piece in the jigsaw of adjusting.
Embrace the Small Things
Embracing culture has become a commercialized concept. In Italy it stands for seeking out the best espresso, pizza and gelato. For millions of visitors that means searching for the pizzeria from Eat, Pray, Love or following an internet ice-cream recommendation in Milan. Instead, think of trying out the food and drinks as just one small element of culture.
So rather than focus on an aspect of culture you already know about (pizza), try to embrace the small things that you have never seen or heard of before: mannerisms, smiles, opening times, the speed people walk and the way a drink is ordered. If you travel slowly enough to notice these parts of culture you’ll automatically adjust to the customs. Going back to the previous analogy, “when in Rome...” The Romans don’t eat pizza and gelato everyday. It is the small things that makes them Roman. And it is these small things that help to make you feel comfortable.
Remember to be Yourself
You might not like some of the customs and this is absolutely okay. Differing opinions and styles are what makes our planet whole. If you arrive with the attitude of embracing everything, you’ll soon learn what you don’t like. And you’ll be able to seek out unmissable elements of your own culture, like a particular style of beer or a way of dressing.
If you don’t like pizza don’t worry, you can still embrace the culture of Italy. If you’re not comfortable with ordering food from a cafe counter it doesn’t make the Spanish experience any less authentic. Travel gradually changes mindsets and attitudes. But adjusting to a new country doesn’t mean you try and become a different person. The process will happen naturally when you embrace the small things.
Practice the Language from the Start
Nobody is expecting you to know the language. Fluency isn’t a prerequisite to visiting a country. However, you’ll receive a completely different reaction from people if you at least try to say a few words in their language. Attempting the local language is a show of respect that can immediately endear you to the locals.
Your repertoire will increase through practice. But never think that you can start learning the language after settling in. Start as you intend to go on because saying a few words is part of settling in. It can feel embarrassing at first. But those who practice the language from the start will feel far more adjusted two weeks down the line.
Smile. Say hello. Introduce yourself. The local people know as much about you as you know about them: nothing. They might also be experiencing culture shock when a North American is in their local cafe. They might think you are not friendly because you didn’t say hello. And you think they aren’t very welcoming because they didn’t say hello!
More than anything on this list, saying hello and introducing yourself is the best way to feel confident when arriving in a new country. It shows an openness, both to others and to yourself. And with it you’ll find that adjusting to a new country may only take one or two days.
Experience A New Country With Abroad We Go
Traveling to a new country as a couple or on your own can be an exhilarating experience. But with 45 other adventuresome adults, provided accommodations, transportation, a bi-lingual local expert, and weekly group meetings, Abroad We Go makes adjusting to a new country much easier and enjoyable. Learn about our upcoming 90-day Mediterranean trip by clicking below!