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Expat adjustment: the second settling in - part two

Updated 13 Oct 2010

Expats who have managed to high-jump the initial hurdle of culture shock may be surprised to find there lies another phase of adjustment; a long stretch that can prove especially difficult for those faced with living abroad for a longer-term. This phase is known as the “Second Settling In” and can be summed up as the period of transition where expats attempt to move beyond merely being able to survive and toward being able to thrive in their lives abroad.

In our first segment we discussed the nature of the Second Settling In, and points of consideration and preparation for any expat facing this period in their expat experience. In this segment we move from the theoretical to the practical – how to handle your Second Settling In.

Three steps to taking on the Second Settling In

Step One: Check-in

You’ve spent a lot of time getting in touch with your new culture and figuring out how it works – but during that time you may have slightly lost touch with yourself. Now is the time to do a personal “check-in”.

  • Take the time to think about yourself. What is it you’d like to be doing, and in what direction would you like to move in? What are your concerns? Are you worried about how your time abroad may affect your employability? Do you realise that you’ve stopped doing something since the move and find you miss it?

  • Pay special attention to your needs and health. Did the lack of sunlight in your new country have you reeling your first winter? Do you find yourself constantly dehydrated in your new climate? Come up with ideas to better resolve any health issues you may have noticed since arriving. Your physical health has a significant impact on your level of motivation and mental well-being so don’t overlook it.

Step Two: Check-around

Now that you’ve decided what your concerns and preferences are, it’s time to do a little research and find out how you can best address your needs.

Keep your eyes and ears open, and remember that information doesn’t always present itself in the same ways or in the same places from country to country.

Embassies, community centres, grocery stores, newspapers, online groups, the blogs of other expats in your host country and church bulletin boards can all serve as sources of information.

Not to mention, explore the big bad world of social media and don't underestimate the power of word-of-mouth as a means of dissemination. Inquiring of those who you share a common ground with is a great way to glean information.

  • Look into volunteer or work opportunities that will allow you to develop existing skills or cultivate new ones.

  • What educational opportunities are open to you? Whether you want to pursue language-learning, advance a creative skill through workshops, attend the occasional lecture, or further your formal academic qualifications, there is usually something in your vicinity that will help satisfy your interests.

  • Are you facing a language barrier? There are numerous ways you can work on a new language, either alone in your own home or as part of a group (where as a perk you may make friends or even meet others who speak your native tongue). If you take on learning the language of your new land, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have plenty of chances to practice, and more people to talk to.

  • Social and sporting clubs or activities will help get you out of the house to begin interacting with others. Sport of any kind is excellent as it doesn't demand high-level language skills, it encourages camaraderie, and it has the side benefit of providing the brain with an endorphin lift while supporting your physical health.

  • Keep researching your host country as an activity unto itself. Searches using words like “Tourism”, “History”, or “Landmarks” paired with your host country’s name will yield countless resources. What you learn can help to foster a greater cultural appreciation, and is also a great way of discovering interesting and unique sights in your host country.

  • Make your perceived weaknesses into real strengths. For example, are you in an area where very few people speak English? If so, your native-speaker abilities may be worth something, and could be a way for you to mingle with locals either in a teaching capacity or by setting up language exchanges. Examine your ‘weaknesses’ and those traits that ‘don’t fit in’ and see if you can’t turn them into strengths of some kind.

Step Three: Get going

Once you've painted yourself a pretty picture of what's available in your area based on what's important to you, choose a few activities and get started.

Whether they are personal activities or things done with a group (ideally you should aim for a mix of both) you’ll have taken the steps toward building a structure of regular interactions into your ‘daily grind’. It won’t be long and you’ll find yourself looking forward to them.

Keep in mind those things you'd like to take away from your experience abroad, and be sure to have a gander at those interesting places you've read about in your research.

Here's two compass points to guide your new busy schedule:

  • Be a regular. Your life doesn’t have to be routine, but it’s good to be a regular somewhere you like and feel comfortable, whether it’s a café, the library, a certain store or Sunday market. Being a regular somewhere can open the door for talk with other regulars, the workers or owners. If you absolutely do not want to try and learn the local language, you should try to find somewhere that sees a good deal of tourist or expat traffic.

  • Boost yourself. While challenging yourself is great, remember to work in at least one activity that reminds you of what you’re already good at. Re-establishing neglected activities and hobbies is a great way of taking back part of your identity that may have been set aside while you dealt with more immediate lifestyle adjustments in the ‘culture shock’ period. These are great for boosting self-esteem, and could even yield a positive surprise should locals or other expats take a shine to what you do.

And finally...the finish line

Rome wasn’t built in a day. This stage of adjustment can take months or even years. Learning how to shape your life away from home into something you like is no simple task, but is entirely worthwhile.

Finding and adding suitable activities into your life is a gradual process and will involve some trial and error. Be patient, take it step by step, and from time to time when you look back you’ll be able to smile - not only at seeing how far you’ve already come, but also at knowing that where you’re headed is the direction you’ve chosen; the one that’s right for you.

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