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Living Abroad Tips

Reflecting on three years of living abroad, I have come up with some tips for mental and physical survival. Although I lived in Mongolia, with little money, these tips can apply to people in all kinds of situations living away from their home country:

1. Be creative. A balcony in winter can be a freezer, bowls can be cups, and horsemeat can double as roast beef.

2. Entertain yourself. Without electricity, solitary pursuits are key. Paint, read, write, do yoga, sing, or play an instrument

3. Take off the rose-colored glasses. Your home country wasn't always perfect either. While I was away my home city of Montreal was hit by an ice storm causing power outages for weeks and urban life to grind to a halt.

4. Be patient. Idiosyncrasies and challenges are why I loved living abroad. Each day, I felt like my life was an adventure. Routines were never routine, and the unexpected often happened. Only with patience can diversity be appreciated. Difficult circumstances pass.

5. Learn the local language. Not only is it essential for buying groceries and developing friendships, it will also elicit respect and help you when help is needed.

6. Learn as well as teach. You may be living abroad to contribute to the health, education, or economy of the local culture. But if you always see yourself as the expert, you will be missing out. Think of yourself as a student.

7. Take a vacation. Any place can drain you, even a tropical beach. Visit a neighboring country. Picnic on a riverbank. We all need to refresh ourselves.

8. Hold onto those apron strings. Links to home are important for sanity and grounding. An occasional letter is valuable in maintaining ties across the globe.

KAREN HARMATUCK writes from British Columbia, Canada.

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