Ask The Expat
Finding Community Support Overseas
While it is important for expatriates to be well informed about their host country to ease the transition of moving to a foreign country, it also important to quickly establish local contacts. The first thing most expatriates miss after moving overseas is their network of family, friends, and their environment back home. Getting help and support from other expatriates makes the adjustment to an unfamiliar country much easier.
The more resourceful you are in finding the help, advice, and assistance you need, the easier it will be to adjust to living overseas. Getting connected to an expatriate community is a good way to make first contacts in your host country. Personal advice from other expatriates can go a long way. These people have gone through the same process of adjusting to their new country of residence and will be able to give you a lot of useful advice. Expatriates are usually helpful to newcomers from their own culture or country, and you might get important leads regarding housing or work and receive useful tips and assistance for your everyday life.
Sharing Your Experiences
No matter if you are a retiree, student, or professional, most foreigners initially prefer the company of people from their own cultural background and only gradually make contact with the locals. This is especially the case for newcomers who don’t speak the local language well and have difficulty communicating with the locals. Sharing your first impressions and experiences with other foreigners helps you bridge this initial period of adjustment and deal better with the daily challenges of living abroad.
Expatriates often meet informally at a local café or pub, or they may host frequent get-togethers. In small cities and towns, expatriate communities are usually small and people get to know each other quickly. In larger cities you may need to pursue more formal channels to make contacts with expatriates, possibly through your consulate, Chamber of Commerce, or English-speaking social clubs. To find out if there are gatherings of English-speaking expatriates in the location to which you are moving, look for a local English-language newspaper. In many foreign countries there are publications for English-speaking residents that advertise social clubs, services, rental, work opportunities, as well as contact information for the expatriate community.
Social Online Tools for Expatriates
With the Internet it is relatively easy for expatriates to find resources and connect with other expatriates online. The enormous increase in online discussion groups in recent years has made this kind of information easy to come by. Now there are hundreds of message boards, email discussion groups, forums, and blogs on the Internet where people can ask questions, exchange advice, and provide support for each other in all aspects of living abroad. Some websites specialize in building online support communities for expatriates, and even provide consulting services for those who only recently moved abroad and need special support. Many companies advertise their services for expatriates on websites; these range from callback services and mail forwarding to travel and health insurance to assistance with moving and settling abroad.
Connecting with the Locals
A mistake many foreigners make, however, is to escape altogether to an expatriate community. While they may make numerous friends from their home country, they often have little interaction with the locals. But living in a foreign country and having little or no contact with the locals is a missed opportunity. It is easy to remain within the safe confines of an expatriate community, especially if you don’t speak the local language well, but making local friends is a great way to become better integrated into the society and life in your host country. That’s why it is important not only to be part of the expatriate community but also part of a local social environment such as a school, work place, or host family to have regular contact with the locals.
You will eventually be able to get an insider’s view of your host country and gain a better understanding of the people, their culture, and customs, which will enrich your time abroad immensely. Local advice is also often more informed than that of other expatriates, and learning from the locals is a great way to adjust more quickly to living overseas