The Olive Way E-Newsletter
How Can Expatriates Feel at Home?
“Once Here, Be at Home!” was a slogan we used to welcome new students to my undergraduate school. This simple but powerful message keeps coming back to mind when I coach expatriates and new immigrants.
Why is it relevant? Well, newcomers to any place need to adapt to a new life, and are often confronted with assimilation/integration issues. Very often, we look elsewhere for explanations while forgetting our own role in shaping a situation. The truth is when we make ourselves at home, we could easily settle into the life of our new environment. The question is how.
The following steps provide the answer:
1. Find group support.
If you ever go to a university cafeteria and look around, you will soon notice that, many times, students of the same ethnic background stick together. They may have their own associations. It is quite normal. Such group attachment is particularly important for newcomers, as the support makes the new environment appear less intimidating and the process to adjust much easier.
When expatriates first arrive at their oversea posts, the sense of strangeness in a new culture could be overwhelming. Lack of family and friends results in loneliness. Finding support is important. The very feeling that one is not alone in such a situation and that help is available provides some comfort. Excellent sources of information and support include: embassies and consulates, ethnic associations, expatriate network, oversea alumni associations, bilateral business associations etc..
2. Detach from support groups.
While support groups are necessary to help ease one into his/her new life, expatriates should avoid being totally reliant on these groups. When one is reluctant to “leave” a support group, he/she is isolating him/herself from the actual world around him/her, preventing integration. Imagine executives speaking no local language after living in a country for more than 10 years! Ever heard of anyone whose term came to an abrupt end because he/she just could not adapt to the new environment?!
A support group is like a bridge. Getting on and crossing that bridge will get one closer to the destination, but one will not be there until he/she gets off it. So never make support groups your permanent homes. Make conscious efforts to go out, make local friends, learn the local language and culture, participate in local events, and volunteer in local charity groups. Give yourself the opportunity to learn new things, and give local people the opportunity to get to know you and to accept you. When what is around you becomes familiar, and when you feel accepted, you are naturally at home.
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