How to feel at home in a foreign country?
For us there are three important things:
- 1) foreigners can actually understand us better,
- 2) make differences in cultures and habits fun
- 3) give them a chance = give you a chance!
We find it so important to have someone to talk to openly, we are that for each other already for 30 years! We both live abroad already for some time, and know how important it is to have someone who understands us – the culture we come from or became part of.
Both of us adjusted to living in a foreign country a bit differently. Marta lives in Holland for over 10 years and for Tereza it is her 2nd year in Berlin, often traveling back to Prague for work. So what do we do to feel at home abroad?
1) Foreigners can actually understand us better, here is why
It is interesting that we assume that speaking the same language equals understanding each other. Often when speaking with others in our native language we are amazed at how many misunderstandings (and disagreements) there can be just because we meant something else than how the other person understood it. Whilst when we talk to someone in a foreign language we expect that they would not understand us that well. We then focus more on HOW we talk and what we MEAN with what we say and if the other party UNDERSTANDS us the way we meant. Often exactly because of this feedback that we ask for, we might actually understand each other even better! So the same language is no guarantee of the same understanding. What do we recommend? Do learn the language of the country you live in so that you can get to know the culture and the people. But do remember, before getting into an argument, explain what you mean and keep curious about what the other person meant wink emoticon
2) Make the differences in cultures and habits fun!
It is quite a known anecdote amongst foreigners that in Holland, when invited for a coffee you get offered only one cookie. Back home I need to come for a coffee on an empty stomach else I explode after the feast. We can then easily slip into judgments about how stingy Dutch people are. It is exactly judgments of the ‘other’ culture and constant comparisons with how it’s done at home that will actually make our stay and adjustment unpleasant (btw, this is also the case with our partner, whether he is from a different country or not: “in our family, we don’t do things like you…”). Try to observe what you see around, who knows you might even see things you like! Once you get rid of the filter that sees all Dutchies as one cookie monsters, who knows, you might meet nice and kind Dutchies that invite you for a feast because you will be more open to them rather than resentful. On the other hand, different habits might be a fun topic for a conversation (don’t mention the cookies to Dutchies though :-))
3) Give them a chance = give you a chance
There comes a phase where everything seems terrible in a foreign country (traffic & public transport sucks, people are so unhappy or lifeless here, it’s too clean or dirty here,…). This phase is especially difficult. We are just fed up. At home it’s better, if not better, definitely easier. We know where to find things and how to get things done. And what do I actually do here? Why did I look forward to being here? Uff… What can help you in this phase is meeting new people. If you struggle meeting people or finding friends, go find a hobby you always wanted to do but never had the time for it, do a sport or join an organization for volunteering for example. Be courageous, in the worst case it will not work out and you can try something else!
These were our tips that help us feel at home abroad. Any more ideas? Let us know!
Tereza & Marta