According to the World Economic Forum, there is an estimated record of 272 million international migrants worldwide. As the world is becoming more globalized and connected than ever before, YOU are also more likely to live abroad in your lifetime. The opportunity may be right around the corner, so the question is – are you ready to integrate?
We know that moving to a new country can be both exciting and challenging. In this article, we will share 10 tips on how to integrate into a new country successfully, based on our firsthand experiences.
Whether you are going to study abroad, relocating for a job, or immigrating with your family, we want to help you get the best experience when moving to a new country or culture.
How to integrate and live like a local?
The first part of this article is about integration. When you first move to a new country, where everything from language, culture, ways of life, norms, and expectations can be so different than back home, it could be overwhelming to adjust.
Here are 5 tips with personal examples to help you live like a local.
(If you are new to Denmark, here is more about Danish culture and ways of life.)
1. Be open-minded; Expect differences
It is a no-brainer that things ARE different in the new place than back home. Therefore, the first tip is to expect differences and keep an open mind. It is crucial to maintain a positive attitude and be willing to try new things and accept new ideas.
For example, when offered local food, instead of going “ew, what’s that?,” try to say “let’s try this, why not?” This open attitude will help you integrate well. Remember: *You don’t have to like it* and *What if it is actually good?*
Even though it is very tempting, try not to compare or judge everything by how it is back home. Comparisons often cause disappointment and even frustration.
The bottom line is: it is not better or worse, it is just different.
2. Integrate by hanging out with local people
To live like a local, of course you want to hang out with local people too. I mean, how else? When you hang out with them, you get to observe the way they talk and interact with one another.
You can get an idea of what is socially acceptable and unacceptable, without having to learn from your own mistakes. You can also learn about the best places to eat and visit from the local point of view. Ask them questions, and they are happy to answer and discuss.
Having local friends significantly increases your sense of belonging in the local community. As an expatriate, one of the best feelings after moving to a new place is the feeling of acceptance.
“But where/ how do I find local friends?” You ask.
Take the initiative to reach out instead of expecting the locals to invite you into their circles. The most logical people to start with are your roommates, classmates, or colleagues. You can also explore local events and join relevant groups on Facebook.
3. Observe how local people talk, behave, live
Building on #2, when hanging out with your local friends, you can pay attention to the way they talk: do certain words always come up? Do they gesture with their hands? What kinds of topics usually come up in a social gathering?
The way they eat: how do they place their forks, knives, and chopsticks? Do they say something before or after a meal? Do they add a particular dressing to a certain food?
The way they behave: do they greet each other with hugs and kisses? How close do they sit or stand with one another? How do they make decisions within the group?
The way they live: how do they commute to work or school? How do they dress for winter or a rainy day? Do they cook or dine out?
Even if you haven’t met any local friends yet, you can still learn a lot of things by people-watching on the street or anywhere, just keep your eyes open! You can then start adapting to something that you find exciting or suitable.
4. Integrate through the local language
Learn the local language, EVEN IF THEY SPEAK ENGLISH!
After having lived in different countries across Asia, the US, and Europe, I can tell you that language is either a barrier or ticket to integrate in a new country. It’s your choice!
Knowing some basic phrases helps you feel at ease in everyday situations, whether you are at the cashier checkout or ordering food in a restaurant. Shortly after moving to Denmark, I remember it was satisfying even just being able to respond “ja, tak” (yes please) to “bon med?” (recipe with you?). It is the little thing that makes you FEEL integrated.
It also helps you to socialize with your local friends and colleagues. After all, they still naturally think, express themselves better, and feel the most comfortable speaking in their mother tongue. Your effort in learning the local language will show your willingness to integrate, which is always appreciated.
5. Communicate don’t assume
“The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, then we react by sending emotional poison with our word. This creates a whole big drama for nothing.” — don Miguel Ruiz
It is especially dangerous to make assumptions of things in an unfamiliar environment because you can only base your judgment on what you already know. Still, more often than not, things in the new country don’t work the same way as it is back home.
Instead, when in doubt, just ask. It not only avoids potential misunderstanding, but it is also an opportunity to open up a fun conversation or discussion. And if you find a Swap Language partner, he/ she will be happy to answer your questions too!
How To Feel At Home Away From Home?
“At home” is not a feeling that just comes; it takes some time and effort. Here are some tips to speed up the process of feeling at home while being in a new country.
6. Explore your new city and neighborhood
The easiest is to explore the new city and familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. It can be done in different ways to gain a different experience.
If you walk around your neighborhood on foot, you are likely able to discover smaller details, like street signs and the color of certain buildings. You will probably discover your new favorite route to take walks, new favorite cafe to hang out in, and maybe your new favorite neighbor who always smiles back at you.
You can also hop on a bike and just bike around the neighborhood. You will likely get a good sense of how different areas of the city are connected. You will learn the traffic rules and systems rather quickly. And you may discover the shortcut to a frequently visited place or how local people commute.
Taking public transportation is a different way of experiencing the city as well. Hop on a bus, a train, metro, or even a ferry (if it is available). Learn to use the rejsekort (Denmark), oyster card (London), octopus card (Hong Kong), suica (Tokyo) — the local version of contactless card — to pay for your fare.
Experience what rush hour is like; experiment how long it would take to go from one side of the city to another; explore different places that are farther away from your apartment or house. Familiarity will help you feel at home.
7. Stay in touch with home, but not too much
This one is a bit tricky. You may have heard of two opposite opinions on how frequently you should keep in contact with your friends and family at home. Speaking from experience, it is best to maintain the right balance.
Skyping with family and messaging friends every day may help you feel connected with people back home. However, it may mean excessive screen time and less social time with people in your new, local circle.
Your family is always your backbone, you should feel free to go to them, but enjoying life in the present moment is also essential. When you are abroad, NOW is the time you grow, learn to be independent, build new friendships, experience new things, and build your new home.
It’d be hard to feel at home in your new home if your attention and time are always invested in your “old” home. Stay in touch with home, yes, but not too much. 😉
8. Bring some elements from home to feel at home
This one is underestimated yet means so much to me when I live(d) abroad. No matter how much you try to integrate and adapt, some homey things are simply irreplaceable – literally or figuratively.
For example, I always bring postcards and photos from home to decorate my walls; my favorite seasoning and coffee beans from a particular brand from home; my bunny doll from childhood that smells like me…whatever that will instantly remind you of home.
Your favorite items will help to create a feeling of security. Sometimes, only that familiar smell, or taste, or image, can cure homesickness when you are far away from home. Remember: choose something that won’t take up too much luggage space.
Here are some interesting “lost in translation” words in different languages related to homesickness.
9. Hang out with other internationals
It is one thing to blend in with locals so that you can live like a local, but it is another thing to find someone who can understand. Another great way to get plugged in is to engage with the expats’ community — both physical and online.
(If you don’t know where to start, we at Swap Language is a very international community. Meet other Swappers on our Facebook page and regional groups in your city!)
These are people who have been through similar challenges, culture shock, emotions, who are with you or a bit ahead of you in this journey, and who ask the same questions or want the same advice. They are your tribe!
Other expats are more likely to understand you and sympathize with you because they are/ have been in the same shoe. You can not only learn from each other but also grow with each other. Having friends in the new country helps immensely to make you feel at home. Internationals and migrants are part of the local society too.
10. Give yourself time
Last but not least, you know it, but we want to reassure you – it just takes time. Moving from one country to another — no matter how old/ young you are, how close/far, or how similar/ different the cultures are — is a big task. It takes time to adjust and reorient yourself.
It’s a cycle, and everyone goes through the transition at their own pace. Some days you may feel social and curious to try new things; other days, you may feel homesick and lonely. Just know that these feelings are all normal and part of the journey.
We hope that these tips will help you ease into the transitional period and integrate into the new country. When you have gradually become familiar with your immediate environment, met more people, found your favorite cafe and restaurant, mastered the local language, you will naturally feel at home in this not-so-new-anymore new country too. Just give yourself time.