A new culture can be intimidating to adjust to, especially if it’s drastically different from the one you’re used to. If you’re about to move overseas, it’s important to prepare yourself so that your transition goes as smoothly as possible. In this guide, you’ll find 10 tips on how to adapt to a new culture, along with some ideas on how to make things easier on yourself while still embracing your new surroundings.
Try different foods
You might not be up for trying different types of cuisine but adapting what you eat at home is easy. If you’re used to eating spaghetti with meatballs for dinner, it doesn’t mean you can’t eat that same meal in a new culture—it just means there will be another type of pasta or sauce. If you love Indian food but are moving to an Asian country, you could easily ask your new neighbors for their local recipe. You don’t have to fill every meal with unfamiliar foods—but trying something new at least once or twice per week will help you adjust faster and more easily.
See what locals like
While you’ll likely find many commonalities between your new home and your old home, part of adapting to any new culture is learning about differences. It’s tempting, especially when traveling in rural areas or developing countries, to stick with what you know (in part because it feels safer).
But try asking a local friend or colleague for their opinion on popular restaurants and cafes that might not be on well-trod travel lists. Not only will you be exposed to new things, but through getting out of your comfort zone—and chatting with locals—you’ll learn more about what does and doesn’t work in that culture. For example, do people meet at cafes and order drinks all afternoon?
Make friends with ex-pats
A few weeks ago, I realized something: I have no friends from other countries. This doesn’t mean that my friends don’t travel—they do—or that they don’t enjoy foreign cultures. They do. It just means that I had never cultivated a friend who happened to be coming from another country or culture.
And maybe you haven’t either! A lot of ex-pats are perfectly happy hanging out with other ex-pats, but they miss interacting with locals and learning about how life is different in another country (and culture). So if you want to live abroad long-term and never learn anything new, make sure your social circle consists entirely of people like you—everyone else will view it as kind of sad.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
New cultures can be confusing and frustrating, especially when you’re on your own. Asking questions is one of the best ways to learn about new cultural norms but asking doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable experience. Even if you’re interacting with people who don’t speak your language, basic body language cues like pointing at objects and nodding in understanding go a long way. And just because you don’t understand how things work exactly doesn’t mean you can’t join in.
In many places, there are certain unwritten rules that dictate what is acceptable behavior for newcomers; follow them (even if it means some faux pas) and people will more likely help facilitate your learning curve later on down the road.
Check out community events
If you’re moving to a city that has community events in different languages, check them out. Not only will you get exposed to native speakers, but if you run into people that are from your country, it could be an opportunity for small talk. You’ll also get ideas about how local residents and ex-pats spend their time.
Even if you don’t speak the language yet, try checking online event calendars or Facebook groups for people interested in learning your language—they can help give you an idea of whether there are any beginners’ meetups in your new town.
Read up on local customs
It’s hard to find your footing in a new culture when you don’t know anything about it. Knowing more about your new surroundings—the customs, festivals, and holidays of its people—will give you more things in common with locals and enable you to better participate.
You’ll be less of an outsider if you understand how people speak, how they dress, how they eat, what their traditions are, and why they do what they do. Your experience will be richer for it. Read up on local history: The past is always relevant when trying to gain footing in a culture. History books provide valuable context by revealing cultural patterns that remain relevant even centuries later.
Look at the bigger picture
You can’t see where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Ask questions and use your common sense when figuring out how things work in your new country—and, just as importantly, how they don’t. No one likes being confused or lost, so why not take advantage of other people’s experiences to learn what has and hasn’t worked for them? And remember that things are different here is just one way of looking at cultural differences; it may also be that things are better here. No matter which angle you look at it from, communication is key! If you ask for help politely, most people will respond with patience and kindness.
Whether you’re moving across town or across an ocean, it’s important that you stay as active as possible during your new location transition. Try to make friends and get involved in your new location’s community, especially if you’re relocating for work. Not only will these activities help keep you active, but they can also provide support systems when it comes time to acclimate professionally.
If you aren’t able to move around during your new location transition, find other ways of keeping fit by walking around during breaks at work or hiring out household chores if money is tight. Though there might not be ideal options for everyone, sometimes all that’s necessary is a little creativity and dedication on your part.
Do things you like
Most people who relocate quickly learn they can’t do everything they did back home. Prioritize what’s important and don’t worry about stuff that doesn’t matter. If you find yourself missing a routine, try and create something similar, but don’t feel like you’re going to fail if you aren’t able to replicate every habit from your old life. You have new things to discover and get used to—have fun with it!
Exchanging one culture for another can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Learn about what makes local customs unique and put your best foot forward. If you’re invited out, go along. You might feel awkward or shy at first, but when you do eventually go out with locals, they will appreciate your willingness to try their way of life.
If a native shows you around town—or brings you into their home—accept graciously and learn as much as possible about the new country and its people so that when someone else does something for you in return, you can offer thanks in kind!