So, you decided to move abroad! What’s now?
When you arrive in your new country, everything is so interesting and new. But you also feel a little bit out of place; how do you get yourself integrated in this new culture? I’m here to give you my best tips on how to integrate when abroad!
This is the last post in my small series about life abroad after I have lived in four different counties. If you missed the others, you can read them here!
Don’t be ethnocentric
You know these people that just go on and on about how their country is just so much better than anybody else’s?
Ethnocentrism is a tendency to believe that your own culture is better or superior to another. Usually, it comes about by comparing with the not so flattering part of the other culture. Or by looking at other cultures through the filter of one's own cultural presuppositions.
Comparisons are inevitable and very common when abroad. It is a way of making sense of the things that we experience. I have done and do it myself. However, there is no need to all the time tell everybody how much better your own culture is. If it is so perfect at home, why did you move abroad in the first place?
It is no secret that I’m not a huge fan of Danish culture. Even though we have a lot of great things, I also believe there are some quite annoying parts. Well, there is a reason why I don’t live there, right?
However, when I hear foreigners going on and on about how they can’t find just THAT product that they used to buy at home. Or how they find it annoying that we don’t line up for the busses? I’m surprised to find myself getting annoyed. If such insignificant things annoy… Really? Why did you move abroad? And this made me think; if I get annoyed with foreigners complaining all the time about my country – which I’m not afraid to criticize – how will a person with a large portion of national pride react to ethnocentrism?
Of course, it doesn’t mean that you should just lie and say that everything is wonderful in your new country. Just try to keep your ethnocentrism at a minimum – just an advice 😉
Adapt to the local ways of speaking
It is an invaluable way of showing respect for them and their culture adapting to the way the locals speak. In my opinion, it is also a way to show that you are interested in integrating and being part of their community.
No secret that I’m loca with Spanish. Thus, I did have trouble both when moving to Cuba, and now in Argentina, adjusting my Spanish vocabulary to the local’s way.
Especially, the Argentine voseo (e.g. the use of vos instead of the regular Spanish tú for “you” – read more about it here) cost me a lot of troubles. Little by little and with a good amount of effort, I got used to it and now use vos every single day. And it really helps to connect with people. Check out this post for more words you should know to speak like a porteño or slang that is good to know before visiting Cuba.
I also used this language adaption trick when I lived in Sweden. Even though Danish and Swedish are pretty close language-wise, I tried hard to change the Danish words which I knew were hard for Swedes to understand. I found it as my way of showing just a minimum effort of to respect the language of my host country. And it worked pretty well.
Do like the locals
It might seem like a pretty banal advice, and I admit that it sort of is. Thus, don’t underestimate the power of doing an effort of adapting to the local way of doing things.
By doing like the locals, I mean do the same things as they do, try to talk to them (as mentioned above), and try their food and drinks. You will both surprise people by knowing stuff about their habits which makes it easier to connect, and it might help you not stick so much out in everyday situations.
It might come slowly over time without you realizing it. For example, when I just arrived in Buenos Aires, I was terrified by how people would stand on the street waiting for the light to change. One evening, I even told a man that he needed to step in on the pedestrian path or the bus would hit him. He just smiled at me and said: “That’s how we do it here”…
Well, yes, it is the porteño way to do it! And little by little, I started doing the exact same.
Meet the locals
To meet locals is properly one of the oldest tricks in the book of integrating abroad, so I don’t want to spend that much time on it.
Thus, I will just mention that it is a very good idea to do a huge effort yourself in finding local friends, for example through Couch Surfing meet-ups (I met most of my Spanish friends this way), Mundo Lingo meetings or Meet Up activities.
Simply, don’t expect every local you meet to be interested in befriending you. You should put effort into this one yourself.