Are you an expat or thinking of becoming one? Then, you might already know that being an expat is not always easy. Even simple daily activities that used to be so normal and straightforward in your home country might seem challenging when everything around you is new – country, city, people, culture, language, job.
This post summarizes some key points of the discussion during the networking event “Living in Belgium as an Expat” organized by Antwerp Business Community – monthly networking events in Antwerp, Belgium focused on knowledge exchange about leadership and business – & Wwelcome – Antwerp-based advocate for and by world citizens helping expats in Belgium address administrative questions.
Get together with fellow expats
As we all are social beings, it is essential for us to be surrounded by a circle of reliable people to spend time together with and count on when needed. When you move to a new country, building this circle of trust from scratch might not be easy. Indeed, many expats who attended our event “Living in Belgium as an Expat” saw integration and finding friends as the largest difficulty of living in Belgium as an expat.
The easiest and the fastest way to meet new friends is to join already existing expat communities. It feels very reassuring to meet like-minded people who are going through the same things as you do. Moreover, some of the expats probably have already solved those problems and they are eager to share their experience with you. Normally there are two different types of expat groups: either for certain nationalities (eg Italians in Belgium) or for all the expats. You can easily find these communities on FB groups, on the meetup website, Couchsurfing and others (eg Internations).
Keep your mind open & step out of your comfort zone
Joining expat communities is a great start, however, staying in expat-only groups is not sufficient for your integration process. Therefore, start meeting locals as soon as possible.
Keeping an open mind is a must. While being exposed to the international community and sometimes feeling as “outsiders” in the country of residence, expats have to deal a lot with stereotypes. Sometimes it is unintentional and without realizing it, people judge others based on their nationalities, dividing the world into us (‘”expats”) and them (“locals”). All this obviously does not help to build trust and positive relationships between the groups. Not everything and everyone will be the same as inside your home country, more than likely everything will be very different and you have to be ready to accept that.
Moving to a new country is a perfect reason for trying new things. Start doing things that you would probably never do while being in your home country: say yes to new opportunities, join different clubs and hobby groups – open doors by yourself or they will stay forever closed.
3P rule: positive, persistent, practical
While cultural differences are inevitable and building friendship with locals might take time and effort, the so-called 3P rule can guide you forward:
1P) Practical – get used to making the first step and taking the initiative to meet new people and build friendships
2P) Positive – no matter what, do not take things personally and try to remain positive and optimistic
3P) Persistent – accept the fact that good things take time: be patient and keep on trying
Language learning: give it a try
Foreign language knowledge might be a key problem connected with integration / finding a job abroad. Therefore learning the language of a country, where you live is always a good idea. Normally there are several affordable options to learn the local language offered directly by the government together with some integration courses, which can even be partially reimbursed.
You can also attend language exchange events where you can meet new friends while practicing your language of interest. Do not forget to take the advantage of being deeply immersed into the language environment: listen to the local radio, read local newspapers, attend local theatre events or watch TV.
Related posts: Language Learning Hacks
Finding a job: target companies wisely
If language is an issue with your job search, try to target international companies or startups/scale-ups that normally have less strict language requirements. Leverage specific expat job sources, LinkedIn and especially the network of people who can refer you and give you a recommendation.
While attending job interviews, an important point is to demonstrate that you have serious intentions of staying in the country. You can do it by showing that you are a part of a larger community (eg football team or event organization board).
Taxation and Paperwork: always ask for help when needed
Nowadays in many countries, you can do everything online, therefore first of all check if this is possible. If the website is in a foreign language, you can always use built-in google translator add-on to help you with translation or ask someone for help. Do not be shy to ask help from your employee (normally HR might have someone who can help you with your paperwork) or you can always try to find an accountant for a reasonable price.
Finding a new home & making it feel like one
If possible, try to look for a place to live, when you are already in the country. This will definitely help you to avoid complications. It is always better to see and feel a place by yourself, walk around the neighborhood (both at day & night time) and only then make a well-informed decision.
While looking for housing, it is possible that you might face some problems and even deal with discrimination. Again, no need to take things personally and be angry at anyone. Instead, try to understand their concerns and establish a personal connection (tell them more about yourself your life, interests and how you spend your free time) to build trust. Another more secure way is to work with specialized agencies, that can also help you with arranging the documentation and your right protection afterward in case of any problems.
To avoid being homesick, you need to learn how to feel at home in a foreign country. For every person, it might mean different things: creating comfort and coziness at your apartment, building a routine: finding that one favorite coffee shop to take your morning cappuccino and the gym to hurry to after work.
In the end, building the right networks and succeeding in a new place is all about having the right attitude. It is important to remember that a good attitude doesn’t guarantee your success, but a bad one definitely guarantees failure. A combination of self-confidence, open mind, curiosity, and social awareness will help you develop strong, lasting connections with people, enjoy your new home and make it all a lifetime experience.
What’s the best advice for expats you’ve ever received? Feel free to share your thoughts below.
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