If you’re just joining in on this “Moving Abroad” series, be sure to start with the first post: “Get Mentally Prepared”. If you know someone about to make the big move abroad, point them in the direction of this great series!
If you’ve ever moved overseas, you might be familiar with neophobia–the fear of anything new. While many people enjoy traveling to new places, there’s a difference between visiting a city as a tourist and moving there. To me, it feels like there’s more at stake. If I’m in town for a few days and I make some kind of faux pas, I don’t mind when people roll their eyes and think, “Tourist.” But when I live there I worry about looking like a clueless sightseer.
The “Fear” (as I like to call it) can strike even the very self-assured. You feel awkward and childish as you learn things everyone else already understands (and thinks you should know, too). The trick to overcoming the Fear is this: Make the unfamiliar familiar. And the only way to do that is to start living your new life.
- Go. You may need to force yourself, but be proactive here. Yes, you’ll feel conspicuous when you pull out your map. You may even need to stop and ask someone for directions in English. The truth is, though it may be a major embarrassment for you, waiting as you fumble around and try to figure out the right coins is probably an insignificant part of someone else’s day.
- Try to use the language. They probably won’t understand you at first. Listen to the cadence and slang used around you. When someone greets you, try to repeat the greeting back the same way you heard it–and then pass it along to another person. Keep trying. Making an effort to use the local language usually wins you a few approval points. Plus, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
- Develop a wider comfort zone. Once you’ve visited somewhere twice, it becomes familiar territory. Stick to popular tourist areas at first to get comfortable, then venture into local streets and venues.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or admit you don’t know. Sure, there will be people who are annoyed when you don’t understand them. Remember that they’ve probably never done what you have–uprooted and moved to foreign country. Give yourself some credit.
- Challenge yourself. For several weeks after we moved to Europe, I waited until my husband came home from work to go to the grocery store. The aisles are crowded and no one else takes kids to the store. Plus, it’s just plain hard to shop for food in a foreign language while trying to keep two active boys corralled! Once I’ve checked out, I still have to carry it all back with me, while trying to hold little hands and push a stroller! I finally realized it would never get easier if I didn’t practice. So if you’ve been putting off that day trip because it involves a few bus changes or taking the kids to a new playground because you aren’t exactly sure where it is, give it a try anyway. Map the route or write down the train timetables. Prepare yourself and get out there. Trying and accomplishing new things will build your confidence.
The longer you put off new experiences, the more motivation you’ll need to do them. It’s like I tell myself at the beginning of a run: Don’t think about it, just go. You’ll be glad you did. I’m always glad I went. It’s just hard to take that first step sometimes.
What things have you put off and then found easier than you expected? Are children considered a bother or a blessing where you live?
Next up, we’ll talk about choosing schools overseas.