You have arrived. You’re looking around and you see completely new surroundings, different environment, maybe even totally different flora and fauna. Your suitcases and boxes are looking at you, asking to finally unpack them. What’s happened? Well, it looks like you’ve moved abroad. Maybe you’re thinking “what the hell I’m doing here”? “What have I done”? Don’t worry, that’s normal and soon you will forget these thoughts and start calling the new place “home”.
I’m sure, cause I’ve done that.
You may feel overwhelmed at the beginning, feel a cultural shock because everything is different. I’ll tell you something – as soon as you will accommodate yourself to the new environment, you will have a cultural shock while coming back to your home country.
Moving abroad, especially on your own, requires courage and is a rewarding experience.
I moved to Ireland two and a half years ago and my brother left Poland for half a year to do Erasmus exchange in Berlin. He noticed a lot of cultural differences, missed home and was thinking about dropping but now life pays back and he works in Poland in a bank, dealing with German-speaking customers and that was only one of quite a few job opportunities that he had after coming back.
Thinking about all this, I’ve prepared six tips that will make your life easier – and I know they work because I tested them during my two and half a year abroad. Ready for a challenge?
1. Find a program or institution that will help you accommodate
I am happy in Ireland as I did a month-and-a-half long internship – an Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs – that helped me to start here, find new relationships and gave me a lot of self-confidence, as well as references. My host was the café over the sea and although I had to commute 50 mins every day, it was worth it. I had a chance to speak a lot with my co-workers and customers and I had a support from my sending organization so I didn’t feel lost.
I wish, though, there was an institution in Ireland like SPEAK – a place where people of different backgrounds, cultures and languages can meet and learn from each other as it creates a sense of community and belonging so I could accommodate even faster.
2. Work in a café or a restaurant
After finishing my Erasmus internship I stayed to work in the same café for another year and then found a job in a different restaurant. This was the best way to get rid of the “language barrier” as I had to talk, and talk a lot – especially during my barista shifts, as Irish people are very chatty and want to know the person who serves them.
When I moved to Ireland, I had an impression that everyone speaks fast and weird. Now, since I’ve been working in the restaurant for the last two years, some customers tell me, judging by the accent, that I have probably spent quite a time in here – but it took me a while to come to this point.
3. Find the book club – but the one where people read aloud
After I moved to Ireland, I started volunteering in the photography gallery – just one day a week, but almost at the same time, just by chance, I found the “pharmacy” that in reality is the place where Joyce’s fans meet and read his books aloud, also run by a group of volunteers.
That way I found myself once a week reading aloud one page of difficult as hell Ulysses with people from all around the world and going to the pub afterward to talk more.
4. Propose a skill exchange
The beginnings of speaking in a new language might not be easy – you may be afraid that you will be misunderstood, you might be shy or just feel internal fear of speaking in different tongue (that’s called the “language block”) and what I can tell you is that the easiest way of overcoming it is to speak as much as possible.
If you don’t like large groups, there’s no problem – ask someone if they can teach you one-on-one. Maybe propose to exchange skills, like I did – the person can teach you the language and you can cook/walk the dogs/clean/do whatever else you can and other person needs. I have Portuguese classes with a Brazilian girl from my work and I bake for her. I bring the sweet treat for one class and then the recipe for the other.
5. Small talk everywhere
You should also “small talk” in the shops, restaurants and other places where you meet people – you might be surprised how happy locals will be, hearing that you’re trying to speak their language and how eager to help you to talk more and better.
Another idea is to look for the meet-ups in your city – you might find some book swaps, walking groups, just anything. Keep your eyes open and look for the notes and posters in the cafés or meeting places or just look up the meet-ups on the Internet. I found the German-English exchange in Dublin and went for one long walk with them. I’ve met a bunch of very nice and generous people who were helping me with my basic German. A few other times I went for a book swap – each time I was talking to different people.
Socializing is the best way of learning a new language (even, or maybe especially, when you’re an introvert). And when you start learning one – you will be hungry for more, so if you see some classes that you always dreamt of – don’t hesitate, don’t think twice – just go for it.
Especially in places like SPEAK that are a community of volunteers from all around the globe, you will feel comfortable as you’ll be learning from other people with similar experience – who found Portugal the second home.