Hopping on the back of Elmo, my trusty motorbike, I felt my own anticipation soar as it sputtered to life. Today was a day for fearlessness—for palpable adventure. Today signified a journey into the unknown. In the totality of that instant, a rush of emotion brought me to one perpetual string of thought: I had done it; I’d actually moved to Thailand.
The feeling of elation I experienced that first day abroad was powerful, yet unexpected. It’s no small feat to leave your family, friends, and culture behind in pursuit of a new experience, so to the courageous explorers out there who are thinking of moving to another country, you can do it!
In order to be as prepared as possible for this next exciting chapter in your life, here are some tips from my well-traveled Vacasa colleagues on things to consider when moving abroad.
Tip #1: You can only prepare so much.
With the expectation of moving to a completely foreign place comes the realization that you’ll need to prepare. Many of our colleagues have noted that reading travel blogs and books and checking out your host country’s Homeland Security website are a few practical ways. But how do you prepare yourself emotionally for the inevitable culture shock that comes with new territory?
“Visit with an open mind and an open heart.” – Rachael Decker, Vacasa Lead Copywriter
Rachael, our resident Lead Copywriter who studied abroad in London during her junior year of college, recommends giving yourself plenty of time to process those unfamiliar experiences.
“The first few weeks, it can be hard to adjust. Visit with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t shut yourself off to new experiences or ways of thinking about the world. At the same time, don’t feel like you have to spend all of that time ‘on.’ It’s okay to take a weekend to just curl up and read a book.”
Tip #2: It’s no vacation.
Even if you’ve traveled to the country before moving there, you’ll find that settling in for the long haul is in fact so much different than vacationing there.
Karinda, Vacasa’s Country Manager of Nicaragua, can vouch that one of her biggest hurdles when moving to Central America was transitioning from “vacation mode” to “work mode”: “I no longer had free time to go surfing or lounge whenever I wanted.”
Other coworkers cited the difficulty of adapting to a new daily routine, like Gillian, who worked as an intern in France for three months:
“To me, going grocery shopping for the first time when I lived by myself in Paris was a big change. I had to adapt to the French way of life by going every day or every other day. Things like shopping and doing laundry are routine tasks that you don’t have to worry about on vacation.”
Tip #3: It will take time to form your “hive.”
Another challenge to planting your roots abroad is having to build new relationships and social circles.
Michael had the unique experience of teaching abroad in Shanghai, then moved to the U.S. to work at Vacasa. He emphasizes the necessity of being patient with others and yourself: “Once you settle down, building your community and ‘hive’ in a different place is challenging. You have to exercise effort to make new friends in new circles, but this process takes time. You don’t really get a feel for the attitudes and mannerisms of people until you’ve been there a while.”
Our International Channel Marketing Coordinator, Fiorella, is also no stranger to the struggle of navigating friendships in different cultures: “When I started my first job in the U.S., it made me feel part of a larger community. I still missed home, though. Once I started interacting with new acquaintances, all I wanted to do was share what I was experiencing with family and friends back home in Italy.”
Tip #4: You may always feel like “the expat.”
Getting to a place of “full cultural immersion” in your new home can take a long time, and for some expats, it may never be attainable. Take Michael as an example, who’s been living in the U.S. for about a year and a half and has launched his career at Vacasa—and still says he feels like a foreigner.
“I don’t feel like I belong in any one place; I belong to the world.” – Fiorella Burke, Vacasa International Channel Marketing Coordinator
Fiorella also communicated that part of her will always remain an expat in the U.S.: “I think I feel this way because a big piece of my heart still lives in Italy with its culture. At the same time, I know that I could’ve never stayed in Italy my whole life. I don’t feel like I belong in any one place; I belong to the world.”
Despite these valid feelings of “being an outsider,” many of our colleagues found effective strategies to immerse themselves (mainly through language). For Karinda specifically, language was the key to connecting with her coworkers: “I signed up for Spanish lessons right when I moved to Nicaragua. Although most of the owners I work with speak English, I knew I’d be more accepted.”
For Gillian, it wasn’t until after her first month in Paris that she felt immersed—and she credits this rapid transformation to mastering the French language: “I knew I was feeling more immersed when I would dream in French and started developing relationships with locals through conversation, like the moment I made friends with a French man who owned a restaurant.”
Tip #5: You’ll learn a lot about yourself.
Each individual who moves to a foreign country will go through their own “expat’s journey,” filled with cyclical struggles and triumphs. But what you may not expect to find at the end of this journey? Yourself.
“If you maintain an attitude open to learning, you’ll find that others will be interested in hearing your story.” – Per Svendsen, Vacasa Director of Hotel Services
“Everything will seem new and strange,” says Per, Director of Hotel Services, whose expat’s journey began at the ripe age of 14, “but that’s the fun of it! If you maintain an attitude open to learning, you’ll find that others will be interested in hearing your story.”
For some expats, relying on technology such as WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family back home is an easy fallback—like it was for Michael. But he says that being self-aware is half of the battle: “How will you push yourself to actually go out and make new friends? I had to seriously ask myself this question when I first moved to the U.S.”
Above all, the priceless knowledge you pick up navigating a foreign culture is something you can bring with you anywhere in life—like Rachael does whenever she travels: “I’m so much more conscious now when I’m traveling to blend in as much as possible and to not be ‘that American.’ It’s important for safety as well as just respecting the local culture!”
Riding around Thailand that first pivotal day was more than just a spirited adventure; it was the start of a lifelong journey that would inspire me to continually seek out new people, places, and cultural experiences. That’s the beauty of moving to another country: you’ll never know exactly how it will shape you, but the opportunities for growth and change are endless.
My advice? Take a leap of faith: hop on that proverbial motorbike, rev the engine, and never look back.
Featured photo courtesy of Chang Hsien
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