Relocating can be difficult, even when it’s in a familiar place. When the relocation is from one country to another, the difficulty factor can be exponentially higher. There’s the language barrier to deal with, different customs and practices, learning the geography and transportation of a new city and figuring out the local food ingredients and how to prepare them. Adjusting to life as an expatriate can be incredibly frustrating.
My first few weeks as an expatriate in Kathmandu were precisely that: incredibly frustrating. I felt that the city was chewing me up and spitting me out, taking no mercy on me. I felt that I was struggling with everything and was precariously teetering on a plank, about to fall into a terrible abyss of insanity. Every time I tried to take a taxi, the taxi driver tried to cheat me. Whenever I went in search of furniture, the shop owner quoted me an exorbitant price. I would walk around my neighborhood, which seemed like an indecipherable labyrinth, for hours in search of my house, only to realize that I had, in fact, been passing my home over and over but didn’t recognize it. When visiting the vegetable market, I had no idea what each item was and absolutely no idea how to prepare it. There were medium sized cockroaches in my room and even larger ones in my bathroom. In short, those were some of the most frustrating weeks I’ve had in a long time.
Finally, four weeks after coming to Nepal, I feel like I’m adjusting to life as a longer-term expatriate. I’ve solved most of the aforementioned problems: I now can identify my house, I’ve figured out how to cook some of the local vegetables, I found furniture and I’ve learned to love (okay, accept) the cockroaches.
My home town, Portland, Oregon, is very different than Kathmandu, Nepal, which made the move even more difficult. I assume that, while there would have been challenges, moving from Portland to somewhere like Sydney, Australia, or London, England, would have been a bit smoother and simpler. But, here I am in Kathmandu, feeling decently well-adjusted to the city and my surroundings.
When making a big move and when becoming an expatriate, there are some things I’ve identified as helpful to assimilation and adjustment. The following things are helpful when easing into a new and foreign life. They’ve helped me feel more at home in Kathmandu, and have reduced my frustrations and insanity levels markedly.
Simple Steps to Adjust to Expatriate Life and Maintain Sanity
When becoming an expatriate, perhaps one of the most frustrating things is that you are moving to a new city, country or continent where you most likely don’t have the same safety net as at home. By safety net, I mean friends, family, co-workers, pets and comforts. When something goes wrong in your new expatriate life, you’ll have no one to fall back upon but yourself.
When I first got to Kathmandu and things weren’t exactly going my way, my frustration levels skyrocketed. At home, when something goes wrong, I can call friend or family to talk it out. Here, there is no one. That’s where Skype comes in. Skype is a very reasonable (and sometimes free) way to keep in contact with people from home. When adjusting to expat life, Skyping someone from home once a day, or every few days is a great way to not feel as isolated.
This might not work for everyone, but it works for me. Exercise was a major part of my life at home and I was initially frustrated in Kathmandu because I couldn’t figure out how to sweat it out. Challenges and hurdles were coming every day that built up my stress levels. Finally, I figured out a way to run in the mornings and my stress levels went down drastically. When becoming an expatriate, a daily walk, run or bicycle ride is a great way to calm down during the hectic assimilation period.
Peanut butter makes everything better. Okay, peanut butter specifically doesn’t make becoming an expat easier per se, but familiar foods can be a comfort in a time of change. Finding some sort of food from home whether it be peanut butter, chocolate, coffee or pizza, can be helpful when thrown into a new world of new foods and tastes. Of course, don’t steer clear of local foods all together, for that is one of the greatest pleasures of being in a new country. But, when you need a little taste of home, go get some comfort food and don’t feel bad about it.
Finding some sort of social group of locals or expatriates can be helpful when forming a network in your new home. This could be anything from a volunteer group, a trekking group, a book club or a running club. One great option I’ve found in Kathmandu are the Himalayan Hash House Harriers. They are a “drinking group with a running problem.” For runners, walkers or anyone who is in need of a good time, seek out the Hashers in your location (they are all over the world).