I saw a similar post on a blog and I thought I should write my own guide which I named 15 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Country. There are a few obvious things anybody who wants to move in another country has to do, like learning the language and a bit of geography, familiarizing with the law and customs. If moving to United Kingdom, refer to it as UK, don’t say England if you are referring to the whole country (only imagine what Nicola Sturgeon would say about that). Beside that, the only thing needed is a desire to integrate and keep an open mind. It’s that easy.
I enjoyed thinking of this topic.
1. Make you house your home.
I started with this because it’s one of the most important things regardless if the move is to a different flat/house, city or a country. I don’t think I should even start talking about the importance of having a nice and cosy home, everyone knows that. I know it’s more difficult when the house is rented, but it can be made homely with pictures, favourite books and vases, a cuddly toy and nice things bought from travels. I have in my living room a cuddly toy my husband bought for me in our honeymoon, a 500 years old piece of pottery I got from London last year. Little things can make a huge difference.
2. Local foods.
Try local foods. There are plenty of new and exciting things to try in a new country. Imagine if you really like the new food. Also, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it again, but at least you’ve tried it. Also, if you are talking with someone about food, you will know what they are talking about.
It might sound obvious, but it’s not. I had a chat with an expat who had no idea what a Christmas pudding is, despite celebrating Christmas two times in UK. Maybe not everybody likes it, although I can’t understand why someone would not try a pud filled with dried fruits and booze. I can’t imagine now my Christmas day without a Christmas pudding. My husband doesn’t like raisins, so it’s not as keen on it.
3. Read books written by British authors.
I think reading a few books will make the culture of the new country easier to understand. I didn’t do that from the beginning, but I’ve read British authors since I was a teenager and I read novels in English 5-6 years before moving to the UK. This is what I would do if I would move to another country. I think it’s a really helpful way to learn a few things before moving.
4. Local attractions.
The best way to discover a city is to act as a tourist. Visit the museums, parks, farms, cathedrals, historic sites and other local attractions. It’s a great way to have a relaxing time during something that is a stressful situation when moving. I fondly remember the first time I’ve been visiting the city centre. It made me even more excited about the city.
5. Don’t miss local and not-so-local events.
Pancake day race. I had no idea there is such a thing… people running while flipping pancakes on a day that everybody eats pancakes. It’s hilarious. Other events I discovered by chance and I enjoyed a lot: Bed race (people running with children on top of beds), Duck race (plastic ducks racing on the river), Well dressing (wells embellished with pictures made from natural materials like stones and flowers). Besides these fun events are cultural events too. It’s fun, different and it feels like being a part of the society.
6. Talk with people around you.
Have a chat with the cashiers in shops, with neighbours. It’s a lovely way to get to know the people and how they interact in everyday life. It also gives the feeling of being part of the community.
7. Go to small, family-run restaurants and pubs.
Pubs are important in UK. I don’t talk about those attracting tourists and hen/stag parties, but pubs frequented by locals. I discovered that they make you feel at home, as part of the group. I felt that in a pub we used to go, relatively close to where we were living before (never blogged about it). I felt the same in a pub we’ve been to for the first time, when we were visiting the town and we’ve chatted with the waiter and another guest about the history of the pub.
8. Try volunteering.
If you have time for volunteering, do it. There are many opportunities, from animal rescues to cultural events. I volunteered and it was a great way to meet new people. I enjoyed it a lot when I volunteered at an animal charity, walking dogs, collecting signatures, minding the stand at outdoor events. The sense of closeness and chatting with people with the same interests can make you feel integrated. It’s an easy way to meet people outside the workplace.
9. Watch British television and films.
If all your colleagues talk about the latest movie or TV show, it can feel strange if you have no idea what they are.
10. Learn sayings.
I learned sayings when I started learning English in school. That was fun back then, but helpful now to understand what people talk about. Not understanding something would make anybody feel out of place and not like at home.
11. Other expats.
Talking with other expats can be great, having things in common, having someone that can shed some light on issues regarding all different things. I had many talks when I moved here, I wanted to know where I can find ingredients I was used to and any other things like that.
At the same time, don’t think you need to talk with other expats. If the only thing you have in common is the country you were born in, then there isn’t a real reason to keep in touch with them. I always ask myself if I would have a relationship with that expat if we were both back in Romania. If not, that is a sign we aren’t really friends.
12. Don’t dwell in what you left behind.
Not two countries are the same and none is perfect. Of course that some things will be more appealing in the country you come from and some are more appealing where you are now. Dwelling will not help at all.
If you really don’t like it and you are not happy, you always have the opportunity to move back. It’s not a failure, but a choice.
13. Try to understand a bit of politics.
That is obvious. Getting involved in politics makes one understand better the issues the country faces and why one votes for a party of another.
As expats, we can vote in the local elections. I would suggest learning a bit about the candidates and the parties and vote. Being involved in all parts of the society is the way to feel at home.
14. Supermarket and International shops.
International shops are amazing because those are the only places you can find specific items. I missed green walnut preserve and rose jam. I don’t eat jam often and I usually prefer the homemade one, but I missed those items. Finding them in an international shop was great. I also stocked up with loads of things I never tried before, like Polish pickles, Hungarian red pepper paste (similar to tomato paste). Unless you live next to one of those, buying from a supermarket is essential. Another downside of buying from international shops is that products are more expensive. I get similar ingredients from the supermarket, after I tried a few (not that I’m complaining about that).
I was surprised to hear someone who lived a few years in UK that they can’t find two types of cheese. I told them where to find one of them in international shops and the other one can be bought from any supermarket, it’s called salad cheese and it’s similar with the type of cheese eaten everywhere in Romania.
15. Local history.
The last way to make you feel at home in a foreign country is knowing a bit about the local history. I used to listen to the Beatles and they were from Liverpool, so for me it was something I had in common. When I had friends over and I talked about Liverpool, it felt like I’ve been living here for years.
I hope you enjoyed my post. Let me know what you think.