Tips for How To Quickly Adapt to a Foreign Country

letters_to_antoinette2Tips for How to Quickly Adapt to a Foreign Country
After spending a good few months living in Denmark (and good few years living here and there) I thought the time has come to share with you my tips for adapting to a new country, as no matter what the reason behind your move might be – let me assure you moving abroad is always a challenge.
Frankly, for me moving abroad has always raised in me the feeling of utter excitement. I guess coz it’s a great excuse to start over – and by that I mean to really ?START? over. Of course, it depends entirely on you whether you?ll embrace that chance or let it slide through your fingers and stick to your old ways. And don’t worry. You don’t have to change the essence of who you are in order to fit in. The point is that you can start fresh – find new friends, hobbies, and discover new cuisine and just start that whole new life of yours.

  1. Do your research: Even before I actually set foot in Copenhagen, I’d already researched the Danish culture. One of the first things I found out was that ‘hyggelig‘ (a word that you can’t really translate) is THE WORD to know. Having fun with your new friends over a bottle of wine – ‘hyggelig’ that is. Or you’re probably reading a book in that cosy little coffee shop? ‘Hygge, eh?’. So yeah, whenever you get that cosy feeling which makes you feel like ‘home’ you just HAVE to throw the word somewhere right in the middle of your sentence. I’d also found out that dinner parties were a thing here. If someone wants to get to know you (and I don’t mean romantically) they will invite you over for dinner. But you have to be as punctual as it gets. Being 20 minutes late is simply not an option… while back home if dinner’s at 7 pm – the guests would normally start coming anytime between 6:50 to 8… or even later. Not in Denmark. Here being a minute late is considered being late in the most unfashionable possible way. Knowing that in advance made it much easier for me to do things ‘right’ and be accepted rather than be laughed at and considered impolite.
  2. Go out and explore: Yep, with your map, using Yelp, whatever ? just go out. Treat yourself with a cup of coffee from the local bakery. Initiate a conversation with a stranger – believe it or not people are more than willing to talk to you if you show that you are interested to find out more about them. I?ve met so many of my friends precisely ’cause I wasn’t scared to start initiate that talk. And the more open you are, the more the locals will open up to you. The Danes are stereotyped as being ‘cold’. How come no ?cold? Danes have crossed my path? It?s the vibes you give off that you’d get in return. As simple as that. Aw and yeah, if you don’t know the local language at least speak in English. It?s quite tempting to stick to your own language especially if you?re hanging out with someone from back home, but that will immediately put you in the unpleasant position of  becoming the ‘foreigner’ who wants to remain the outsider who can’t fit in. This brings me to the next point:
  3. Learn the language: Moving abroad means that you’ll be living abroad – be it for a few months or probably forever. So, starting to learn the language is highly essential. And if you have no spare time to go to school, at least do that at home. You’ve got the Internet at your disposal (as well as a bunch of Apps to help you learn a language) and today that’s already enough. And even if you find the pronunciation as pretty impossible (if you’re also an expat in Denmark, I’m sure you get this one) it’s the fact that you’re trying at all that really counts and give you this ‘freakin’ cute’ vibe in the eyes of everyone else. Plus, then your local fiends will be even more willing to swap back to speaking English, for the sake of both parties :).
  4. Taste new dishes: If I like a particular dish – honestly I can eat it every single day. In fact, a few times a day. So, yeah, experimenting with new dishes is not really my thing. But then – when you get invited to a dinner party and get served something you’ve never seen before –  at least give it a go. If you are to live in this country, you’d better find things that you enjoy eating. Also, joining your acquintances for dinner is certainly a great excuse to socialise, make new friends.. and really learn more about the local culture. And even though it took me 5 months to really give the Danish cuisine a go – it turns out it’s actually pretty delicious.
  5. Socialise with locals: It’s so tempting to spend your time with people from back home. But then why did you have to move in the first place?
  6. Alter your style to fit the climate conditions: Surely, your style is an expression of who you are, so while I do think that taking this and that from the local fashionistas and incorporating it into your own style can work pretty, here I really talk about something else. I’m still to experience the Danish winter, but from what I’ve heard – well, wrapping yourself up in warm clothes is purely essential if you wanna properly function. Especially when trying to cycle against the freezin’ wind – something neither me, nor my ‘wardrobe’ is  used to. Even though the winters back home include a lot of snow and low temperatures, the fact that there is still sun and no wind makes them actually pretty bearable. Not to mention that cycling is not something we do. So yeah, I’ve already begun prepping for the Danish winter, doing my best to find the perfect winter jacket that won’t make me look like a bear, but meanwhile will keep me warm. And yeah – big ‘hygge’ scarves – come to me.
  7. Be tolerant & Learn to listen: Being the social butterfly that I am, well, I love to talk and tell stories every time I get the chance and especially when surrounded with new people. I can talk talk talk… but frankly, there are stories that people born and bred in another culture wouldn’t really get. First the sense of humour differs from one culture to another, as well as the language in which the story is talk (a story that has also taken place in a completely different cultural setting). So, don’t get upset if noone ‘gets’ what you’re on about. Rather, next time try to engage in the conversation, listen to what the others have to say, rather than spend your time trying to prove that you know better and that the culture you come from is better. Actually, that’s something quite typical for people who move to another country and would rather spent their time within the community from back home. Some of the people from back home, who studied in Loughborough University with me, did their best to stay in their own ‘Bulgarian’ bubble, mocking the ways of their English mates behind their backs.I guess that’s why I could’t be really bothered socialising with people who just WOULD NOT respect the culture of others. Plus, sharing the same nationality is not an adequate reason for making friends – and the quickly you realise that the better. And that’s the thing – if you can’t be tolerant and understanding why have you moved in the first place?

Of course, while I’m doing my best to respect the local culture and alter some of my old ways to fit in better – there are certainly things I cannot help but keep doing. Like opening up to people more quickly than it’s normally accepted, giving warm hugs and speaking louder. Ops. But, at the end of the day, I’m not here to turn into a Danish girl. I’m simply a Bulgarian girl, who’s decided to make herself and the people around her feel as ‘hyggelig’ as possible.

And you – have you ever live abroad? If so – any tips to share with us?

4 kommentarer

  • Preslava Nacheva

    Great article! Love it! I moved to Scotland a month ago and I am still getting used to the culture, weather, accent, cuisine… the list goes on. What I just read was exactly what I needed at this moment! Thank you Antoinette and keep doing what you are – living your dreams while inspired by life! 🙂

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  • Some great tips as it can be hard when you first move somewhere completely different!

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  • Innah Kostova

    “Like opening up to people more quickly than it’s normally accepted” – precisely the reason why Danish people are considered to be cold 🙂
    Great post! I’ve been living abroad since August 2013 but I don’t feel in the position to give advices because I came to the conclusion it all depends on the type of person you are. I am socializing pretty well, it wasn’t that new to me but my opinion/gut feeling doesn’t really help another human being, I guess.

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  • I also agree with learning the language! I’ve met expats who’ve lived in countries for 3+ years but still don’t speak the language! I really think it makes the experience better when you can talk freely with locals and understand. As I heard somewhere, when you talk to someone in a second language (English), they talk with their brains but when they talk in their mother language, they talk with their heart!

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