Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Marie's 10 Tips for Living Abroad

There is lots of advice out there for the nuts and bolts of living abroad as a foreigner – visas, insurance, airlines, baggage, taxes, costs, jobs, and the like. I wanted to write a list dealing with tips for emotional and mental success for people living abroad more long-term.

So, here is my two cents’ worth of advice after living in Turkey for 6 years and messing up a lot along the way:

1. Expect things to go wrong, at least at first. When I first moved here a lot of things went wrong. Turkish bureaucratic processes aren’t exactly streamlined, although they are getting better every year. I frequently hear newbies say, in all seriousness, things like, “I guess I can live without hot water.” Or “I don’t think I really need heat in the winter. I’m from Nebraska.” But, really, you do need hot water, and heat, believe it or not. You will get it done eventually. It will be ok. Until something else breaks. I wrote a post about waiting for repairmen here

2. Make friends. Now, these might not have been friends you would have chosen back home. They might look weird, or even (gasp!) BE weird, at least weirder than you. They might smoke pot or not smoke pot (depending on which is weird for you), or grow pot in pots (true story) or have 13 cats (true story) or hate Americans (true story).  It doesn’t matter at this point. You need friends. 

3. Let yourself be angry. You are totally right that everything is inefficient and have a right to ask why the heck is everything just so bleeping difficult? I would also suggest familiarizing yourself again with the concept of culture shock and its stages.

Go on an adventure!
4. Make yourself not be angry for a little while. Take time to enjoy your new home. You probably moved here to have an adventure, or do something exotic or different. Take time to do those things.

5. Get more friends! You really, really need support. Living in a personal bubble may have worked back at home, but things are going to go wrong (see #1), and you are going to need to give and take support. I can write this because I was, and at heart still am, the queen of the personal bubble. I just want to do everything alone, by myself. But when your bank account is frozen for no apparent reason on the day you need to pay your electricity bill, and you get bad news from home and need someone to talk to, you really are going to need friends.

6. Keep in touch with friends and family back home (and not just in the “I’m on a wild adventure and your life is boring” way.) I love Skype and FaceTime. I want to give a big hug to the people who invented video calling. Apparently, one of them is Swedish. Another big point for Sweden. 

7. Go home when you need to. You’ll feel deprived and sad otherwise. “When you need to” is different for everyone. It might be every two years, or from summer to summer, or for a funeral or birth or your friend’s amazing Super Bowl party. A coworker of mine really did go back and surprise his friends by attending their Super Bowl party. I thought that was awesome. If you can, have an emergency ticket fund stocked and ready to go. Then whenever you really need to go, just do it. 

8. Get some bacon (or Reese’s Pieces or Dr. Pepper) for crying out loud!

9. Learn the language of the place where you live, even if 93.6% of the people there speak English. Without knowing the language you’ll be floating on the surface of life instead of being in it. Life will happen around you, but without you. Granted, some people love being expats who float on the surface with their other expat friends and English speakers. I know lots of people here who have made life work without speaking more than 10 words of Turkish. That’s just my advice. You miss a lot without the local language.

10. Make a huge effort not to complain about your new home too much, especially to local people. By all means, have a few friends (did I mention friends?) with whom you can vent. It keeps me sane in the rest of my life just to have someone saying, “Yes! That’s insane!” But I try really, really hard not to complain too much otherwise. It’s really annoying for local people to hear from batch after batch of foreigners coming through for a year at a time complaining about anything and everything. You are a foreigner in some stage of cultural shock/adjustment. They’re just living their lives. 

Hope this helps someone, somewhere adjust to their new, exciting life abroad. For those of you living away from home like me, please add more tips in the comments!


  1. All sounds like good advice no matter where you live!! Does this mean I need to bring Reese's pieces?? Love you lots.

  2. I don't live overseas now, but I have lived/visited overseas. I agree with the learn the language thing. It is a good simulator for growing insanity, so you can get used to a permanent cerebral break before it happens.