Within the past nine years, I’ve lived in six cities in the U.S. and in Germany. Each time, except for the last one, I’ve moved alone to a new city and made a new start, including finding new friends, favorite places and peaceful moments.
I know what culture shock means and feels like. I’ve been through the stages and discomfort of “giving up” my own assumptions and expectations of other cultures and even the ones of my own.
Maybe you’ve just moved away from home to another city or country too, and just hit the “negotiation” phase, which can be upsetting. No worries, this pain you’re feeling isn’t because you’re weak. This is a growing pain and shows how incredibly strong you are.
Only a minor part of the world population actually moves abroad or even within their own country from one city to another, without being forced by external and incredibly sad reasons. This makes you part of a small group of very brave people who decided to stick their heads out of their comfort zone to go out and explore the world on their own.
However, no matter what your reasons are to have moved to a new place, here are five tips to help make you feel at home wherever you go:
1. Acknowledge your Ethnocentrism
I’ve worked a lot with international students in my career. Moreover, I’ve been an international student myself when I studied abroad in the U.S. and lived there for six years. What I can tell you for sure is that we are all in the same boat when it comes to experiencing a new culture. We look for similarities to feel comfort, and we realize that there are differences in dealing with certain things regarding lifestyle, food, and even the dating scene.
You might have had the feeling of disagreement and had thoughts like, “This is weird! Why do they act like this? We don’t do this back in my culture, we do it better.” Have you? Well, this is so called ethnocentrism. You are “judging” the other culture based on the standards and values of your own culture, which helps you define and find your cultural identity.
Funny enough, after living in the U.S. for years and being back in Germany for over three years now, I still do not identify with either U.S. or German culture completely. I call myself a “Germarican,” because I have adopted some of the American outlooks and kept some of the German customs.
Embracing cultural differences is key in overcoming ethnocentrism. Remember that your culture is only one out of many, like one piece of a colorful mosaic. There is nothing wrong with the other cultures, they are just beautifully different from yours.
2. Make a Point to Mingle
As Bill Nye once said, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
Absolutely! There is so much to learn from each person you meet, no matter if they are from a different culture than yours or not. I’ve had roommates from Brazil, Czech Republic, Zimbabwe, and the U.S., and let me tell you: I’ve learned so much from each and every one of them.
Diversity is so “rich” and powerful. It will shake you up, awaken your awareness, make you think, and educate you more than any book or class could ever do. So go out to the gym, take a literature class, join a “meet up” gathering or simply a networking event and enjoy the learning journey. Just make sure to mingle outside your comfort zone.
For example, I had the funniest dates back in Chicago with a Persian guy, an Italian-American and a Canadian. It’s amazing how differently we might look, but we all smile in the same language.
3. Know that Home is Where Your Stuff Is
It truly is. Although I live by the motto “All you need is less,” there are certain things that I simply have to keep because they give me comfort. For example, I have a big green tea cup with the word “Believe” on it, which I bought at a thrift store in Chicago when I just moved there. Since then, I’ve been drinking my green tea out of it every morning. It makes me feel at ease and gives me a feeling of safety no matter where I am, just like home.
Take and keep whatever gives you comfort; it might be a blanket, stuffed animal, or maybe even a small thing like a key chain. Grab it, hold on to it, and make yourself feel at home whenever and wherever you go.
Or like Cecelia Ahern put it, “Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”
4. Change Your Perspective
Sure, moving to a different city or even country can be quite lonely and stressful. The “honeymoon phase” unfortunately doesn’t last forever and you might soon feel lonely or even like an outsider. Don’t worry! Pick yourself up and be proud of yourself.
Again, how many people do you know who have moved to another city or even country because they wanted it? Exactly! Not too many people are brave enough to move away from their families, thus away from their comfort zone.
This is truly a big change in your life, and a step towards an unknown future. But you know what? You have nothing to lose! You can always go back home. Your family and true friends will be there. So, see it as an adventure and embrace this opportunity that not too many people get! Try or explore something new every week in your new city and create positive memories that will pick you up in lonely moments.
5. Share Your Experience
Keep a diary or start a blog! Sharing your everyday encounters can be so entertaining and powerful for yourself and others. Plus, it makes your family and friends back home feel like you are still there and close to them.
I truly wish my eyes could take pictures sometimes, because this would describe the beauty and astonishment I feel whenever I go somewhere new. When I moved (yet again) about a year after I came back to Germany, I started all over in the capital city all by myself. After moving and settling into my new place, I started trying out yoga studios, cafés, restaurants, and explored museums and other cool places, which truly made the adjustment a lot easier.
Putting yourself out there is certainly not an easy thing to do, but you will find new favorite places, spots and streets to walk in, as soon as you make the first step in front of your door.
Just be safe, give yourself some time, cut yourself some slack, and GO!