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F or some, it is something they dreamt of for ages; for others, something they would never do: working and living abroad for a couple of years.

I’ve always dreamed of it too, and, in fact, I’ve lived in the United States for the past three years. My summary: it was fabulous, but some things can be stressful.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the difficulties of living and working abroad and what you can do to enjoy your stay.

Expatriates - Living Abroad

In contrast to immigrants, expatriates usually live and work abroad for a limited period. Usually, these are employees posted by an employer, students, or specialists recruited from abroad.

There are around 231,000 expatriates in Germany whose native language is English. It includes expatriates from the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. That’s for the facts.

But what exactly are the challenges associated with living and working abroad, and how can you deal with them positively?

Seven Tips On How To Make Your Stay Abroad A Success


Learn The Foreign Language

The language is undoubtedly the first hurdle you must overcome when deciding to stay abroad.

Only those who have mastered the language of a country (at least to some extent) can participate in social life. It is therefore essential to acquire at least basic language skills before moving.


Accept Cultural Differences

A slightly more difficult endeavor is cultural assimilation. Even if you think you know the country where you will live quite well, the differences become evident in everyday life. That’s how I felt too.

Although I had been to the United States several times, some stuff amazed me very much. For example, if an American tells you he will come to your party for sure, he is so happy – that doesn’t mean he will show up. From our German point of view, this is very unreliable and unfriendly. But I have learned that, in the U.S., it isn’t polite to turn down an invitation.

So how do you best deal with cultural differences now?
First, it helps if you accept that there are other norms and values that do not match yours. According to the motto ‘different countries, different customs’. At the same time, however, you can allow yourself to be frustrated now and then. Ultimately, your value system will be challenged, and that unsettles everyone.

Second, it makes sense to broaden your mindset. By that, I mean dealing with strange behavior with tolerance and not taking it personally. For my example, not showing up to your party is not directed against you. It also helps to face strange behavior openly and without judgment. Just perceive it, and maybe you will see it as enrichment.

Plus, it may be beneficial to complete intercultural training before moving. Many companies that send their employees offer this in advance. Just ask about it.


Asking For Support

After arriving in the new country, it’s time to organize everyday life. For sure, you will face many things that seem strange to you.

For example, in Germany, you may be irritated by the German lack of openness, and you will miss an everyday small talk. You may also need to modify your eating habits and find a new dentist or hairdresser. That’s part of the adventure.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something. If your fellow human beings notice that you are a foreigner, most of them are happy to help, and maybe a friendship will develop from it.

That brings me to the next point.


Developing New Social Contacts

Another problem you should not underestimate is the discontinuation of the existing social network, i.e., family and friends.

For many expatriates, establishing new social contacts is the hardest part of living abroad. Of course, it is generally not easy to make new friends, and this is even more difficult in a foreign culture with perhaps existing language barriers.

But instead of crawling into work, seek contact with co-workers and neighbors. Even if an invitation doesn’t sound that great or your colleague is not entirely on your wavelength – try to establish a connection. Who knows what will become of it.

Further possibilities for establishing new social contacts:

  • Find yourself a volunteer activity
  • Have a party – with traditional food and music. Your neighbors and co-workers will love it.
  • Exercise in a group or go to the gym

Consider Your Family's Needs

Before you finally decide to work abroad, you should ensure that your partner and children support your decision and love living in the country. If this is not the case, it could quickly become an obstacle and, in the worst case, could lead to the early termination of the stay abroad.

Some expatriates also decide to go overseas on their own. However, it can result in new challenges. The statistics show that 20% of people are unhappy with a long-distance relationship, and even life satisfaction is generally impaired.


Adopt Different Work Structures And Organization

In the work environment, some things will be different too. For example, in Germany, discipline and anticipating are preferred work attitudes. Just accept it and try to adapt to some degree. Maybe you will discover the advantages for yourself.

On the other hand, work processes and the associated hierarchies differ from what’s familiar to you. For example, in a German work environment, personal skills and powers are generally significantly more extended than in the US. It means you may have more responsibility.


Prepare Your Return Thoroughly

When your time as an expatriate ends, preparing for your home country’s return is crucial.

On the one hand, it is about looking for new job opportunities. It is not always evident in advance what will happen after your return. Ask your employer for an explicit offer at an early stage.

Good preparation also helps on a personal level. Do not underestimate the psychological strain of a transnational change of location. Everyone experiences the required adaptation to a new environment as stressful to different degrees. The better the planning, the more confident you feel when you are back home.

If you plan your stay abroad well and decide wholeheartedly on a temporary life abroad, you will have many valuable experiences. You will meet interesting people, have fantastic journeys, and learn exciting things.

Look forward to it and stay curious.

What did you experience as an expatriate? Please feel free to share it with us.

Take Away

  • Working and living abroad comes with various requirements that affect personal and professional life.
  • With good preparation, you can avoid and mitigate future trouble.
  • Learning the language, accepting the culture, building a new social network, as well as considering the needs of all family members are important factors.
  • In the work environment, too, it is helpful to adapt flexibly to the given structures.
Andrea Seekatz

I'm a trained & certified coach (ICF) and psychologist. Don't forget: Take Care of Your Self.

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