With the advent of open borders, the digital economy, and cheaper air travel to more destinations, more and more people are making a life for themselves outside their home countries as expats. However, expats have somewhat of a negative reputation in many countries.
There’s a common, not unfounded perception in many countries that expats only stick with their own and have little respect for their host cultures, only seeing them as a means of enjoyment. While this may not be true of all expats, there certainly is a grain of truth in the idea.
If you’re working or studying abroad for any length of time, this perception can work against you and make it difficult to perform at your best. Here’s how you can break that perception and become the good expat everyone loves.
Learn the language
Depending on how different the language is from your mother tongue, with lessons, active effort, and practical immersion, you can expect to be able to know enough to get around well enough in anywhere from 24-88 weeks, according to data from the Foreign Service Institute.
No one really expects you to completely master your host culture’s language, especially if you’re not going to be in the country for more than a year. However, locals will appreciate it if you show the effort to communicate with them in their own language. Even a rudimentary ability to communicate in the host culture’s language can open doors that you never thought possible.
Don’t expect special treatment
Many expats who live in countries with cultures that place a premium on hospitality are guilty of this. Using your status as a foreigner to jump the queue at a convenience store or to get away with violating traffic rules is not cool. While you might be able to get away with it a couple of times, you’re bound to run into someone who will relish putting you in your place, just because they can.
Don’t expect things to be the same
Many expats have made an art of going to a country with cultures totally different to theirs and complaining about how things aren’t they are back home. This extends to virtually every system and aspect of behavior overseas, from driving habits to the types of television programs people enjoy.
You definitely shouldn’t be blind to the differences, however. Some of these differences can very well be critical to a comfortable stay in your host country. Some types of medication, for example, is simply unavailable in other countries for one reason or another. Sometimes, it may be available but under a different name and distributed under very different guidelines compared to what you might be used to.
Guidelines and procedures for the treatment of foreigners may also be different, making it a good idea to invest in international health insurance from a company that specializes in the area, such as Now Health International.
Take time to make friends with the locals
While it’s understandable that you’ll want to be with your own people, you will basically be squandering most of your opportunities to become a better person if you only associate with other expats. Take time to know your landlord, the person who handles your international transactions at the bank, the cleaning crew at your school or workplace, and the person you get your veggies from. You will need their help and their perspective on things countless times during your stay, and it’s always a good thing to maintain a positive relationship with them.
Maintain a positive attitude – at least in public
Despite what other people might tell you, it is in fact, natural to feel negative about your host culture after some time. This is a natural consequence of culture shock and normally happens anywhere from 2-3 months in the host country, depending of course on your personality and circumstances.
You will doubtlessly encounter some values in the host culture that don’t make sense to you. You might even be fundamentally opposed to them. However, it will be difficult to work or study abroad effectively if you’re harboring so much ill-will all the time.
When this inevitably happens, it’s important to actively make an effort to be positive, and to maintain an open mind. Take the role of an anthropologist and try to see the host culture from their own perspective. Not only will this help keep you grounded, but you will also doubtlessly learn things about your own culture that you didn’t expect. As another plus, a positive attitude will tend to create positive experiences for you, helping your stay in the host country become a more fulfilling experience.