It’s not difficult to describe the magic of travelling, but the beauty of exploring new lands, encountering different histories, and appreciating other lifestyles is best understood through experience. And as our world continues to globalize, many Canadians aren't settling for travelling as just tourists; we're moving abroad to live as global citizens, a.k.a expatriates.
Whether it’s for an internship, a career change, a study abroad program, a sabbatical, house swap, or following a significant other, we're jumping into new countries feet-first. The reasons are immaterial, but the experience is sure to be life-changing. I know as much, because I'm a serial expat.
As a Calgary girl in her mid-twenties, I suffered an insatiable travel bug. The only way to quell it was to spend extended periods of time in faraway places: Europe, Central America, Asia, and now New Zealand.
That being said, I’ve also been the girl shedding a few tears as she boards a plane. Yes, moving to a new place is extremely exciting, but it can, at first, be quite overwhelming. You need to physically pack up your life, navigate endless lists of tedious to-do’s, and then there's the emotional toll of leaving your friends and family. So if you're suffering a little homesickness or culture shock once you first land, don't panic; it's totally normal.
Here are my top 5 go-to ways of making a new place feel like home.
Follow the Tourist Route
(Yes, you heard me right!)
Annie Spratt, Unsplash
When I left my hometown and moved to Vancouver for school, I made a list of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions. I didn’t want to experience Vancouver only as a tourist, but the tourist route was a great introduction to the city and its surroundings. Plus, it's easier to play the more familiar role of wide-eyed tourist, than disoriented new resident. Walking the Seawall, spending the day at Granville Island, and road-tripping to Whistler were just a few adventures that made a big city feel smaller. Also, visiting local museums along the way offered a deeper grasp of the region's history.
Not only is strolling the streets of a new city part of my regular travel routine, it is one of my preferred methods of orienting myself. Now, whether I’m settling down in Venice, Banff, or Wellington, I gather my to-do list and get exploring. From here, it’s easy to pick up local knowledge and branch out to the lesser-known areas.
Find Your New Hangout
(Mine is a coffee shop)
Rob Bye, Unsplash
Find your new haunt or hangout...or basically any spot that makes you feel comfortable and happy.
Once I started living the expat life, I realized there is only so much downtime you can (and want to) spend at home. It’s worth seeking out that hole-in-the-wall bookstore or quirky coffee shop to escape to when your lovable-though-slightly-messy roommate gets to be too much.
Cafés have become a personal favourite of mine (I’m on the hunt to find the city that makes the best chai latte) but mostly I look for a place that has an atmosphere that speaks to me. A place where I can comfortably hang out, crack a book, work, or listen to music. Coffee shops have the added bonus of a buzzing, social atmosphere. They’re a great place to meet new people and some have bulletin boards that advertise interesting local events and activities.
Scout Out a Go-To, Fall-Back Take Out Place
(Ie. Become a 'regular')
Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash
Why do I recommend scouting out a go-to, take-out spot? It is about creating a ritual; it's also about connecting yourself to the people in your new community and carving out your special place within it. Think of this restaurant as going to your mom’s house for dinner. Moreover, I can’t count the number of times I’ve returned to my apartment, exhausted after a long day of working/studying/adventuring, and recoiled at the idea of cooking dinner. Yep - that's a universal feeling wherever you are on planet Earth!
What's the best way of finding these places? It’s so easy to duck into a McDonalds on a whim, but even these meals get old. They certainly don’t feel very exotic either! Instead, I follow the locals. From street food in Asia, to obscure dining rooms in New Zealand, I’ve found some incredible (and amazingly cheap) comfort food by checking out local favourites. And it goes without saying, eating locally familiarizes you with delicious cuisine and specialty dishes that you'll no doubt miss once you go back to Canada.
Live Your Hobbies
During my travels, I’ve come to really value my hobbies and side projects. On my second day in New Zealand, I began researching places in Auckland to do yoga. I had been practicing yoga sporadically over the past couple of years, but when the first waves of homesickness came over me, yoga became a real source of comfort. Once I realized just how much I enjoyed the comfort yoga provided me, I began actively seeking ways to live out my other hobbies. As an avid hiker, I took my time exploring the parks within the city. When I wasn't being active, I looked for bookstores and cinemas that I could escape to on my days off.
Hobbies are a great way to relax and engage in something you truly enjoy, and they often take the sting or sadness out of leaving home. In a sense, hobbies bring home back to you. No matter which city I move to, I always make sure there are opportunities to live my hobbies. In fact, I choose to spend more time in places based on accessibility to my hobbies.
Get Out, Get Involved
Yes, this piece of advice is as old as time itself…probably because it is solidly good advice!
I’ve found that the communities I’ve enjoyed the most didn’t necessarily have the greatest layout, the best food, or the most excitement. I tend to appreciate the communities in which I got involved.
In Vancouver, I had a position that encouraged volunteering and philanthropy. As I started helping the neighboring communities, I began to feel very much at home. Volunteering may be the single best way to get involved in your new city - and lending a helping hand truly benefits everyone.
Get involved takes so many different forms. From enrolling in a class to hosting a potluck for your new friends or neighbours (the more international, the better!), to joining a sports team, the opportunities are endless.
As you settle into your new city or country, remember that it’s completely normal to feel a bit homesick for your family and friends. This list will hopefully be a good first step in helping you feel comfortable and engaged in your new community. You made the big move, now go out there and enjoy your city!
What makes 'anywhere' feel like home to you?
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