Tips for Settling In as a Family Abroad

When you move abroad, you’re diving into a sea of unfamiliarity. Everything is different. The people, the culture, including social customs, are different, and often the language. Ease of settling in is one of the major things to consider when moving your family abroad. What is it? It’s your and your family’s ability to adjust to the way of life in your host country. Following are some tips for settling in as a family abroad during the first couple of months.


Set Up Your New Home

Your home is your haven. Just like in your home country, when you’ve had a busy day at work or the kids at school, you’re all eager to get home to unwind. When abroad, that need doesn’t change. Because you’re living in an unfamiliar place, you will crave some sense of control over your environment. The only way to feel normalcy as a family abroad is by setting up your home. The sooner you make your house abroad feel like a home for your family, the better.

When I first moved abroad, I was single and my school provided me with a furnished apartment as part of my remuneration package. It was mine for the duration of my employment contract. I didn’t do much to it at all, other than purchased bedding. My rationale then was that I’m just here for a year. However, when I went from single to meeting my husband and starting a family abroad, I began to despise that feeling of temporary living arrangements.

If you’re moving abroad as a family, the last thing you want is for your new digs to feel foreign. So make it your family’s. Create a space for the kids to their liking, for you and your husband, including your breathing space and his man cave. Seriously, mine is our back balcony which is off from one of our bedrooms. Do this even if you’re not planning on being abroad indefinitely. It doesn’t have to be expensive but add in those little touches that give you a sense of home.

Create a New Family Routine

This is all about figuring out how to start enjoying life abroad in your host country as a family. However, this doesn’t mean that you should no longer do things you did back home. In fact, it is a very good idea to maintain daily rituals with your children, such as morning and bedtime routines and even pizza nights if that’s your thing.

In addition, this is also an opportunity to start some new family routines, like adopting some of the things that native families enjoy doing. Let me give you a few examples. Here in Korea, when the weather warms ups, families are out every day at the parks and playgrounds, come evening. On the weekends, they’re setting up tents lakeside for a day of outdoor fun, bike riding as a family, hitting up hiking trails or exploring the grounds of fortresses, day trips to beaches, and what have you?

So figure out what families enjoy doing in your new community and get yourselves involved in some of those activities. Of course, you should discover your new hometown and explore your host country as a family. This would include finding your supermarket, farmer’s markets, big box stores, favorite restaurants, especially if you enjoy dining out as a family, the post office, and where families hang out.

Connect with Other Expat Families

For many people moving abroad, making friends with locals is an obstacle to overcome, especially with the presence of a language barrier. However, you need to make friends to help you settle into your new life abroad.

One of the best ways to do this is to connect with other expat families who speak your language and hopefully who share interests with you. In this way, you can establish a sense of community in your host country and not feel like an actual alien from another planet.

Here in Korea, for example, locals always refer to foreigners as a “waygookin.” Whenever I hear this reference from Koreans, it is a reminder that we as foreigners are outsiders. This is not to say that you shouldn’t aspire to make friends with natives. In fact, you should to fully experience the culture.

But early on, it will be difficult to integrate and have genuine friendships without being able to speak the language. So to settle-in as quickly as possible, you should make friends with some expats.

Let Go of How Things are Done Back Home

When culture shock hits you abroad, it is because everything is unfamiliar. You will discover that accomplishing simple things are a challenge, such as opening a bank account as an American.  At times, you will question what you’re doing, wonder why things are so hard, as well as, feel like you’re having to learn how to do basic things.

There is a tendency to compare how things are done back home versus where you’re living abroad. Making comparisons will only give you added stress and add to your confusion. So I strongly suggest letting go of those remnants. You’re in Kansas now. Make necessary adjustments to your attitude.

Importantly, to settle-in and thrive as an expat, you have to learn or adjust to different ways of doing and getting things done.

Stay Focused on Why Your Family Moved Abroad

Moving abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. However, that is not to say that it has been an easy journey. It hasn’t been. I have experienced loneliness, question what I was doing, and had to endure, overcome, and figure out a lot on my own.

Sometimes I come across expats who aren’t having a good experience living abroad. This is usually because they are very homesick. When you become consume by homesickness, your ability to settle-in is hindered. So it is very important to know “why” you moved abroad and to stay focused on it.

A few motivations for moving your family abroad include the following:

  • to improve your family’s livelihood
  • to expose your children to different cultures
  • to become an active member in the global community

In addition, you should also set some goals for things you’d like to do while living abroad. In other words, get focused and accomplish some things. Often times, becoming an expat affords us more time and freedom to live our best lives.

When you think about settling into a new life abroad, what concerns you the most? And if you’re already abroad, what strategies did you employ to get settle-in the first couple of months?

I am an American living in South Korea and the creator of Allured Abroad, an expat lifestyle blog focusing on expat family life, parenting abroad, and raising multicultural kids. I’ve been living abroad for nearly five years and what I have realized through travel and cultural immersion is that we’re just one in 7+ billion people. With so much variation in the world, what are the possibilities?

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