If you and your family have decided to live abroad, you are no doubt entering into one of the most exciting periods of your life. But starting this journey on the right foot will depend on how quickly you acclimate to your new environment.
When I arrived in Santiago with my husband and two small children in June, I was thrilled and thought I was ready for anything. The former backpacker in me thought life was going to be EASY staying put for 3 months in one place. But a few days into our time, the honeymoon period subsided and the culture shock set in. I quickly missed the easy life of Target, Starbucks, automatic cars, heaters that worked and American plumbing.
Ultimately, I was inspired to embrace the quirks and differences of a different country by watching how easily my children acclimated to Chile (see my last post: Why You Shouldn’t Wait To Travel With Young Children ). Living in a foreign Country is just that… foreign! It is exciting and new and different, but is also incredibly challenging. Here is how I made my experience abroad easier.
Get Your Questions Answered –
Because of the language barrier and an entirely different set of store brands, I felt lost getting anything accomplished. I had lots of questions, but no one to ask them to. My first triumph was finding a local resource to do just that. I discovered two Facebook groups for English speaking expats like myself here in Santiago (“English Speaking Moms Living in Santiago” and “The Chile Experience”). These groups opened a whole new world to me here from basic questions and advice, to playdate locations, and vacation input. Another site, “Lila’s List” served as the English Craigslist of Santiago, and I used it to connect with a cleaning service and a long-term rental car agency. These sites made my life EASIER.
Learn the Language –
Before coming to Santiago my Spanish language skills were limited to a Tex-Mex menu. This meant I was giggled at, or experienced incredibly long interactions at stores for something as simple as ordering a coffee. To learn some basic Spanish, I download two apps: Duolingo for practice and Google Translate for real-time help. After three months in Santiago, I can decipher a menu, order food, hire a taxi, pay for things, and read road signs. My most rewarding moment was finally perfecting my Starbucks order (which typically involves 4-5 questions – don’t ask me why) without the Barista giggling or switching to English. I am certainly not fluent, but with my background in French and with the help of these two apps, I am doing pretty well!
Make Friends / Form a Community –
Next I set out to make friends. It was almost like dating again and I had to make the first move. As it turns out, kids are a great icebreaker! I basically went to parks and watched my kids ride their scooters up and down the neighborhood blocks and met people. Whenever I heard English I jumped at the opportunity to speak and get to know the person. I made sure to exchange WhatsApp information (another great app for traveling – free texting and calls and everyone uses it) and stay in contact. I made some truly great friends this way and feel so fortunate to have met them. Also, make friends with your neighbors. I was intimidated to knock on doors (it’s the NY’er in me) but once the kids and I got out in the neighborhood, it just happened organically. I found out that I was surrounded by ex-pats — Australians, English and a Dutch couple that spoke perfect English and were in the same boat as me!
I hope you have enjoyed following along on our South American adventure. It was a whirlwind of flights, airbnb’s, museums, amazing food, lakes, mountains, oceans, wine and fun! It will be a time in my life that I will never forget and I am so grateful to have had this experience with my family.