Since I am now at the one year mark, I think it's fair to say I am no longer a rookie expat/traveler. Am I an expert? Hell to the no! But honestly, I think that's part of the fun - there is always something new to learn, and the mistakes help to keep things interesting. This being said, I have learned a few things that, will hopefully prove useful to soon-to-be expats and aspiring world travelers. To the more seasoned travel vet, a lot of this advice might seem like general, common sense advice, but for a first timer (like I was not even that long ago) I think it's worth hearing. Even if you already know these things, some of them take consistent effort and everyone needs a reminder sometimes.
1. Make friends. While this seems like an obvious suggestion, I cannot understate it's importance. From what I have seen, the quality of the friends made in the first months abroad seems to be the most major difference between those who make it and those who don't. Living in a foreign country can be extremely lonely: you look different, you speak a different language, and your views on life and the world are also bound to be different. If you don't find a way to overcome, these differences can be very isolating. So put a smile on your face and make nice with your fellow expats, or even better try to make some local friends (easier said than done, but well worth the effort). Not good a socializing? Don't like talking to strangers? Get over it. Or you very well might end up tapping out.
2. Leave your expectations at home. Things are not always going to work out the way you expected or imagined. In fact, they might never work out that way. If you roll up with hard and fast expectations about the experience, you're going to end up disappointed and frustrated. In all reality, I think entering with a clean slate is an integral part of the experience - it leaves room for surprises, and oftentimes the plans that go wrong are the best learning experiences (and they pretty much always make for a great story). Flexibility of thought and receptiveness to change will allow you to open your mind and avoid frothing at the mouth every time something doesn't go your way.
3. Be grateful. You are alive. You have a job. You have an opportunity that most people can't even imagine. During my first month in Korea I kept a running list entitled, "Small Miracles". On that list, I wrote down everything that went right that day. The list includes luggage carts in the airport, not getting lost on the first day of school, learning to write my name in Korean, getting a SimCard for my phone, and my favorite - randomly finding an abandoned umbrella when I got caught outside in a flash rain storm. These things may seem like minutia, but when you start with nothing and everything is 100% times harder than normal - even the smallest thing is a victory. If you take the time to recognize that you will be a happier person.
4. Find an outlet. No matter how much of an emotional champion you are, there will be bad days. You will get frustrated. You will get angry. You will get sad. In order to deal with these emotions, you need to do just that - Deal with them! I've found that one of the best ways to do this is to find an outlet. Keep a journal. Find a dance class. Sing in the shower. Talk to your mother. Join a gym. Paint a picture. The list is really endless, but do something to consider and release your emotions constructively, or your run the risk of your head exploding.
5. Be strong. Of course this is easier said than done, but you are in control of yourself. No matter what the world throws your way, you can either choose to get up or choose to stay down, unless you are literally stuck under a rock (in which case please call for help). There is no weight in the world that can keep you down besides the weight of your own surrender. You are stronger than you know and your only real limitations are those which you believe to be true. If you push yourself beyond a personal threshold you will not only reap the rewards, but next time you'll go even further. This applies to everyone, everywhere. It's simply a matter of will.
I believe very firmly that adversity makes people better, and living as an expat can definitely be a struggle, especially for a first-timer. My last piece of advice, which kind of applies to all of the above, is lean into the storm. Embrace everything that comes your way with open arms - the good and the bad. Life comes at you whether you invite it to or not, so you might as well strap on your gladiator pants and get to it.
You are stronger than you know. Believe it.
Know any first time expats? Please share this with them! Want more tips and advice? Message me on Facebook, or Twitter - I'd love to hear from you :) Part of my mission is to inspire others to travel, so I'm happy to answer any questions and/or give you a pimpin' pep talk.
Enjoy the beautiful view!