Packing up your belongings and buying a one-way ticket to a foreign country can be very intimidating–but living life as an expat can also be an extremely rewarding experience. Whether you’re looking for a new path to personal and professional growth, or you simply have an unquenchable thirst for adventure, living life outside of your home country will give you the perfect opportunity to expand your horizons, meet new people, and build character.
If you’re considering living and learning a language abroad, heed this advice: don’t dive in head first. Your success hinges on your willingness to conduct your research and prepare for the big changes that lie ahead. Make a list of the pros and cons before you make a solid commitment, and study your new destination extensively. It’s impossible to know what the life of an expat is really like without experiencing it for yourself, but if you dive in head first without learning about the culture, customs, language, and people who live in your desired country, you’ll have a very hard time assimilating.
As a part of your research, reach out to other individuals who’ve been in your shoes–like John L. from City Speakeasy. John is an adventurer, a scholar, and he is the head of our French department. Though John currently lives in Astoria, USA, he spent many years traveling throughout France, living and learning the language abroad, and returned with plenty of stories to tell, and lessons to teach.
In this expat feature, we’ll bring to light some of his most important recollections:
Most individuals get their first taste of a second language in a traditional class setting–and while it certainly provides students with a strong foundation in the language, you get a totally different result when you’re able to experience the language abroad.
When you hone your budding language skills in conversations with native speakers, you pick up on certain nuances that you could never get out of a textbook. Also, you have the opportunity to witness first-hand how the language is tied to the culture. By living among a group of people and studying them, you’ll get far better insight into their language.
It can be really exciting to use your language skills in real life, especially when you’ve put in a lot of time and effort with your acquisition. In your first months living and learning a language abroad, converse with native speakers every chance you get.
While it may seem intimidating at first, know this: most native speakers are far more encouraging than judgemental. Even the French, who have a reputation for not being so friendly, are very encouraging when they hear foreigners speaking their language. Even if you don’t speak your second language fluently, most individuals will appreciate your effort.
Immerse yourself. Meet new people, study the culture through experience, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Long term, you’ll only feel like an outsider if you keep acting like one.
No matter how prepared you are for the big change, you’re bound to find yourself wading through unfamiliar territory every once in awhile. It’s okay; some things can only be learned from experience. As long as you pay attention to your surroundings, you’ll pick up on social cues and cultural norms in no time.
Here’s an example: in France, when you enter a store or establishment, you’re expected to greet everyone with a hello. If you fail to do so, you may come across as impolite to the locals. You likely won’t know about this expectation when you first arrive in the country, but as long as you soak in your surroundings and pay attention to how others communicate, you’ll find ways to fit in.
When traveling abroad, you’ll likely visit big-name tourist spots that are polka-dotted with landmarks and attractions. However, when learning a language and living abroad, you’ll have the opportunity to find hidden treasures located off the beaten path. Take advantage of this opportunity.
From small towns to breathtaking scenery tucked deep in the countryside, there are plenty of spots that are treasured by locals, but nowhere to be found on glossy, mass-produced travel brochures. When living as an expat, you’ll have time to truly explore and experience the country as the locals do.
Living life as an expat comes with many benefits, and they don’t just go away if you decide to return home. Here are a few lifelong benefits you can look forward to after living abroad:
If you’re still interested in moving forward, begin your journey with strong footing: sign up for a foreign language class at City Speakeasy.
At City Speakeasy, we help our students master foreign languages and show them how to hone their craft in real-world social settings. All of our classes are taught by award-winning teachers who have traveled around the world, and at the end of each course, our students have the unique opportunity to take place in a one-of-a-kind Immersion Event. Prepare for your future and your life abroad. Contact us today for more information!