Living Abroad: Don't be a Permanent Tourist
Your Goal: gain a new definition of normal
I've met two kinds of expats:
Tourist-trying to live home lifestyle
other- someone wanting a deep connection with the host country
It's ok to be a tourist, but don't tell yourself you're doing anything other than getting a scratch-the-surface vacation experience. Doesn't matter how long you've been living abroad, you have to be immersing yourself to be a "local".
Eating Out: Depends on country, but if locals rarely eat out, you should rarely eat out. If you do eat out, eat at places with local cuisine. Foreign food is ok on occasion, but should not be daily, even weekly.
Grocery Shopping- no expat or import stores (every now and then is ok),
Try something 7 times before deciding whether you hate it or not, palate has to adjust.
Taxis vs. buses vs biking vs walking, don't distance yourself from local people, unless only safe option is taxi.
Again, do what locals do. Depends on country, but if it's safe, take the bus, even if uncomfortable. It'll help you understand what average people have to go through, and more importantly, it'll force you to spend time near locals and listening to the local language. You may even get to talk to people.
Walking is good too, biking, if safe. Scooters, if safe.
Uncomfortabel does NOT necesarily equal unsafe. Figure out the difference.
#3: Socializing + Customs
Spend a part of every day with locals. Doesn't have to be your whole day, but every day. Cultural adjustment happens best and fastest when you're surrounded by that culture in a social context, social pressures apply subconsciously.
When you spend enough time around locals, their manenrisms and the sounds of local conversation will become normal to you.
If your job recquires working with other expats, that can't be helped, but outside of work, make sure you're spending at least a small amount of time DAILY with locals. Once or twice a week won't cut it. The goal is to be as immersed as possible, which requires feeling uncomfortable for a good chunk of your dayy. These situations won't be uncomfortable forever,a nd the more you do it, the sooner you will learn and adjust. Finding a langauge buddy helps a lot, also helps you learn the language.
Having a community is what gives you both a cushion from culture shock, but also helps you immerse yourself emotionally, socially, not just linguistically. You'll never adjust if you focus only on what you're missing, skyping people back home, spending your whole day with other expats, etc.
expat communities are sometime necessary for sanity, I have one, and keeping home relationships strong is of course really great too, but I'm just saying that it shouldn't be your routine 24/7 daily. immerse yourself and build a new lifestyle in your host country, learn as much about it as you can, learn to love it, even if it takes a while. You don't have to give up your old life to gain a new one, you can have multilple lifestyles and cultures. All racially and culturally mixed people like myself have understood this since we were little. You can gain adjust yourself to multiple cultures, you're not stuck with one!! It is extremely difficult to completely 'assimilate" to a new culture, but adjusting doesn't necessarily require assimilation. I suggest that you aim for assimilation though, because that way you're at least aiming high.
People who travel a lot often partake in the flashy celebratory shallow level of holidays, but if you partake in these things year after year, connect memories of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, emotions to each holiday or celebration, you are doing the same thing kids do as they grow up with their home "culture". After repeated attempts at experienceing the things that are "normal" for the country, you become like local kids, you start gaining a feeling of connection to these holidays and celebratoins, as well as to others who have experienced these things.
Learn the language. No excuses. It will take a LONG time to get good, but it won't take that long to be able to have a conversation as long as you are willing to be embarrassed and mess up a lot. Practice every day, and your brain will sort out the rest. Immersion is best, listen to music, radio, tv, movies, mimic what you hear, act like a toddler
Everything about learning a language changes your definition of normal. Doesn't matter how bad you are at it, normal humans are capapble of adapting. Language is crucial to having a deep understanding of a culture, that means being able to have a conversation. Basic questions do not count. Where's the bathroom, how much money, Hello how are you, where is..., etc.
When your environment has sounds that your ears and brain understand, the environment will feel more confortable and "normal", which will help you adjust to the culture as well.
Kids spend their whole childhood learning social cues and how to make small talk, how to express themselves. It's the same when you learn a language, it takes YEARs to get good at it, so don't be in a hurry, be patient.
After a few years/
Everything I've explained above should be your goal for your first few years. Once you feel comfortable and adjusted, once you can speak the langauge decently or at least hold a conversation, once you've reached the point where you are familiar with all the popular local dishes and have tried them all multiple times, once your palate has changed, you start liking foods you thought were weird or even digusting when you first arrived, once you stop feeling uncomfortable when people do something that would be understood as rude in your home culture, THEN and ONLY THEN would I reccommend spending more of your day according to your home country lifestyle or any lifestyle different from locals. Again, you don't HAVE to assimilate, it doesn't have to be your goal, but think of any immigrants you know or might've met back home. Which ones do you think enjoy life more, the ones who've put in the years of effort to adjust to a new culture, teh ones who've got a solid grip on the langauge, or the ones that have spent years clinging to their old life, sometimes because of lack of help and resources, but often out of fear and homesickness. The best cure for homesickness is to make a new home. You don't have to give up your old one.