One of the main reasons why people are gaining the experience of living overseas is simple: a desire to learn. A desire to explore new places. New cultures. Experience new ways of thinking. Learn a new language. Be exposed to a completely different environment. Get thrown out of your usual environment and see something completely different. At the end of the day, all of these different needs are related to a strong desire to learn new things. Human beings simply are animals that love learning.
The question then becomes: how can we make the most out of this living overseas experience? How can we make sure that we learn as much as possible? After all, there is also a high number of expatriates who, although they are living in another country, live their life’s fairly comfortable in a fairly similar way to how they would live their life’s back home. So, the goal of this article is to give you a few tips on how to maximize your learning experience on your time overseas.
Tip #1: Find a hobby that is particular to your host culture
While it is great to have existing hobbies and to nurture them during your time overseas, living in another country is a great opportunity to learn something that you would not have the chance to learn anywhere else. For instance, when you are in China, then why not take Kung Fu lessons? When in Iran, then why not learn a local instrument such as the Setar? When in France, then why not learn how to cook french cuisine? When in Germany, then why not engage in the local Debbatierclub (debate club)? When in Indonesia, then why not learn how to dance a local dance?
At the end of the day, every single culture has some activities that are unique to itself. By engaging in these activities, you are not only exposed to something that you would not have the opportunity to learn anywhere else, but you are also directly involved in an activity that is favored by the locals. Consequently, it also gives you the chance to join a local community and to experience their interactions with each other first hand.
Tip #2: Ensure a balanced mix of local- and foreign friends
You will need to make local friends in order to learn more about the local culture. And yet, you will also need foreign friends who understand your experiences in the new country much better and who can understand your thoughts and worries much more easily than your local friends. At the end of the day, you will have to find the right balance for yourself that allows you to learn about your host culture as soon as possible, while also maintaining the support network that you need.
But again, here it is important to be very selective in terms of who enters your friend circle. If you only have local friends who exclusively speak English to you, then you will never learn the language of your host culture. If you only have foreign friends who mostly hang out with other foreigners, then you will never get the exposure to he local culture that you need.
At the same time, however, it can also go the other way. If you only spend your time with locals who have very little international experience, then you will eventually find yourself frustrated because it will be difficult for you to completely understand each other. Although you will certainly get along very well, human beings always tend to be very comfortable to be around people who are similar to themselves. While it is a bad idea to only give in to this feeling and to be in a friend circle of people who are just like you, the complete opposite also isn’t a good idea as it will eventually lead to a point where you will have feelings of loneliness or discomfort.
Tip #3: Alternate periods of extreme exposure to the local culture with periods of relaxation
Your living overseas experience can often be extremely draining for both your mind and body. Living in a new country creates high degree of stress by constantly exposing you to a third language, behaviour of people that may seem new and strange to you, ways of thinking that you simply can not comprehend and so on and so forth. In general, while you live your live in your country of origin you will be able to do most things on autopilot. While you are in a new country, however, even the smallest things may take a lot of energy from you.
As such, it is very common when you are new to a country that you will feel extremely drained very quickly. That is a good thing, because it shows that you are getting out of your comfort zone, exposing yourself to a new environment and thus that you are slowly adapting to the new ways of doing things. And yet, nobody would be able to constantly keep this up all the time. At some point we will inevitably feel so drained that we are unable to live our life’s normally. At this point, you will need to “take a break” from exposing yourself to the new culture.
At that point do hang out with some of your foreign friends. Find ways to speak your first language with somebody. Cook yourself some food that you are used to eat from back home. You don’t need to feel any pressure to constantly try and adapt to the new place. When your brain needs a break from all the stress, give it the space that it needs. And once it recovers, go out fully on exposing yourself to the local lifestyle once more.
Tip #4: Be clear on your motivation for why you are living in a foreign country
Often, when I tell people about all the problems that have come up in my life because I have to chosen to spend the last seven years of my life in three different countries, they will ask me: why are you making your life so difficult? Just staying in Germany would make your life so much more uncomplicated, easy and relaxed?
Sometimes, in these moments I get weak. Sometimes I do ask myself: yeah, why do I give myself all this trouble? If I would just stay in Germany, I would have all the security and all the simplicity in my life that I want. Then, however, I quickly remind myself that security is not what I am looking for in my life. I remember that I am living overseas for such a long period of time and in all these different countries, because I believe that in this way I am leading a much more fulfilled and exciting life, while at the same time never stop learning.
Of course, you yourself will have your own motivations for living in a foreign country. These motivations, however, are something that you constantly have to tap into. Remind yourself of all your reasons why you are tolerating all these different problems. At the end of your day, you are living overseas despite all these problems, not because of them. But once you are returning to your deepest motivations for living in a foreign country, motivating yourself to make the most out of this opportunity for learning will also become much easier. Be grounded in your motivations, and you will always make sure that you maximize your experiences in the country you currently live in.
What are the next steps?
Take some time for careful reflection. Have you been maximizing your living overseas experience until now? If no, then what changes in your current lifestyle can you make to ensure that you are learning as much as possible during your time in your new host culture? What are your motivations for living in the new place? How can you make sure that your motivations are more aligned with your behaviour?
What are your own experiences for maximizing your learning experiences overseas? What did you personally do to make the most out of your stay? Let me know in the comments below!