One of the main characteristics of a life abroad is that it consists of more uncertainty than living in one’s own country. When the environment is different from what you are used to, it becomes much harder to predict different factors such as the way people think, behave and communicate, or factors such as how your career will develop in the new environment, how much budget you need every month to live comfortably, or even how long it will take you to get from one place of the city to the other.
Establishing rituals is a way to get more routine in your life. Routine, in turn, brings some degree of predictability into your life. This will help you immensely to deal much better with the uncertainty of a life abroad.
When there is a set of daily, weekly and monthly rituals that are part of your life, at least these periods of time are predictable for you. What this does is to reduce the amount of stress that your brain is exposed to by providing you with periods of relative comfort. What this does not mean is that all your life should be pre-determined through rituals and routines, but that there need to be some degree of them just like if you were living in your own home country.
The first step is to discover.
When moving to a new country, the first thing that all of us will do is to try to discover as much as possible. Whether it is places to retreat, people to meet, or things to eat, we need a regular set of places, activities and practices that we can follow in the new country. But here, the first step is always to try and discover as much as possible. To explore as many of the hidden gems that your new country of residence has to offer.
This step is what most people envision when they think about the idea of a life abroad: an exciting journey of discovery. Every day, there are new things to do. New places to discover. New people to meet. New foods to eat. Everything is so exciting and new.
Being in this mode is very important and very necessary when first moving to a new country, but eventually it will have to end. Your brain would be on absolute overload if you were to sustain constant pressure on it by exposing it to new things all the time. Over time, you will have to find a balance between discovery and routine, and this is where the second step comes into play.
The second step is to decide which things you want to be a part of your life.
When I first came to Tehran, I went to different cafes and different restaurants every single day. I am not really a person who likes to cook, and so I really wanted to explore the local cuisine. For two or three months, I was trying out all the different restaurants and cafes that I could find in the city.
Sooner or later I was reaching a point where I felt quite familiar with the local cuisine. Plus, the variety of what I was able to eat was relatively limited, since I am a vegeterian and most Persian food (in restaurants) is meat-based. Eventually I found myself a set of 2 Persian vegeterian restaurants and a handful of other restaurants that offered vegeterian food as well as a few cafes that became by favorite places in town. And eventually I developed a routine of going to these different places at different times, while occasionally trying new restaurants with people close to me.
Regardless of what area of your life it is, you will eventually have to make decisions around which things you want to be a part of your life. There will be questions like: how are you going to spend your mornings? Which sports will you do? How are you going to spend your free time? Who will be your core people with whom you will spend most of your time?
The third step is to establish rituals and routine.
Now the time has come for you to decide in which aspects of your life rituals make sense. One example for this could be a morning ritual. Perhaps you discovered a lovely little park near your house and a cafe with awesome coffee on the way back from there. So you decide that every morning at 6am after your wake up, you go jogging around the park and then on the way back stop at that cafe to have your favorite cappuccino while reading the newspaper, only to head back home, take a shower and then go off to work.
It is also the point where you should decide which aspects of your life you would like to become routinized, and which one’s you would like to leave open for spontaneity and discovery. For example, you might decide that every Friday you take a complete morning until 2pm off in order to explore some new part of the city, go to a new art gallery, or find some other way of experiencing something new. In that way, you are able to create a good balance between routine and discovery.
Now, let’s sum this up.
I know, you have your life abroad exactly because you want to bring more excitement into your life. And certainly, you will inevitably have a high degree of novelty and uncertainty in your life. That is exactly the reason why it is necessary to create some routines and rituals that help you to structure your day.
Make sure that you create routines and rituals that will help you to bring some predictability into your life. At the same time, leave plenty of room open for phases of discovery and excitement. In that way, you will keep learning and growing through new experiences, while not coming to a point of complete mental overload. Finally, here are some questions that you can ask yourself in this regard:
- How much of my life currently is characterized by routines and rituals? Is it too much or too little?
- How can I bring more routines and rituals into my life while at the same time always staying open for learning and discovery?
- What kind of rituals or routines am I lacking that would help me with one particular aspect of my life (career, social life, money, leisure time etc.)?
- Have I made sure that I have left enough space in my life for discovery and learning?