Today, I’m excited to introduce you all to Quincy! I had the pleasure of doing an interview for him about my experiences with VIPKid, and he was kind enough to tell me all about his experiences settling into new countries in order to work and teach abroad. Quincy is one of the founders of ESL Authority, a site dedicated to helping people find traditional and online teaching jobs. If you’re interested in teaching online you can browse their job board or get advice from other teachers (like me!) on their blog. At the moment he is back living in China and in constant pursuit of strong coffee and IPAs.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to settle into a new country, like Quincy, take a minute to check out his experiences and advice below!
Quincy, from ESL Authority, currently resides in China!
How to Settle into a Country Like You’ve Been there Before
It doesn’t matter if you’re just logging your first passport stamp or trying to replicate that guy who danced his way around the world – being able to comfortably settle into a new country is crucial to having a good experience. After all, if you can’t feel even the least bit comfortable with your surroundings, it’s going to feel like you’re swimming upstream every day.
Arriving in a new country, whether to live or visit, is overwhelming. To date, I’ve lived in 5 countries and traveled to nearly 15 others and nothing makes the transition easier than a plan aimed at creating a sense of familiarity as soon as possible.
Let me me give you two examples:
China: I moved to China in 2014 after having traveled there a few years prior. I’ll be the first to admit that I was blinded by the country and in awe of the of its vastness and diversity. I wasn’t so naïve to think that settling in would be easy (I didn’t even speak the language), but the preparation I did was next to none. Because of this, my first month was a shit-show; I hadn’t researched my neighborhood, had made no attempt at creating even a semblance of a social network before I arrived, and generally felt completely unprepared and overwhelmed.
Thailand: I moved to Thailand for a few months in 2016 and was fortunate enough to have an incredible time (seriously, Thailand is an amazing country, go visit!). I attribute some of this to being far more prepared that I was moving to China – I knew the area around my apartment, I had done some outreach to a few expats, and in general it was quite easy for me to settle in.
Feeling comfortable is the first step to getting “settled” in your new city!
What Does “Settle In” Mean?
It goes without saying that the term ‘settle in’ in is subjective and means different things to different people. It might mean knowing how to get to the bus stop nearest your apartment before you arrive, or that there is an expat bar that hosts a meetup every Wednesday – it just depends.
There is, however, one common string that ties together every definition of settled in. Remember that feeling of being overwhelmed I mentioned earlier? Being settled in means you feel that less. In addition, anxiety, nervousness, and apprehension all decrease when you’re prepared for a new transition.
So, how do you make this happen as easily as possible?
You’re obviously going to do at least some research before you head to a new country or city, but when I talk about research I’m not talking about Lonely Planet or some other guidebook meant to provide a basic overview. I’m talking about engaging with people that live or have lived there and asking them where to stay, what events you should check out, and what to expect.
Reddit: Say what you will about Reddit, but it can be an invaluable tool when it comes to moving to a new place. Reddit is broken into sections based on locations or interests. For example, You can learn about Thailand from their Thailand page, or dig deeper and learn about a specific city like Phuket.
Reddit has two distinct advantages when it comes to researching your move: you can easily search for the answer to your questions or opt to ask the community. Either way, assuming you’re not going somewhere too remote, you’ll likely find and receive lots of valuable responses from locals.
Nomad List: Nomad List is geared towards digital nomads (people who work from their computers and travel regularly), but it’s packed with great information about how to live like a local in cities. I use Nomad List when I want to know what the cost of living is like in places like Bali or want to see if other people have moved to Colombia lately (their question section is great).
While the community is not as active as Reddit’s, Nomad List is a great place to get basic information like the cost of an apartment, what neighborhoods to consider, and visa information.
Meetup: Meetup allows you to browse events going on in specific cities and RSVP for the ones you like. Lots of places have meetups for travelers or expats and I have used it numerous times to beef up my social circle in a new area. At the very least, it gives you something to look forward when you arrive.
Do research and check out cool areas before you arrive in order to have some sense of what to do in your new city!
Just like you should never show up to a Super Bowl party without food, you shouldn’t arrive in a new place unprepared. Assuming you’ve done at least a bit of research, your prep phase really kicks into gear when you land or disembark.
SIM Card: I cannot tell you how many times my phone has saved me when traveling or living in a different country. I can tell you, however, the times I’ve needed it and it didn’t work because I didn’t have a SIM Card for it. It doesn’t matter if I’m arriving via plane or train, a SIM card is always the first thing I look for when I get somewhere. Once you pop it in your mobile (assuming you have a smartphone), there is really no excuse for you to get lost again. You are also connected instantly to the outside world should you need to ask another question on Reddit or email a person from Meetup.
Money: Yes, obviously you need some local currency when you go someplace new. However, do not make the mistake of crossing this off your list by exchanging money at the airport. You need to make sure to test an ATM once you arrive to ensure your bank card will work!
There are countless stories out there (including one of mine from Japan) of travelers being stranded and broke because they cannot withdraw money from a local ATM. To prevent this, you should always notify you bank of where you’ll be so they don’t freeze your account; in addition make sure to ask them what kind of ATM to use when you’re abroad. Unfortunately not all ATMs are created equal and it will save you a big headache to know what to look for when you need money.
Quincy loves checking out new areas by bike! It’s a great way to get a feel for a new city.
Not even all the research in the world can make you feel fully settled in and comfortable in your new, albeit temporary, home. To do this you need to get out there, pound the pavement, and start exploring.
I usually approach this in two ways:
Bike: Bikes are awesome and are the easiest way to explore a new area – they are faster than walking and more versatile than a car. I always try and rent or buy a bike when I go somewhere and typically spend at least part of the first day just riding around.
While this is obviously easier in some cities than others, it can really help you get a better feel for your neighborhood, including stores, public transportation, and activities.
Bus: This one isn’t for everyone, but when I arrive in a new (usually bigger) city I like to get on the bus closest to my apartment and ride it for the entire loop. Usually I have no idea where it will go, but afterwards I typically have an idea of places I’d like to explore further as well as a better understanding of the city.
I get it – obviously all of these aren’t going to be practical for every trip and even I don’t typically do all of them for every new place I go. However, I will say that these are tried and tested and some (like testing an ATM) have been learned the hard way. So, if you’re planning a trip, move, or even a staycation, consider testing a few out to see how you fare, I’m betting it will make everything a lot easier.
Thanks, Quincy, for your expert advice about moving and settling into new countries! For more info on moving to Spain, you can check out my post, here. Moving abroad for the first time can be scary, but going into it prepared will make your journey go much smoother. Learn from Quincy and take his advice and you’ll be settling into your new country in no time.
What do you all think? Have you moved abroad? What did you find was the most difficult part of your transition? Do you have any other suggestions to make the transition smooth? Let me know in the comments below!