8 rules for your first expat year


So you’ve decided to move to Buenos Aires. It tougher than you might think. Most expats experience some serious culture shock after the first few months of honeymoon anesthesia wears off. Here are some hints. I welcome more.

1. Avoid all needy expats at all costs

There is a love/hate relationship between expats and themselves. It’s the nature of the beast. On one hand it’s nice to be around folks who’re like you. On the other hand expats who are not here for love are, at best, a fairly unstable bunch and generally don’t have family or non expat support groups. At worst expats go braindead doing all kinds of stupid things they would never do back home. If you are acclimatizing to a new place, you’re better off not being around energy drainers.

2. If you are a needy expat, stop it

Look. It’s tough. The food is different. The weather is different. The bugs are different. You are lost all the time. People act differently.

That’s why you’re here! Enjoy it! I promise you that the only ones who’re really going to be intrested in your problems are needy expats who just waiting for a chance to dump their problems on you in return.

3. Take classes

This is a super awesome way to make friends. Cultural centers, workshops, take a night class in painting or dancing or singing or woodworking or anything else you’ve always wanted to do. Spanish class doesn’t count (see #1) .

4. Excercise

It’s hard to excercise in a new place. Go running. Join the local soccer game. Or start your own (hopefully not with 100% expats). Join a gym. Take yoga classes and meet people. Whatever, just do something.

5. Realize that moving to a new place is tough

Things get better with time. You’ll eventually not be lost and you’ll be able to communicate just fine but it takes time. How long that time is and how much you enjoy it while you’re in it is up to you.

6. Every day do at least one nice thing for yourself that helps you feel at home.

One step each day. Even if it’s only one tiny little thing. It could be signing up for the gym, buying yourself a flower, drawing yourself a picture for your wall, relaxing and listening to some good music, something.

7. Learn the language

The sooner you can talk like you do in your native language the sooner you can be yourself in your new home. Until you can talk fluently you won’t be able to express who you are. This is unbelievably frustrating. You can take it down a notch by learning faster.

8. Get involved in the culture and community in which you live

I can’t speak for other places but it’s great to live in a place where not everything is owned by a multinational corporation (yet?). Take advantage of not having to feel isolated from your fellow human being. See where you can apply some of your skills. Try something out that you never have before. I’ve hardly got involved at all in the community around me after two years. I wish I had.


11 replies
  1. Coogie
    Coogie says:

    You do raise some good points there.
    Although, the part about exercising; I LOVE running, but c’mon, it’s damn hot here! And so much easier to hang out in the park instead of running around it in circles;)
    I guess although I don’t really mix with many other expats in my everyday life, I’m still constantly somewhere in between – not having been here long and working as an English teacher (language – aaargh!).
    The greatest challenge is yet to come, when moving to Córdoba and in with a full blooded Argentine family, their neighbours, partners and friends (cause they are always somewhere near), of whom not a single one speaks anything but Cordobes Castellano. If that doesn’t get me into Argentina – nothing ever will!
    Saludos, Coog

  2. womaninmotion
    womaninmotion says:

    I think the needy expat thing is debatable and circumstantial. I met my yoga teacher in Shanghai, who was definitely a needy expat, and she was a hugely positive influence on my life. I hope that in turn, I was a good influence on hers. Besides, people need different things in their lives at different times, and everyone is human, we are not programmed to turn off needs.

  3. exnat
    exnat says:

    Good luck in Cordoba, Coog.

    I completely agree. It’s just a fact that living away from home can make you feel nuts in the beginning. Some people want to go nuts or be needy. It takes all sorts…

  4. Carito
    Carito says:

    The best piece of advice I got when I left my home country six years ago was, “Don’t expect things to be the same as in your country. If something is not happening the way you expect, it’s not them, it’s you.” I used it as a mantra for six years in four different cities and it definitely worked. It’s true that I’ve been pissed off at how things are sometimes, but hey, for most of us it was a personal decision to come and stay, so we better suck it up.

  5. Kristie
    Kristie says:

    I just found you blog by accident and I love your article. I am a new expat to Norway and am having a really hard time finding a good way to exercise. Im from Southern California and have had a gym membership since I can remeber! I will be bookmarking this blog, love it.

  6. Brian from Argentina'sTravel
    Brian from Argentina'sTravel says:

    From all the tips you’ve gave the best is taking classes. You will be in a room with ohter people, native or foreign, interchanging thoughts an opinion, soon you will be forming study groups and in a couple of weeks you’ll be out with them every week end. It is also a good way to meet a boyfriend or a girlfriend. Plus Argentinians are very outgoing which make things much more easy, a lot easier than in other countries.

  7. exnat
    exnat says:

    Thanks brian,

    Let me just reiterate that while Spanish classes are good for learning the language, they rarely carry the benefits that you described.

  8. Xuls
    Xuls says:

    Man, Starbucks has landed. We’re fucked up! They’re serving mate!! Gosh!!
    Aguante el espresso porteño!

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