Five ways to make your city of exchange feel more like home

May 19, 2016
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Whether you’re preparing to go on exchange or thinking about doing a study abroad program, no doubt the contributing factors to this decision may have been so you can escape the daily routine and dive into the unknown.

However, once you land on the other side of the planet, I can assure you, your desire for the foreign becomes a different story. There’ll be novelties and surprises, but when it comes to long-term living, you’ll want to find some comfort in familiarity.

Naturally, every country will have different cultural protocols for communication and etiquette. Regardless of where you are heading, the following pieces of advice should help you adjust when you’re living abroad.

Rediscover old routines

Think about the sentimental routines you’re missing most and make sure to include them in your daily life overseas. Fellow coffee snobs out there (hello!) – trust me, there’s nothing more satisfying than scouting a café that will make your pretentious extra hot soy latte exactly how you like it.

If you’re a gym junkie, invest in a membership (your university will likely have cheaper rates) and smash out your favourite fitness regime.

If books are your jam (and your new city doesn’t speak your language), find reassurance in quaint English bookstores.

Have a green thumb or miss nature? Volunteer at a greenhouse or buy a houseplant (the latter worked wonders for me when Montreal hit minus forty and was forever grey and snowing).

Branch out

Having said the first point, it’s also worthwhile to try new things. Be the “yes” man/woman (obviously within reason). Not only does it expose you to new places and people, but with your brain focused on firing new wires, you won’t have time to be homesick. 

Get creative and look at doing activities that you mightn’t be able to try back home. Ping pong or pole dancing might be a bigger hit in your new city. Look into meet up groups for language, photography or site seeing. Miss your mum’s cooking? Sign up for a cooking class!

Make friends in weird places

For those coffee kings and queens, befriending the baristas is a good start. The added bonus is hospitality people are often clued in on upcoming cultural events, the best bars and good places for live music. I met my second Montreal housemate (and found somewhere to live) through a friend I made at a Chet Faker concert.

A smile and a “hello” go a long way. Especially in elevators. If it weren’t for my hello, I would’ve missed the opportunity to hear a “g’day” from the blonde lady with two cats in a box taking the elevator up ten flights. It so happened that she was from Melbourne, too.

Queues are great places for starting conversations. I can guarantee you with all the paperwork involved in studying and living abroad you’ll encounter dozens. If not, just join a line for the heck of it.

Find structure

Counteract feelings of aimlessness by implementing structure into your days. A morning walk, a daily study session at the library, a regular sit down at your regular café; whatever it is, shape your day around productivity to keep you motivated. Consistent study, exercise or practicing a hobby will not only busy you, but it’ll give you direction and purpose.

Take advantage of services available

Make use of the university amenities. Join a group, take up a sport or grab a free university lunch if you’re fortunate to have that on offer.

Don’t underestimate the power of counselling. On campus it’s often free to students. If not, check what’s included in your health insurance coverage. Having a good chat with someone qualified can be a life changer no matter where in the world you are. However, when you’re living somewhere new and foreign, it can be a life saver.  

Mim Kempson

Mim Kempson is a Melbourne-based writer, gym junkie and coffee snob with an undying love for brunch. Tweet her at @mimkempson or check out her website here.

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