9 countries, 9 homes
After having lived in 9 different countries across 4 continents, I thought it was time to write a little playbook on how to successfully adapt to a new place and make it home.
I started my career as a life nomad at the age of 5 as my dad was a diplomat and we had to move countries every 4 years. It was a curse and a blessing at the same time, as I remember the bitter feeling of being the new kid, the stranger, the foreigner and how difficult it was to make new friends at first. The move was always sudden and we only had a couple of months to pack our suitcases and say goodbye.
The irony of life is that the biggest challenges are usually the biggest opportunities too, and becoming a global citizen from such a young age was one of the biggest advantages I could ever have in life: I have places I call home all around the world and the day I got married, my 7 bridesmaids travelled to Ibiza from Australia, Hong Kong, Spain, USA, Abu Dhabi and France.
I have my own colourful tribe spread across 4 continents.
Becoming a polyglot
Being exposed to so many countries, languages became one of my passions and superpowers (I speak 6) and it has allowed me to travel and get better jobs anywhere. I am a regular writer of language learning at a Medium publication called Language Hub and my most popular article there is one talking about the benefits of speaking several languages.
My tips to move
It’s taken me 4 decades to perfect the chameleonic skill of moving and adapting to new cultures and I hope life gives me the opportunity to move a few more times to keep on mastering and enjoying this amazing art.
Saying goodbye never gets easier and I don’t have a playbook for that, but learning to adapt, be open and make a new home your home is something I can proudly talk about and hopefully help and inspire others.1.Don’t compare places
It’s human nature to compare, to look next door and to try to box things and places as better or worse. The human brain receives 11 million pieces of information every…second! Trying to label things and creating mental shortcuts is part of being human.
I did that moving from Rio de Janeiro to the Netherlands and there was only one loser: me.
Places are not better or worse, they are just different.
Once you change your mindset, the self-consuming game of comparison stops and you open a window of possibilities: the new!
2. Don’t expect people to make the effort
While most people are nice and friendly, don’t expect to be invited to all the parties and be “in demand”.
You need people but people don’t need you.
As cruel and harsh as it sounds, the sooner you come to the realisation that you are not indispensable the better, as you can focus on making the first step rather than waiting in your corner for an invite that might never arrive.
3. Getting over your introvert side
If you are a born introvert, you need to build a new persona. It doesn’t mean you are fake or unauthentic, but you have to flex a new social muscle: be the person to reach out first, to enter a group, join a club, take the initiative, ask for a phone number.
As an innate introvert, I had no choice but to get out of my shell and become a social extrovert. It was a massive self-development that helped me across many other aspects of my life. I can now pull the extroverted side out of me when needed and it comes in handy in parties, weddings and when you start a new job.
4. Don’t judge new cultures
Moving to China in 2003, I was very tempted to comment with disgust the weird things people eat and the rude table manners. As a Westerner I couldn’t fathom how they could eat things from grilled insects to stinky tofu(it’s called that name in Chinese too because it really does stink).
We are very conditioned by what we are taught as children and it’s important to try to remove those cultural lens and understand that culture impacts how we think about life. For Chinese people, the types of cheeses we eat in Europe are absolutely disgusting and snails are not precisely appealing snacks either. It’s a matter of taste and culture!
5. Learn the language
It takes tremendous effort to learn a new language, especially as an adult, but the benefits outweigh the sacrifice. People appreciate you more for trying to learn to learn the local language and you are more likely to make friends with locals as they will see you as more approachable. Once you speak decently, you are upgraded to a new league: the resident and you no longer pay the tourist price.
6. Home is where the heart is
As long as you are with your loved ones, that’s all you really need to make a place feel like home. In the past year and a half I lived in 3 different countries (Hong Kong, Spain and Australia) by myself with my 2 girls due to COVID restrictions.
We were involuntarily separated from my husband for over a year. If you ask my daughters what is their favourite place, their answer is:
“My favourite place is where daddy is”.
Children always know best.
Moving and growing
Moving countries is not easy but it’s an opportunity to discover not only the world, but also yourself. You have to adapt, learn and grow and no matter what your experience is like, you become a better, more colorful version of yourself.