New Year's resolutions

22 New Year's resolutions every expat should cross off

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As an expat it's more about memorising foreign irregular verbs or visiting that landmark you keep putting off, rather than slimming down or saving.

Love it or hate it, a new year ignites those with well-intentions to set goals and shed a few of the less attractive habits formed over the past year(s). But an expat's New Year's resolution list differs in so many ways, as daily challenges can be anything from not understanding recycling rules to having to mime illnesses to your doctor or feeling isolated. What would be on your resolution list this year as an expat?

1. Learn enough language so you don’t sound – and feel – like a babbling toddler

Or you can aim for fluency. Although, if it was on your list last year too, it's probably time to stick notes of those pesky irregular verbs and tricky vocabularly around the house.

Before long you'll be onto your third language, when you can call yourself a 'polyglot' (and claim all the multilingual problems only polyglots understand).

2. Use the language you’ve already learned (the dreaded ‘p’ word)

If you’ve been told learning a language isn’t hard, the hard truth is they might be right – even if your tongue protests at foreign guttural sounds. Practising is hard, though, and many people confuse the two. Small children learn easier, for example, because they don’t fear playing with their new language skills.

Sure you might say ‘chás problem’ (cheese problem) instead of ‘cheis problem' (no problem) for the first six months but it’s a pretty comic way to break the ice – and it beats sitting clammed up, too shy to join a conversation for hours.

Besides, many foreigners have butchered the language before you – the locals are used to it.

3. Make at least three new local friends

Or at least one really good friend who invites you home for dinner. Local food at its best!

Plus it's refreshing to escape the expat bubble, once in a while.

4. Try that weird dish you refused to try

You’ve seen the five-year-olds gobble it down, so it deserves a try. The true way to a local’s heart is through their speciality dishes, no matter how bizarre to your tastebuds.

Yes – it probably involves offal, raw meat, blood or UFOs (unidentifiable fried objects), all the kinds of things Europeans are experts at turning into tasty local cuisine. Being Europe, you’ll then have to follow this with trying all the regional differences of the same dish.

6. Visit that major landmark you keep putting off

Don't be that expat who lives in Paris and hasn't been to the Eiffel Tower.

'You live there and can visit any time' is an unreliable mantra. Remember that friend who had to relocate suddenly? They regret not seeing it, too.

7. Cook a dinner of local dishes for your (foreign) parents-in-law

It’s surprisingly easy to whip up an impressive spread when you have all the local ingredients on hand, unlike trying to replicate certain dishes from home in a foreign land.

Impressing your foreign mother-in-law at her own cuisine, on the other hand, is down to you.

8. Revel in a little cultural indulgence of your own

Everyone needs to be spoilt with a goodie package from home, once in a while.

9. Be a ‘country ambassador’

Being abroad generally means missing your favourite traditions but it doesn’t mean you can’t share these with new friends. Local friends get a kick out of eating foreign dishes they’ve always heard about.

Although, small European kitchens mean your Thanksgiving dinner abroad might be chicken or goose at best.

11. Get your local driver’s licence

Who really drives on the ‘wrong’ side of the road? Being a dexterous driver is a skill to be proud of, even if it’s only at the office party – and legally necessary once you're an official resident abroad.

12. See a local festival (no matter the crowds)

There’s no better time to experience local culture than during the burst of a colourful festival – and experience first-hand the local quirks and crushing crowds on tiny European streets. You could be hit by pig’s bladder at a Belgian carnival, be pelted by tomatoes in Spain, eat white asparagus in Germany, celebrate fishing for herring in the Netherlands, or watch the 'cows come home' in Switzerland's spring procession.

13. How many countries to visit this year?

As an expat, it’s generally not a matter of if you will travel, but rather how many trips you can you fit in this year. Don’t forget to add in those weekend getaways on your top list of places you’ve been meaning to visit around your host country. 

14. Visit your home country more often

It’s easy to keep in contact with those mobile friends and family who can easily visit – although becoming a ‘guest home’ for everyone has its quirks – but it takes some effort to keep in touch with the rest back home.

You won’t need convincing to achieve this goal, although your bank budget might.

15. At the same time, make visits home less hectic

When you’re juggling three visits a day from friends and extended family, going home starts to feel like a seemingly huge effort. Renting a holiday home so people can visit you in one place, instead of you travelling to 20 places, means you can also find ways to have a real holiday, too.

16. Call your mother more

If there was a resolution that deserved a permanent place on the New Year’s list, it would be keeping in better touch with family and friends back home. Technology today means no one has to miss out on grabbing a quick family recipe or frantically finding out how to cope with your toddler swallowing a coin.

18. Step away from the phone, tablet and TV

While keeping in touch with home is important, being present and active in your new environment is the only way you’ll settle in. Does being a modern expat make us less homesick, but more lonely?

17. Memorise multiple timezones

No one likes a call at 3am in the morning, not even your mother. This could also be the year you write a stern letter to your bank or telephone company back home – their 4am marketing calls aren’t much fun, thanks.

19. Join a club or create your own

The only way to meet new people is find new people to meet! Knitting, cooking, running, salsa, blogging, or language exchange – it’s hard not to find something you like.

20. Stop comparing

Life abroad is not necessarily better or worse, just different. There are so many small little differences to discover – and even adopt as your own – but it’s hard to cherish these through a cloud of complaints. You might have to bag your own groceries or sun-dry your laundry, but even the worst experience can be turned into a riveting story when you go home.

And no matter how many times you mentally convert and compare prices to back home, they’re still going to cost the same when you buy them in your new country.

21. Discover the secret to packing the perfect travel suitcase

Rolled or folded? Casual or dressy? Warm or cool clothes? No matter how much you prepare, there's always half a suitcase of clothes that you couldn't fit in or didn't wear, although you have already mastered how to fit a week's baggage into a carry on.

22. Go easy on yourself

You've already made the colossal move abroad but it doesn't end there – often the realities of expat life are far less glamourous then people back home imagine. There's language and local culture to learn, immigration battles, overcoming small expat fears, and trying to fit in. Don't be too hard on yourself – or your host country – if you have a bad day. It gets easier every day, and a little less overwhelming.

May 2016 be your best year abroad yet!

Feeling adventurous?

Try new food

Travel more

Experience a local festival

Learn more


Photo credit: Chris Nener (thumbnail).

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