1) Establish your support group with other expats. They will be feeling a lot of the same things you are and will understand when you want to vent or just need someone to listen. At the same time, you can be a source of support for them. You will find other expats through your job if that is why you moved or your children’s school if you chose an international school. We hang out a lot with the other international families at the kid’s school. If these are not options, for example if your kids are attending the public school, then look online. There are countless expat groups out there that can be a resource for you. Monteverde is a small town, yet there are expat “hang outs” that everyone knows about through word of mouth, like burger night on Fridays at one of the local lodges and Frisbee on Saturdays at one of the international schools. Look around your new home town, and you will find similar expat haunts to find new friends and a support group.
2) Don’t just hang out with expats. Meet local folks. We live in a Tico neighborhood. We are the only “gringos” in this part of the hill as far as I know. I have made an effort to meet my neighbors and have already made plans to have a little brunch party later this month. So extend your circle of friends beyond other expats. After all, why would you make the expense and effort in moving to another country if you are just going to hang out with other Americans (or Europeans, Canadians etc)?
3) When in Rome, do as the Romans. This does not mean that you are going to compromise your value system and culture, but it does mean that you do need to assimilate to the local customs to some extent. For example, Ticos are very friendly. They say hello and talk to everyone on the street. We came from a big city where you may meet someone once and never see them again or where it could be dangerous to make eye contact with the wrong person. I went to the same grocery store for 8 years in San Antonio, but I only ran into a familiar face 4-5 times during that time. Here, I run into someone I know everywhere I go, whether it’s the grocery store, the farmer’s market, or anywhere in town. Chris and I are struggling with re-programming our children to say hello to strangers and become more interested in other people. At the same time, my children figured out very quickly that Tico kids are given a lot of freedom to go to the store and school without their parents. They very soon convinced me to let them walk to the nearby “pulperia” (corner/liquor store) by themselves, to which I agreed because they don’t have to cross the main road. This last weekend, Costa Rica celebrated its 192nd Independence Day. Our whole family participated in as many events as possible both at Creativa and in Santa Elena town. No matter to what country you move, you will find that you can mitigate culture shock if you adapt to local customs and become part of the community as soon as possible.
4) Find a restorative, invigorating activity such as running, yoga, or other forms of exercise. I was an avid runner before moving, and I have continued to do that here. Running culture is strong in Monteverde, so it has been a great way to get become familiar with some of the faces here. I have also started doing yoga at one of the hotels, which is very popular with tourists, expats, and locals. It doesn’t matter what it is, find something active and relaxing to do. Moving is a very stressful life event, and when you add moving to another country in the mix, the stress is magnified exponentially. You need to do something to relax.
5) Enjoy comforts of home every once in a while. I made mac and cheese for the first time after we had been living here for about one month. Fortunately, it is broccoli season so I served it with steamed broccoli and fresh fruit. This was a weekly dinner for us back in the USA. You should have seen the looks on my husband’s and children’s faces when they saw what was for dinner that night. It provided all of us with comfort and reassurance. Even though we have adjusted easily to the local diet, it was nice to have enjoyed a piece of our country of origin for that night. I try to make pasta every few 2 weeks or so. Pasta and cheese is more expensive than rice and beans and tortillas, so we cant have it all the time. But when we do, everyone is happy. You should try the same thing after you move. See if you can find the ingredients for your favorite meal. In Monteverde, the “Whole Foods Market” carries many specialty ingredients that are popular with the expat community. Eat at a nice Italian restaurant. Watch your favorite TV shows on Netflix or Hulu. What you are able to do will depend a lot on the resources of your new home, but with a little legwork you can do it.
6) Be patient and have a great sense of humor. Life will be totally different. Details are not the strong suit in Costa Rica for example, and you will often find yourself wondering what to do at school and community events. There are no yellow pages or websites (sometimes) to find the important numbers or information. Phone lines come down. Time is an abstract concept. Take a deep breath and say, “Pura Vida”. So what if you can’t find chocolate chips to make cookies? Set your priorities straight and enjoy the beauty around you. Ask your new friends if you need guidance and let go of the small stuff.
What have you done to ease the transition when moving into a new situation? Let me know in the comments below.