Over the years, I have taken time in trying to understand the concept of moving (traveling/migration) to a new location and being able to blend in as a ‘local’ in the shortest time-frame possible. In most cases the approach differs per location, even as much as in the same country or in a different country/continent. Traveling is not new to me and before I turned 16 I had lived in more than 16 states in my country of birth for a minimum of a month and had attended 4 schools (pre-school and high school). I was constantly moving because of one of my parent’s job. This was an adventurous experience for me at the initial stage but as time passed I started getting ‘burned out’ from this nomadic lifestyle. The only stability in my life would eventually come when I got into undergrad. Where I was to be rooted at for the next 5 years.
By the time I became a teenager, lasting friendships were no longer a norm for me, I had gotten used to constantly moving or being left behind by newly-made friends who experienced similar migration patterns as me. Hence, I had come to the conclusion that at a point my friends or I would eventually depart thus signaling the end to the union. This was particularly heartbreaking. Irrespective of my reality, I had perfected a skill which was the ease at which I made friends. I did not know it was a skill until when I got into undergrad and realized within a week I had made so many friends, with whom I would go on to share my best experiences of university life.
A couple of years later after undergrad, I traveled to a new country to pursue postgraduate study. I found South Africa to be quite diverse in its population. The differences in cultures and the diversity of the population hit me hard and my ‘expertise’of making friends, which I thought I had mastered deserted me so expeditiously. I had to frantically un-learn and re-learn new cultures, languages and importantly ‘slang’. Even though I had gotten accustomed to not making stable friendships, however, I had become acquaint to having ‘people’ around me. In the following weeks, I would eventually make new friends and indulge in a new experience in South Africa. With these new friends, I would explore and learn more about my new locality.
After postgrad, I got a job that moved me once more to another country on a different continent, and this time, English was not the official language. Nothing I had learned or read prepared me for it. I felt like a stranger, ended up in series of awkward situations while trying to endure a ‘cultural/cuisine’ shock. It was a whole new game, this has motivated me to put together a very short and summarized 6-point guide I think could be helpful to anyone traveling or migrating to a new place. This is not a ‘golden guide’ but it will either buttress what you already know or add to the what you don’t.
- Learn the language and slang: This is most crucial in a location where the official language isn’t a language you’re fluent/knowledgeable of. Because activities as trivial as purchasing from the grocery store, using the public transportation system or seeking assistance with directions will become a mission. A friend of mine recommends that using the Michel Thomas Method is very helpful. It breaks down the language learning process into very simple segments making it almost impossible to forget whatever you learn. I am also yet to get onboard with using it but from online reviews, it seems to be a promising solution for basic language learners.
- Prepare a survival kit: This could be but should not be limited to a kit of toiletries or snacks that you are familiar with. Nothing sucks more than getting to a new place and not having enough time for understanding the locally available products/food that can be added to your list. Also, if you have any allergies, it is advisable more importantly that you stick to products of privy experience. However, prepare to indulge in the cuisine of your location, the food teaches a lot about a people’s culture.
- Buy lots of books: This is not compulsory if you are not a book lover. But it certainly saves you from awkward situations. Rather than staring at the person opposite you in the public bus/train when you run out of chat topics, you can simply indulge in your books.
- Research your new location: Nothing sucks more than not having any preliminary knowledge of your destination. If you are lazy like me, the least you can do is to find out ‘how to find your way to your hotel/home/telecom store/grocery mall’. This isn’t really important if you are visiting or moving to a country where you speak the local language.
- Act like a local: In order not to fall victim to the preying eyes of petty thieves, it is important to have a poker face (not grumpy) like that of a ‘local’ but still put on a smile. In addition, do not be afraid to ask questions from strangers except if you do not feel comfortable. In most cases your worry might be valid.
- Travel and explore: It is pertinent to explore your new environment. There is a huge chance that you will run into fellow newbies and with the company, navigating a new environment becomes less tedious and much more fun. To enjoy the fullness a culture, explore the fullness of a city by visiting markets, museums, galleries, historical sites etc.
In conclusion, alluding to a previous article “In the beginning was…”, I reckon it’s the responsibility of every human to partake in this complex but enlightening action of physical migration a.k.a travel. Nevertheless, I have fully accepted my life as a nomad and believe this is just the beginning. Consequentially as a result of a nomadic lifestyle, there will be missing out on possibilities of stable friendships (maybe not with the use of social media), family celebrations or birthdays and sometimes even on love (relationships). The life of a nomad could surely be very solitary if you do not find someone who understands the ‘what and why’ of this chosen lifestyle.