Thriving in a Foreign Land
Fundamentals to making the best of your new environment
Living in a new city is an experience that everyone should try at least once in their lives. In my last blog, I spoke about finding balance by moving to a new city. I have been living in Paris for the past 6 months and as much as I love the city and my new life here, there have definitely been some growing pains. For anyone contemplating a move to a city and culture foreign to them I wanted share a few tips on what I have learned so far.
Fundamental 1: Know who you are and your limits — Be Realistic
I have lived in NYC my entire life and even though I would be open to country life, I know that probably isn’t in the cards for me (at least right now). When choosing my new location, I wanted to be able to basically have all the things that were available to me in NY, but somewhere else. Saying that, I honestly didn’t admit to myself how much I needed city life until very recently. A few weeks ago, someone I met during my travels said to me, “Well, Paris isn’t the only place to live in Europe; why don’t you move to Malta?” Granted this was a love interest at the time and I should have softened my response, but it just came out like word vomit — “What in the hell am I going to do in Malta?” It was in that exact moment when I realized what was in my subconscious all along — I wanted (maybe even needed) to live in a cosmopolitan city where I could enjoy all the luxuries of a big city, but enjoy my life a little bit more and not have work consume me — I wanted and needed some freedom, which I knew I was not capable of giving myself in NY. Living in Paris, I have realized that I don’t need every single little convenience in NY — in fact, the only thing Paris and NY have in common is that they are both cosmopolitan cities. The culture here is very different in MANY respects, but for me what truly resonates is the fact that people put priority on their personal lives, which has been something that I had been deficient in for quite a long time. I firmly believe that when making the first move, the city you choose should be somewhere you are going to be comfortable living so you are not having a bad experience fresh out of the gate. Be real with yourself — Give yourself a chance.
Fundamental 2: Push yourself out of your comfort zone
Yes, I know I just spoke about being aware of your limits, but that is specific to the basic criteria of whether you will have the ability to thrive in your new home or if you are setting yourself up for failure. I found that an essential part of changing your environment is taking full advantage of your new surroundings. The lovely thing about living in a new city is that you get to reinvent yourself and be the person you really are and not the person people expect you to be. It allows you to explore your persona a little. My advice is to have a little fun with it — what is the worst that can happen? You find out you really don’t like something? Instead, think about the best-case scenario — you may discover something new about yourself that you truly enjoy.
Firsthand example — I am an introvert by nature, but by putting myself in a different environment, I kind of had no choice but talk to people if I wanted to make friends in my new home. As much as it was a mental struggle for me at first, I have found myself having more real conversations and forming stronger relationships with people, not the superficial ones that I used to have because I cared what people thought about me. Even though I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable with starting conversations with new people, I feel that it is easier than it was months ago and somewhat refreshing — I now spend more time going out and mingling with new people versus spending my time watching TV or being too involved on social media. Don’t get me wrong — I still love my alone time, but I actually enjoy attending events now versus dreading them. Now I’m usually one of the last people to leave because I am having such a good time.
Another personal example I want to share involves taxes — don’t worry, I won’t bore you and I promise there is a moral to this story. I hired an accountant when I started my own business because I was afraid that I would somehow mess it all up. Instead of educating myself and dealing with my fear, I relied on someone else to do them for me. This year when my estimated taxes were due, I had a freak-out attack because I couldn’t get a hold of my accountant and they were due that day, so what did I do — I figured it out myself. This instance made me realize not only that it was easy, but that I had become too reliant on conveniences and had lost confidence in my natural abilities. This really was an eye opener for me and helped me identify other areas of my life where I took the easy way out and had other people do it for me just because I could. It wasn’t the part about having other people do something for me that bothered me, but the fact that I convinced myself I was incapable of doing it. Sometimes allowing yourself to breathe a little gives you new perspective.
Fundamental 3: Explore
My favorite thing about Paris is wandering around — real wandering, not going to all the tourist traps on the top 10 list. I have basically made Paris my playground and I discover something new everyday. Sometimes I treat it as a game — “What am I going to find that is new?”, “What am I going to learn that is new?”, “Who am I going to meet that is new?’. I look at each day as an opportunity not only to grow, but also to discover my new city and things I like doing. I know my lifestyle is a little different since I work remotely and I do not need to be in an office everyday, but I do challenge you go take a different path that deviates from your usual routine is. My favorite thing is walking down streets I haven’t gone down before to get the same destination. If it is something you cannot do during the weekdays, I highly encourage doing it during the weekend. It is something I never did in NY and it is something I wish I did — the things I have discovered in Paris on a daily basis are special and endless. If you don’t feel comfortable just wandering around randomly, another option is finding places on instagram by searching hashtags based on your interests.If you are more adventurous and want to surprise yourself, just search your city or country’s hashtag and pick images that resonate with you — it really is a great way to explore your new city and find some local gems. Also, if you choose to live in a European country, the possibilities are endless — you can be in another country in just a few hours! I caught the travel bug years ago and it has opened my eyes to many things and is one of the reasons that made me decide to take the leap and live somewhere else.
Fundamental 4: Find Your Passion
When I first moved here, I started prioritizing my life and what was important to me. When people used to meet me in NY and ask me what my hobbies were and what I liked doing during the weekend, my staple response was “Museums (because it was the right cultural thing to say), seeing my friends (because it was better than saying I got overserved after a long week at work) and trying new restaurants (because if Seamless ever had a loyalty program I would be their VIP).” The truth is I didn’t really have any hobbies….well, I did, but they kind of disappeared after being in the corporate jungle for most of my adult life. My hobby was work — what did I do when I got home from work? Work. What did I do when I first woke up on the weekend? Check my work email. When I arrived here, I re-evaluated what I missed doing and never had a chance to do when I was working and consumed with all that is NY. Three things immediately came to mind — Writing, playing the piano and painting. I have gotten to two out of the three, which is a win in my book since I was basically at zero, six months ago. When I’m not working or when I get a creative rush, I open my laptop or pull out my notebook at a café and let it all flow. I have found it cathartic and also life changing — I feel that it is a part of me that had been dormant for a very long time but has finally been reawakened. Whether or not my book will be published is another story, but it makes me happy and that is all that matters. Secondly, I have also begun to explore my musical side. Anytime I feel stressed or need a break from work, I start playing the piano. I am a novice, by all meanings of the word, but again, it helps me relax. I haven’t been able to find an instructor I have meshed with, but have been teaching myself off YouTube videos in the interim. As the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way.
Fundamental 5: Embrace Being Alone… then network
Moving to a new city is hard for most people — You are basically leaving your old friends and your network behind. For whatever reason, this was never a concern for me. I remember one of my close friends saying, “Wow Ab, I give you a lot of credit. I wouldn’t be able to move halfway across the world and do what you are doing. All my friends are in NY. Everything I know is NY — you are really brave.” OK, I never really thought of myself as brave before, but everyone I meet says the same thing to me. I just knew that I would be fine and build a new network. I have also been a loner in all sorts of ways so I was always okay not ever having set plans. I never understood (and still don’t) the need for some people to surround themselves with people all of the time or constantly have their calendar booked. Reality is, I usually had plans but having them were not a priority for me. I guess I’ve always had peace with myself and okay being alone so really didn’t see moving to a place where I hardly knew anyone as a big deal. I really think that if you are one of those people who needs 24/7 friend activity, you should try spending some time alone and become one with yourself versus trying to fill your calendar — you may find yourself happier and get a better understanding of what is important to you.
As much as I am a proponent of alone time, you will also want to make new friends in your new city. I am not going to sugarcoat it — meeting new people you actually want as close friends is not an easy process, especially in Paris, because of the culture. Luckily, I did have a friend who was already living here and we have become closer friends since we are both expats and NYC transplants — Believe me, it has done a wonder for our speed in learning French….NOT!! My advice is to build off your existing network. Even if your friends do not live in your new city, they probably know people who live in your new city. I have met a lot of great people this way and through the power of social networks, moving far away from your original home base has never been easier from a social standpoint. If your personal network cannot help you out, I highly suggest joining an expat group — they have many different ones available in most countries. I will dedicate a future post to meeting people in a foreign land because there are endless options, but honestly don’t look at meeting new people as a deterrence to taking the leap — be comfortable with yourself first and know that everything will work out in the end.