Very Subjective Expat Survival Guide – Part 2

Since my Polish post didn’t spark many clickthroughs yesterday (obviously not everybody finds online discussions on ‘cookery’ and “Polish Women Making Bigos Trouble” amusing), I’m back today with some more suggestions on how to make a foreign land less foreign, and without and before leaving your home.

As simple and obvious as it may seem, an often-forgotten step is:

Rule No. 2: Work your connections.

Sounds like one of the slogans thrown at jobseekers everywhere, but it’s very applicable to normal life as well. If it takes an average 77 people (or something like that, don’t remember the exact number quoted in “What Color is Your Parachute” which was my Bible for a few months) to help you land a job, it takes probably the same amount if not a bit more to help you find a new apartment or running buddy in a foreign country. Of course I am making these figures up; but from experience I know nothing can make up for the personal touch when you are trying to make a dint in what is a daunting experience: a new life somewhere you’ve never been before.

In our Facebook era, there is no excuse for failing to inform your 397 ‘friends’ of your impending move across the globe. Don’t be shy – ask around. People are willing to help in any way they can. There is no substitute for having the basics of a support system in place before you move; people can provide you with valuable information on where to rent an apartment or maybe even have a friend looking for a tenant.  Given the 7 steps of interconnectedness six degrees of separation (I always get my numbers wrong), it is highly unlikely that you will end up in a place where nobody knows anybody who could help you.

Example:

The bustling street I first lived on in Brussels...

When I moved from Warsaw to Brussels on short notice (a week after I received an internship offer), my Polish friend living in Slovakia put me in touch with her Slovakian co-worker staying in Brussels at the time for a short-term assignment. A few days later, I was living in a serviced apartment in the center of the city.

My lovely new Slovakian friend not only put me up in the spacious spare bedroom, but refused all mention of payment, introduced me to her colleagues and raclette, and patiently bore my .somewhat confused company until I found my own nest (10 square meters of a room which fit no more than a bed and a desk).

The view from my 10m2 kingdom on the other side of Brussels

 

While in that same Brussels, my aunt in Austria emailed me to tell me that she had just reconnected with the daughter of a French couple that she had aupaired for 30 years earlier (!). This daughter was living in Brussels and was happy to meet me and include me in her social life. In a bizarre turn of events, it even turned out that she had already been corresponding with me (I had applied for an internship at her workplace while still in Poland and she had had to turn me down…). And when I was moving at very short notice (this time 2 weeks’) to France, her friend’s goddaughter in Lyon had already offered to take me in for my first weeks there. This is only one example of extraordinary connections and generosity lurking under the surface that I have repeatedly experienced.

People all over the world like to help; let them.

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3 responses to “Very Subjective Expat Survival Guide – Part 2

  1. Couldn’t agree more! Thanks to this kind of network we finally managed to get domicilie in Brussels!

  2. But you see, you see – domicilie is more important than our comfy nest in the middle of Flanders! I’m like sooooo offended!

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