For the past 25 years of my life, I have mostly been staying in Singapore, a place where I know it’s home…truly. Besides experiencing life overseas during my semester-long exchange studies in Canada two years back, I never expected myself to buy a one-way ticket abroad to live in a foreign country for ONE YEAR!
\(☉ o ☉)/
It’s already been three months since my voyage to Paris for work, and life so far can be described as one helluva roller coaster ride – both physically and emotionally. It was only when I came here that I realized I wasn’t just packing my belongings with me – I was essentially packing my life. The things I used to do and the people I had around me were now thousands of miles away, and I was bracing up for the world ahead!
Living in another country has added perspective and depth to my world view. It felt as though I have emerged from a cave as I opened my eyes to a whole new world. With every new experience comes with amazing new discoveries. It’s not just the idea of meeting new people and adapting to their culture – it entails a few important life lessons I hope to remind myself of as I continue this journey. And at the same time, I hope to share some practical tips of staying abroad that has served me well in my transition.
1) Start from Ground Zero
Moving to a new country is no doubt exciting and thrilling. But having to re-establish everything from scratch like finding a new house, setting up a bank account, and registering for a residential permit can be a tough nut to handle. This is especially so if you’re in a place where the language is absolutely foreign to you. Essentially, you are building a new life, and it can be a great opportunity for you to reinvent yourself or to refocus on what really matters to you.
Here are some of the fundamentals you should aim to establish while settling in a new country:
a) Learn their language and culture – it can be as simple as knowing the words or actions for greeting others, e.g. la bise (kissing on the left and right cheeks lightly) which is an integral part of the French meeting etiquette, saying bonjour (good morning) or bonsoir (good evening) to people in the shops/elevators/at the workplace, etc. It would be beneficial if you can at least familiarize with the commonly used words of the language, or else you will always have to rely on this familiar-but-not-always-helpful friend of mine – Google Translate. Besides attempting to learn French from a book that my kind colleague has passed to me, I’ve been trying other platforms like an app, e.g. Duolingo, and podcasts like Coffee Break French via Spotify.
b) Searching for your house – thankfully it didn’t take long for me to find something I really liked with a convenient location surrounded by supermarkets, pharmacy, bakeries (j’adore – I love it), and a short walk to the subway station. All of the above are important considerations on top of finding a neighbourhood where you actually feel comfortable and secure to live in. It’s also relatively crucial to view the apartment first before renting it for the long-term – you don’t want to get the shock of your life when you move in on day one.
c) Organizing your home and lifestyle – this means setting up the basic necessities in your apartment (e.g. internet), arranging how you want your things to be placed, buying groceries, doing household chores, etc. From my experience, start by keeping things simple and stick to the necessities. Since I started my weekly grocery shopping, I have not always made the right decisions in buying the appropriate amounts – there were many times I overestimated, and I had to dispose of the mouldy food…sobs. Thankfully, there are apps like YoRipe that offers a great solution for smart food inventory management, and it includes recommendations for recipes of simple dishes based on what you have!
d) Know the ins-and-outs of the transportation system – it can make a significant difference in terms of helping you cut down on unnecessary cost, saving time and giving you a peace of mind. My initial few days in Paris were a nightmare, considering I went to one of the largest underground stations in the world (Châtelet – Les Halles). Adding the complexity of different exits, connecting lines, and the massive human traffic – it was a recipe for being in the Bermuda Triangle, where I was lost for a good 20-30 minutes.
Transportation tip: Figure out how the ticket pricing works and whether there’s a bundle or weekly deal that helps you to save money!
2) Get Used To Being Uncomfortable
Not knowing how to navigate the city alone or having to make decisions and plans for yourself can be a little uneasy for someone who’s never had the experience of doing so. As I was used to seeking a second opinion on buying things or places to visit, it wasn’t second nature for me to do everything on my own, which goes to show how dependent I was on others back at home. It was also common for me to listen to my colleagues speak French every day while I probably understood only 5% of the whole conversation that could last for up to 30 minutes.
The one thing that gets me the most is while taking the metro and not being able to comprehend the announcement regarding train delays, leaving me to rely on my instincts and observations of the locals around me to put the pieces together. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for this chance to live independently that has helped in building my self-confidence and accelerating my personal development. At the end of it all, you will look back and realize you were capable of doing so much more than you thought you could.
3) Actively Expand Your Network
Putting myself in a totally new environment meant having to build new relationships with people whom I’ve not met before – people from very different cultures, backgrounds, ideals and beliefs. Apart from meeting new colleagues at my workplace, I’ve tried expanding my own network through organized social gatherings that are available on sites like Meetup – a great platform for meeting others based on interests. Being an introvert by nature (or so I think), I prefer one-to-one conversations to really get to know the other person, and it’s more meaningful for me since I hope to make lasting connections.
At the beginning, it can be tough to get out of the comfort of your home to interact with the new world around you. Trust me, I’ve gone through 2 weeks of pure isolation before I dragged myself out to meet others. The best experience I’ve had so far is meeting internationals from different countries through Couchsurfing, which is good for travellers looking to stay with locals or to hang out together with people in your vicinity.
In addition, it was fascinating to have reconnected with a French friend, Syl, whom I met in Canada during my exchange studies two years back. In fact, he shifted a year ago to Paris for work from another city in France. Since I recalled that he was from France, I immediately reached out to him to meet up! Indeed, life unfolds in unexpectedly fascinating ways that we can never imagine, and it is through putting ourselves out there that we get to experience such serendipitous moments.
4) Be Open to Anything and Everything
“The world is your oyster.” When you are willing to step out of your bubble to explore the possibilities in life, you will be wonderfully surprised by what life has to offer.
There will be many things you come across that challenge your usual way of seeing or doing things, but the benefits of adapting and embracing them may very well outweigh the fear and risks that you associate them with. Here are some of my notable encounters since I’ve shifted to Paris:
1. Attended a few international exchange meet-ups with random people – one of which I got to connect with the organizer, who then invited me for dinner with some of her close friends.
2. Met a Spanish traveller through one of these meetups and invited him to stay at my place. Since then, I’ve met people from over 14 over countries, and counting.
3. Booked and went for my first free tour in Paris, which was recommended by one of the guest I’ve hosted. It’s a great way for me to learn more about the historical events that shaped the city and I started going for these tours whenever I visited a new city.
4. Started my first solo travel on a budget during weekends, where I’ve had my fair share of taking overnight buses to places like London and Amsterdam. Sadly, that comes at a price of sacrificing my much-needed sleep.
5. During those travels, I’ve met locals that offered to host me at their houses, slept on their couches and got to know more about their hometown and the local way of living through them.
6. Lucky to be invited by my friend to watch a live football match in Paris, and though I don’t usually follow the sport at all, I decided to go anyway and enjoyed it thoroughly!
And the list goes on and on; to be continued…
5) Develop New Habits and Goals
If you have been a prisoner to some undesirable habits of yours back home, you may find it easier start afresh, and eradicate them in a new environment. This will be a good time to develop some good, new habits to improve your well-being. It can also be a goal or passion that you’ve always wanted to pursue. For me, having breakfast has always been a challenge since I’m used to waking up late and skipping it in a rush to go to work. But since I’ve moved to Paris, I’ve made an effort to wake up earlier to prepare and have breakfast.
I’ve also started exercising more frequently – at least 4 to 5 times a week, switching between outdoor runs and static workouts at home. With the extra alone time that I have now, I am also actively reading books (on NLB mobile – free for all Singaporeans) and learning to cook some interesting dishes in the evening when I get home.
6) Remember to Stay Connected With Your Loved Ones
Wherever you may end up in this world, you will always have your loving family who cares and wishes the best for you. Don’t forget to connect with them on a regular basis to let them know how you’ve been doing! They will be excited to hear about your stories and probably have a peace of mind knowing you’re safe and sound. I’ve always been asked whether I miss Singapore since I left, and my answer to that are the people from home, especially my family, friends and cutey ningz. I try as much to video call home or vice versa on a weekly or fortnightly basis, and stay in touch with some of my close friends.
Living abroad has its own pros and cons, but it serves as a good reminder to constantly take on new opportunities and experiences in life that broadens your horizons. In fact, it’s perfectly fine to not have everything figured out because at the end of the day, know that things will work out eventually. There will be tough times where you will feel helpless and lost, and there will be good and memorable times you will feel grateful and blessed. If you’re planning or intending to move abroad for a long period of time, I assure you that it will be one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever have.