Integrating & Embracing Your New Country Is Essential For Every New Expat South Africa – These Tips Will Help Make It Easier
Moving to a new country is a daunting experience. This is even more true when you’re moving to a place which differs vastly from the home you know. And now matter how mature or well adapted you are, you will undoubtedly still find it difficult to assimilate into your new home.
But there are a few things you can do to make your move a bit easier and to fit into your local community easier.
Why assimilation is important
Most people try to shrug off the emotional and physiological consequences of immigration, but if you ignore the effects of moving abroad it may be to your detriment.
Psychologists have found that most people who move abroad suffer great bouts of depression. This depression is further compounded by the fact that immigrants feel reluctant to complain — they don’t those left back home to think they’ve made mistake or that they are unthankful for realising their dreams, and they don’t want new acquaintances to view them as weak.
On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale (The Social Readjustment Scale), however, there are a few events forming part of immigration which places people at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, which means they will suffer long-term consequences of the move.
- Marital separation (an unfortunate byproduct of immigration at times): 65 points
- Retirement (many individuals immigrate close to retirement): 45 points
- Business readjustment: 39 points
- Change in financial state: 38 points
- Change to a different line of work: 36 points
- Change in number of arguments with spouse: 35 points
- Large mortgage or loan: 31 points
- Change in responsibilities at work: 29 points
- Children leaving home or separation from children: 29 points
- Trouble with extended family: 29 points
- Spouse beginning or stopping work: 26 points
- Beginning of ending school or studies: 26 points
- Change in living conditions: 25 points
- Revision of personal habits: 24 points
- Change in work hours or conditions: 20 points
- Change in residence: 20 points
- Change in school/college: 20 points
- Change in recreation: 19 points
- Change in religious activities: 19 points
- Change in social activities: 18 points
- Moderate loan or mortgage: 17 points
- Change in sleeping habits: 16 points
- Change in number of family get-togethers: 15 points
- Vacation: 13 points
These event ratings exclude those experiences on the scale which aren’t directly related to immigration (which means your total score may even be higher).
According to this scale:
- 11 – 150: you have a low chance of becoming ill in the near future
- 151 – 299: you have a moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future
- 300 – 600: you have a high risk of becoming ill in the near future
To make your move easier, it’s therefore crucial that you and your family try to fit into your community and normalise your lifestyle as soon as possible.
Rand Rescue has curated a few tips to help you and your family become part of your new community and country.
Learn about the history
If you want a better understanding of your new home, its people and they way different groups interact, it’s essential to school yourself on the country’s history. As you will be well aware as a South African, there are often unspoken traumas, animosities and cultural cues which one may not grasp as an outsider.
These things only become evident as you learn how the current climate of the country has been shaped by its past — through wars, conflicts and persecutions, through ceasefires, treaties and cooperation, through cultural and religious identity.
If you’re to grasp the social values, cues and interactions you will find it far easier to interact with the local people and show the necessary respects implicit in the local communities.
Playdates with the kids
Our children often embarrass us through their lack of social decorum and conformity, but it’s exactly this lack of inhibition which allow them to interact more freely with others and to discard the tact which adults require in their daily interactions.
Of course you will not want to shrug off those necessary social norms and jump into social life willy-nilly, but you may want to leverage this childhood innocence to your advantage. Organising playdates with your kids’ new friends and their families is a great way to ease yourself into social life without feeling pressured to ‘perform’ or feeling the anxiety of making a distinct impression.
When socialising with these friends’ parents or caretakers we’ve a choice whether to remain guarded and interact in a purely superficial way or whether we want to seek deeper social connections. It’s a less invasive way to get to know the locals than adult get-togethers may offer.
One of the easiest ways to fall in love with your new home is to experience what all the fuss is about first-hand. It may not be viable from a financial perspective to travel extensively as soon as you’ve arrived, but try to see as much of the country as you can.
Start locally by visiting historical sites, museums and heritage sites. Visits the parks, forests and other natural gems scattered throughout your new world. Once you have the funds available, organise some weekend getaways to the most prominent tourist spots to get a better grasp of your new home and learn why people adore these spots.
Use platforms like Lonely Planet to seek out places which are off the beaten track — enquire with the locals about places only those ‘in the know’ may frequent.
You will learn a great deal about your new country while simultaneously indicating to your local community that you are willing and eager to love their country the same way they do.
Food is an integral part of any culture. Moreover, where other cultural activities generally require a grasp of norms and sensitivities, your adventures into the local cuisine usually will not require such extensive knowledge of the culture. There are sometimes a few small cues you should be aware of — like which hands to eat with, who eats first and how some dishes are eaten — but most locals will be happy to share this information with you.
You can get to know the local cuisine by visiting restaurants and markets, but one way to make the interaction even more memorable and meaningful would be to organise a local get-together. Give your neighbours a taste of South African food, and invite them to bring the dishes they most adore about home. Share stories about the dishes, where they come from and what fond memories you have, sharing these meals with family and friends back home.
Join the club
Hobbies are crucial for managing psychological stress and trauma. Hobbies are a great way to meet new people, occupy your mind and relieve some of that post-move anxiety.
Consider what your primary concerns are: do you want to meet new people? do you want to learn a new skill? Do you want to enhance existing skills? Do you want to shed some of that stress through physical activity or are you looking for something more relaxing?
Most local hobby clubs are easiest to find on community social media groups, or via word-of-mouth. It’s important that you therefore join groups on Facebook or other platforms focused on your area or enquire at work, schools or local churches.
Another platform which caters to geo-specific groups is Meetup, an app which allows people to join clubs, causes and get-togethers focused on their interests. Whether you’re a keen hiker, wine-taster or like to do some coding or photography in your spare time, you’re sure to find a group which suits your interests and personality.
Learn the lingo
If you’re moving to an English speaking country, you’re probably feeling confident that you’ll be able to join conversations quite easily, but many immigrants have warned that you should be cognisant of local slang and vernaculars if you’re to join local conversations without blunder. There are hundreds of English dialects across the world, and from a linguistic perspective it’s important to note that they aren’t any wrong or right dialects as each one is an accepted form of the language.
To learn your local vernacular, it’s good to sign up for one or two English classes with a local tutor.
If you want to learn a foreign language, there are a host of free and paid-for tools available to help you. On your phone you can use apps like DuoLingo, Memrise, if you’re online, check out Coursera, EdX or Udemy courses. There are even some Universities which offer free language tutoring, whether online or in person.
It’s all about the politics
Gran may have always said that there are three things not to discuss at the dinner table: religion, politics and sports, but when it comes to moving abroad, gran may not be right.
If you want to get a proper grasp of the place and its people, there’s simply no way that you can ignore the political state of a country as well as the intricacies of its political past.
It’s also good to understand both the subtle nuances and vast differences between your home country and new home. Does your new country have a democracy and is it direct, liquid, totalitarian, representative or liberal? Does your new country have a parliament like South Africa? Do they have states with their own legislation? Is it a monarchy? Does your local community support communism or capitalism? How does the legal system work? Perhaps it is a confederation?
These are all important things to learn as the political system and system of government will also affect the rest of your life: what rights you have, which basic free services you can expect, who’s responsible for fixing potholes, how voting occurs and what you can expect around borders.
Gain insights from the locals, but also take a look at the local government websites and platforms like Wikipedia for a better grasp of the politics.
Find your fellow saffas
Meeting up with fellow South African emigrants in your new home is a good way to both keep ties with home and meet people in your new country. Socialising with saffas will also help you gain a perspective on the life and culture of the local community from the perspective of someone who’s walked the walk and knows how it feels to be in your shoes.
There are several ways to locate South Africans abroad:
- Speak with friends and family and hear if they have friends or family in the area you will be living
- Join expat groups on platforms like Facebook
- Join expat sites like Internations, Expatica or Expat.com and find your South Africans in your new home
Talk to someone
As we have mentioned before, immigration can easily spark PTSD in individuals if emotional and physiological trauma goes untreated. It’s imperative that you stay mindful of your own responses as well as those of your family and identify some of the markers for trauma:
- avoiding certain people, places or platforms
- sleep disturbances like insomnia or excessive sleeping
- flashbacks or recurring memories
- development of sudden phobias like fear of flying, going out of the house, darkness, spiders,
- sudden lapses in memory
- substance abuse
- aching bones or muscles
- reckless or self-destructive behaviour
- excessive or irrational spending
- changes in personality, likes and dislike
- loss of faith or religious changes
- social withdrawal
- inability to trust
- avoiding household activities
- change in sexual behaviour
There are many other symptoms, and these can mostly only be identified and treated by professionals. If your healthcare allows, it’s good to get a counselor or psychologist in your area as soon as you’re settled in and book a few sessions for each family member.
If this isn’t possible, there are several free tools you can use to help you cope. Group therapy sessions at churches or public venues are generally free of charge and allow you to discuss your issues with your peers. You can also make use of free counseling and therapy services online or via apps.
Whichever course of action you take, just do it! It will be far more beneficial to deal with these issues once they’re identified than it is to treat them in hindsight.
Move your money
We often hold onto our old lives for good reason — trying to keep a part of our history and heritage alive and top-of-mind. And this is, of course, absolutely necessary. But this rule does not (and should not) apply to everything. An easy way to make your life in your new home easier is moving your admin locally. Moving your bank accounts and investments to local banks and brokers not only makes life much easier but it will also demonstrate to prospective employers, business partners and investors that you are dedicated to your new life abroad.
Rand Rescue can help you with this aspect of your integration. Talk to us about your needs – whether opening accounts, exchanging Rands for local currency or if you’re interested in financial emigration. Simply leave your details below for a free consultation and we’ll get the ball rolling.