Why Expats Should “Go Local”


Moving internationally can really take the steam out of your engine. You’re exhausted, overwhelmed and overcome by all of the newness around you. New language, new culture, new people, new house, new everything. It is difficult to remain focused amongst all of the NEW during those first few months. By the time the dust settles and you finally feel less overwhelmed, you might begin actually missing things from home.

There is a great temptation to import your old life into your new one—one that was comfortable, familiar and most of all, not foreign in your very foreign environment. Here is why you should resist that temptation and instead, go local early.

By “go local” I mean do all of the things that locals do. Learn the local language(s) (it’s difficult, I know), eat the local foods, celebrate the local traditions, partake in the local culture. Immerse yourself full into your local surroundings. The sooner you do these things, the sooner you will be able to enjoy all that your new home has to offer. If you remain all alone on your imported, comfortable island that you built for yourself by eating only familiar foods, you won’t get to discover new favorites.

I know an expat who paid a large fortune to have amazon.co.uk ship all of her paper goods (e.g., toilet paper, tissues and paper towels) because “it was familiar and they were better products” than what she could find locally in her European city. She wasn’t roughing it somewhere without running water, she was just dissatisfied with the softness of paper against her precious rumpa.

There is always a transition period where you are constantly comparing “what was” to “what is” but the sooner you stop comparing and start embracing the change, the easier (and cheaper) your daily life will become.

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If we hadn’t taken the approach of going local early, we wouldn’t have discovered how difficult cross country skiing is or just how beautiful winters can be in Sweden when you ice skate across the sea. We wouldn’t have discovered our favorite cafe in our Stockholm neighborhood when we only lived there for a few months. My husband wouldn’t have taken Swedish parental leave after our daughter was born or had those wonderful six months at home with her.

Our children wouldn’t be bilingual in Swedish if we hadn’t sent them to local preschools. We would have missed out on so many enriching activities that have really shaped who we are today. We didn’t know we would be staying longer than 2 years when we first moved here but we embraced “living like a Swede” from Day 1. As it is now, not being fluent in Swedish, we are missing out on amazing opportunities that are offered only in the local language. There are tons of community events—photography courses, lectures at the library, butterfly discovery at the botanical gardens and so much more. In order to get the most out of your location, you need to go local.

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Consider yourself a curator of the local language and absorb as much as possible. Even if you only plan on staying for a short while, make it a worthwhile experience. If do you end up staying longer than originally planned, then you haven’t wasted energy, time, or resources resisting the world around you. What do you think? Have you “gone local”?

Read more about parents who have “gone local” in Knocked Up Abroad.

Knocked Up Abroad

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