Stepping into a foreign territory is no easy feat. Be it a new office or relocating to another country, there will be the inexplicable feeling of uneasiness that comes with going beyond our comfort zone. Here are some ways you can get quickly acquainted with your new environment to prevent feeling out of place for long.
Gain as much experience and knowledge as possible
Customs and traditions
Every environment has its own culture, and the sooner we understand how this new system works, the sooner we can integrate it. You wouldn't want to wind up doing something accidentally offensive and live with the consequences of making a bad first impression, would you?
Notice anything unusual, from gatherings in the pantry on Thursdays to removing their shoes before going into a house. Ask why they do such things, then follow their lead. The goal is to respect their traditions and customs, which is most prominently demonstrated by listening, understanding, and doing. Keeping an open mind will help you to be more comfortable absorbing new pieces of information, which will then reduce the shock of stepping into an unfamiliar environment.
Of course, you could choose to research their culture and practices (if those are accessible online or if you leverage your connections for insider news) beforehand. As long as you display the willingness to learn, people will generally be happy to guide you along.
Native languages / language barriers
One of the most significant barriers to learning about a new community is the language barrier, especially if you're traveling overseas.
Asking your way around as a tourist is much less daunting than finding help in the office, which may require you to know technical terms in that foreign language and find a colleague who is patient enough to understand you.
Communication errors can really hinder the quality of your work, and you surely don't want to make any dire mistakes on your first day. According to the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASAS) of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), over 70% of the first 28,000 reports received stemmed from miscommunication (Drury et al.: 2005).
Hence, it is best if you did some research or attended an intensive language course prior to traveling abroad. Not all of us may have jobs with implications as serious as mistakes in literal rocket science, but it undoubtedly pays off to converse fluently with those around you. Platforms such as Duolingo allow you to practice basic vocabulary with other learners online as well!
Of course, if you had to learn a language on very short notice, you could opt to find a friend who knows that language fairly well to be the mediator while you pick up new phrases and words at your own pace. Don't worry if that's not an option, though– 1.5 billion people in the world speak English, of which more than 1 billion use it as a second language. This means that the chances of you bumping into a non-native English speaker overseas are relatively high!
One thing is for sure: you're guaranteed to be at least bilingual at the end of your long work attachment or holiday, so that's a plus!
Socialize with the people who are familiar with that environment
Assume the best of people
Talking to strangers can prove to be challenging for introverts or people with social anxiety. What if they laugh at me behind my back? What if I run into someone with bad intentions? What if they ignore me?
Stop. Think about how the situation will play out if you were to ask it in an environment you're comfortable with, such as in your old office, in your hometown, or towards your family members. Then, imagine you reaching out in the exact same way, but now in that new environment.
Most of the time, being uncomfortable is a self-inflicted consequence. There is little to no reason why locals or your new colleagues will refuse to entertain you. You may also look at it from their perspective: if you met a tourist or had a new staff member join the team, would you dismiss them if they came to you for help?
That is not to say that you won't meet individuals who roll their eyes, click their tongues, or just walk past you for a variety of reasons: they are too busy to pay attention, didn't understand what you mean, too tired to mentor newbies, or simply didn't hear you. In any of these cases, just approach someone else. After all, there are many others (the entire office, town, or even city) that you can talk to, so don't get hung up on it or get discouraged from reaching out!
If you are given opportunities to work with your new colleagues or explore other countries, it is guaranteed that you will make acquaintances and even friends in a few weeks. Make small talk with those around you and just be yourself.
Talk to a wide demographic of people
This is especially applicable for those going overseas. An easy way to meet new people is by participating in free events or joining interest groups. Google offers a list of ongoing public events and non-profit organizations with a single search. Facebook also allows you to connect with whatever interest group appeals to you. The last way is to rely on word-of-mouth; ask those around you if they know of any opportunities to learn about the country.
According to the New York Post, Americans have made an average of six new friends by attending virtual gatherings during the pandemic. In physical events, where your exposure to unfamiliar faces skyrockets and interactions become more personal, this number has the potential to double or even triple. The more you go to these events and ask questions, the more you learn and be comfortable amongst locals.
Have a safety blanket
Someone to fall back on for help/ be a listening ear when you need it
Stepping out of your comfort zone is no easy task. This is why it's better to take small steps, preferably with a plan B. Your plan B could be to: call your best friend and rant about how you're settling in, hole up in your hotel room for the next week, or spontaneously write to your long-lost pals. Essentially, whatever makes you comfortable and at ease.
Plan Bs can be particularly helpful when you feel the effects of rejection. Did your new boss berate you for not knowing something? Did you feel left out because everyone around you is in their own clique, and you're too shy to 'cut in'?
Talking to a trusted friend or family member can open you up to other perspectives– maybe your boss was having a heated argument with someone else and turned their anger onto you, or maybe those other people were afraid to intrude upon your personal space!
More importantly, your close ones have known you for years. While you're drowning in a sea of emotions, they may be the voice of reason that lays out the facts and gives you solid advice on how to move on. They may tell you to keep asking questions, perhaps directed towards your coworkers instead of the boss, since you'd never learn if you don't ask. They may encourage you to make small talk with maybe one other person when they're alone, instead of trying to join a clique, and even reminisce about the first time they met you.
After all, these people know you best, and they know that you getting rejected may not entirely be your fault.
Occasionally do the things that comfort you
If you're not one to confide in others, you can turn to your daily self-care habits to cope. Put a nice cup of tea on your office desk every morning. Play your favorite music when you're touring the streets. Do whatever makes you feel happy and lifts your spirits. After all, no matter where you go, you're still you on the inside.