This is my summary of what if anything I would suggest to do/or would have done differently approaching my 1st year abroad.
1. Learn the language right away:
Just rip that bandaid off… do it. You will want to eventually, and its way worse the more you wait… It’s less cute when you have been here a year and you ask your bank representative “Can I have elephant?”. Even for a short stay this is worth your time and in addition will help you understand the culture (as language is often closely tied to cultural view). This is part of your epic story abroad! I discussed this in my last post… Plus, I like you so much… here jump to the good meaty advice parts about how to approach learning the language. Basically start speaking and learning the language (and only that language) right away, no matter how short or long you will be there.
2. Research living needs, visas & important stuff yourself:
I know its boring… I know you may trust your employer/university/family to help you out with this. But who is best to take care of your life but yourself? You can ask for their help but in the end you need to research, double check, & triple check all facts. Go to the closest embassy (even if the closest is far away) and then call a couple others around your country until you get conclusive answers (a rare beast!). Contact locals you may find on social networks. Contact future colleagues. This is especially important when it comes to visas… living needs… apartment finding… contracts/your rights as a worker… etc. Do your research and peer review it and you will be happy for it.
3. Take care of it before you come:
Piggy baking on the last advice, your life is not permanent here until you have your visa… so know you cannot get settled until then. In addition, there will be important things you need to settle in your home country pre- travel, so just get it done. Flying back to settle it is expensive or dealing with it abroad sometimes impossible/stressful. So get your visa and important stuff settled before hand.
4. Come early, give yourself time:
This may not always be possible. But come early and resist starting work/school right away! The difference between us and some of our colleagues is we had a month to settle our affairs in the US and then a week once we got here. We spent that week looking into apartments, settling our bank account, getting to know our neighborhood and recovering from jet lag… Meaning we had an apartment, where another colleague was staying at a hotel for a couple months… It will be hard for you to get this stuff done after you start work/school, so give yourself space if possible.
5. Meet as many people as possible:
Fraternize with coworkers, talk to your local baker, join some meetups or learn to dance! You will not feel like one of the people until you meet the people.
Plus it takes a village to raise an expatriate…
6. Find connection back home and in your new home:
Conversely… still take time for yourself. Nurture both sides: the new one and the old. You do not want to get to the point where you are burnt out AND homesick. Take the time to still call home when you can. Be okay with spending a Sunday in cleaning your house. Even if a temporary home, decorate it some. Basically find some regularity in the irregularity. Dumping a fish into new water will cause shock, same will go for you.
7. Go with the Flow:
Weird stuff will happen… be okay with it and learn. 95% of all weird/uncomfortableness/confrontations will be due to culture differences. Observe first before reacting. Once you understand the complete situation then you will know what to expect and when you need to stand up for yourself.