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Whether you are digital nomad or working a 9-5 job, living in a foreign country is a completely different experience than taking a quick holiday. Upon arrival, a giant self-realization seems to hit you — “wow, this is my new HOME” — no more comforts or familiarities you once took for granted. Depending on where you relocate to, this can consist of different foods, activities, customs, languages, and/or social norms. I strongly feel that when we travel, we become the outsider looking in. We take in new experiences + cultures, embracing the people we meet, but maybe not staying long enough to FULLY absorb ourselves in it. For me, time-constraint traveling is about quick relationships, trying the best restaurants, and dancing into the wee hours of the night on a Monday (if you are like me and love to dance!) But what does living abroad for an extending period of time (at least three months) REALLY feel like? Let me explain.
Back in 2017 when I decided to travel for a month through South America, my trip was based on sight-seeing, over night buses, new foods, trying the best local cocktails, and living on pure adrenaline. I had an absolute BLAST — probably one of the most impactful moments of my life. Traveling really does open your eyes to living life through a different lens. When connecting with others from other countries, the knowledge and conversations you exchange is beyond priceless, not to mention getting to know a foreign place with other travelers. I cannot stress how visiting “different” places than what you are used to is beyond impactful. And 9 times out of 10, you catch the travel bug and cannot wait to plan your next trip! However, for me personally, when I made the decision to live abroad in Chile (and now Bali!) my journey started out quite differently than my whirlwind, adventurous month exploring four countries.
At first, moving to Santiago, Chile was tough. I knew only one person, I had a new “home” that was different than my one bedroom apartment in LA, and I did not know ANY Spanish. It was quite a learning experience to navigate around a brand new city, look for work, and adapt to a different way of life. Living in Chile was more slow than my last traveling experience, and I had to get used to a foreign place actually being my home. I was not in a hostel situation with other remote travelers, and if I wanted to meet people I had to make an effort to put myself out there.
I am not going to lie, I felt a bit lonely the first week or two. While my new room mate was nice (we are now very good friends), I still felt a bit out of place. An American girl living in Santiago — never thought I’d say that! But I was anxious to make Chile my new home.
New to the Language? Enroll in a school or find a tutor!
Since my level of Spanish at the time was zero, I enrolled in a four week intensive Spanish school. This was one of the best decisions I’ve made in Chile. Immediately, I was with other people who were both new to the city and trying to learn the language, and also with Chileans who were teaching me how to speak! The school provided fun, cultural events and getaways for us, and I was able to connect with both expats and Chileans. (I studied at ECELA Santiago - highly recommended!)
Work Cafes + Co-working Spaces
Also during my first month, I got hired to work with a start-up company through Start Up Chile. This opportunity was a life saver for me. For those who are digital nomads who are looking to move, I highly recommend joining a co-working space. The co-working spaces give you a sense of a work environment, while connecting you to like-minded people. There are many perks to co-working such as meet-ups, workshops, and weekend excursions. If co-working spaces are not available to you or out of your price range, check out some FB groups or local cafes that are known for co-working. This is a great way to see more of the city while working hand in hand with others. Now, in select countries, there are co-living situations. Two popular companies being: Roam and Outsite.
The Power of Facebook Groups
Another HUGE tool for living the expat life is Facebook. I cannot stress enough how important Facebook is for those both traveling and moving to a new country. There are some fantastic FB groups where you can find any information you might desire about the particular place you are living in. One group that has greatly helped me is Discover Chile. These FB groups are quite easy to find — just through one simple search.
Explore Your New Home
While I was in Santiago, I was fortunate enough to explore Chile. By seeing other parts of this magical country, it brought back my sense of travel and wanderlust. I feel very thankful for the opportunities presented to me while living abroad. I was lucky to travel with some new friends I had met, both expats and locals. There are ways to travel around inexpensively and easily — hostels, buses, shared rides, and advice from your local friends (to name a few).
Make Friends with the Locals
While it is comforting to hang out with other expats, make an effort to connect with the locals, wherever you are! I have learned SO much from my Chilean friends - and realized how much we actually all have in common. Yes, while the language barrier is apparent at times, this obstacle just pushes you more to learn the local language and connect on a deeper level. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and into a new culture! My Chilean friends have taught me so much. I have also greatly improved my Spanish through my friends.
Join Meet Up Groups
Join a group! After a few months getting settled into my new Santiago home, I joined a workout group to meet more people and adapt a consistent work out routine. Here is when my friend group expanded (and helped me learn more Spanish!) My class was only in Spanish, and I became very close with both my trainer and others in the class.
There were also some great events every week in Santiago — such as language exchanges, stand up comedy shows, and an improv group. By putting yourself out there, you will not only become involved with the community, but meet people with similar interests.
After a few months, Chile was more than a place to live but my new home. By experiencing some hard times and set backs, I had the chance to change and grow. I also have had some of the BEST experiences in Chile, and my time there is so dear to my heart. I truly feel as if I am a different person for the better.
I am also fortunate enough to say that my friends are from all over the world — Chile, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Australia, London, Sweden, Mexico (to name a few). I simply could not imagine my life without my group.
So if you are looking to move to a new country, and this is your first time doing so, be prepared for CHANGE and embrace all the emotions that come with it. I am currently in Bali for a few months going through the new transition myself, with flashbacks of my month in Chile. Please be patient and easy on yourself. Living a life in a new country is the most rewarding experience you can embark on, but know that it can take some time. Practice grounding techniques and journal — more tools that have helped me feel more at home! Allow yourself to receive and be open to ANYTHING. You will be astonished at what the universe brings to you. <3