International life and business coach and American expat in France, Mundey Young shares her tips for integrating into your new life in France.
Moving to a foreign country can feel daunting at first. For many, France has proven to be a more difficult move than some other countries. Learning a language, how to make friends, culture, and replacing your favorite recipe ingredients are all challenges we face as expats. But there are certain things you can do to integrate faster.
As an American Expat myself in France, I have learned the hard way how to survive and make the best of my life in cheese land. I have learned so much from my mistakes and you can too. Let’s look at a few of the main things I learned that you can apply to your own life.
Developing a Sense of Belonging
When it comes to feeling like we belong in a place that feels foreign to us, we have to begin within ourselves first. Arriving at a new location and longing for acceptance will always magnify whatever insecurities that we may already have. Even the smallest perception of ‘rejection’ – like the ‘rude’ woman at the bakery – can ruin your day.
That’s why knowing yourself is so important for integration. First, we have to become secure within ourselves, accept ourselves, and be confident in what we have to offer the world. If we don’t have this, we will give our power away looking for people and society to tell us we are OK and acceptable.
To connect, we have to stop taking the French behavior so personally. There could be a million reasons why someone was seemingly rude to you, that may have nothing to do with you. Sometimes it might even have been a simple misunderstanding or cultural difference.
Knowledge is Power!
Start observing how people around you connect. To feel confident and secure we have to inform ourselves before diving in. Knowledge is power! So take some time to observe the local culture. Are there certain groups you feel attracted to? Have you explored any local or expat groups that can connect you with others?
Maybe there is a sport or dance you have been wanting to learn. Use the internet or visit your local Mairie to explore local activities and discover the culture. The more you understand how and why the French act the way they do, the easier it will be for you to integrate.
I know, I know, this may be at the bottom of your to-do list when moving to France. But learning the local language will make your life SO much easier. Learning French feels very difficult when people are constantly correcting you or giving you a big question mark when they don’t understand your accent.
But remember baby steps! Listen to podcasts, download French apps on your phone, or find a chat buddy. The more you try, the easier it will become. You will also begin to care less about what people think about you and get on with your daily routine.
Read our article on Learning French: the Best Apps, YouTube Channels, and Other Resources for more ideas.
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
If everything we’re doing is new or unfamiliar, we are going to be uncomfortable. But if we mentally prepare ourselves before these new foreign or uncomfortable situations, we’ll be able to manage our stress, anxiety, and insecurities much better.
Measure Your Expectations
For a lot of people, moving abroad and missing our connections back home is a very real issue. Keep in mind it probably took you a lifetime to build those connections. Because connections take time. Make sure to have realistic expectations for new connections. We have to learn to be open and give our relationship to this country and its people time. We don’t want to give up, shut down, and withdraw before making the effort.
Invest in Your New Life Overseas
When it comes to integrating into a new country, we have to ask ourselves how much are we willing and how much can we invest to really get to know this country. Most of us living abroad want people to be interested in us, where we came from, and why we are there. But how much have we invested in doing the same? To be absorbed into the culture, to have people feel like they can relate to us, we have to be invested in the process both ways. Ask yourself to honestly answer these questions:
- How much have I really invested in learning the language?
- Do I understand the non-verbal language of the culture? Their values and beliefs?
- Do I understand their sense of humor?
- Do I understand their history? What shapes their ideas and behavior?
- Am I current on the local news and events?
- Do I understand what their bank holidays represent?
- How does their government work? What was the society built on?
- How and why does this system work the way it does?
- What is the slang? What are their expressions?
The more we invest in the culture we are in, the more they will do the same. To be able to relate to one another, we have to first understand one another. How much do you understand about France? This is a relationship and you have to invest in it like any other.
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