With the new school year starting soon, and us settling into our fourth year in Vilnius, I've been thinking a lot about being an expat. I thought that you may also be embarking on your first experience abroad, or maybe you're moving to a new city. So, I decided that I'd share a few ideas to make your adopted city feel more like home.
Settling in as a new expat can be difficult and tiring but if you employ even a few of the ideas on the list below, I bet that you'll start feeling more comfortable very quickly. I even think this list would help if you are moving to a new city or moving back home! For me, Vilnius didn't start feeling like home until sometime in year two, and thinking about it, by that time, I could have checked off 6 items on the below list. By the start of year 4, I can happily check off 10 (number 11 doesn't apply to me at this stage of my life -- but we do have a cat!).
1) Hang art on your walls
I know, I know, you are likely in a rental, but hanging at least a few photographs or pieces of art will help you to feel more at home. To avoid making holes in the wall (and to not have to purchase tools!), buy wall tacky. It will come off easily and won't leave any marks when you move out.
Accumulating stuff is exactly what an expat avoids, but being able to add a little of yourself into your apartment really helps to make it feel like home. We've just added a table cloth and a couple of cloth toy bins to our apartment and it has really increased its coziness.
3) Get discount or member cards at favorite grocery stores
We didn't do this for the longest time! No idea why as it is free. Now we finally get discounts and points.
4) Make local friends
Ok, this one is easier said than done, but meeting someone local can open up a whole new view of your expat home. I've found that you can meet people through blogging, local Facebook groups, classes (like pottery), at cafes, and more.
5) Get a library card
Getting a library card was the first thing on this list that I did. Now I have three library cards: one for the public library, one for a private art library, and one for the university library. This is really essential if you want to save money on purchasing books or if you are a freelancer looking for a quiet space to work.
6) Become involved
Many cities have expat clubs and international women's groups, which you can find online. Other events can generally be found on social media or tourism board websites. For example, here in Vilnius, there is a community clean up that takes place each year around Earth Day. I'm going to make sure I participate in 2017.
This is really the point that I'm really going to work on this year.
7) Learn the language
I've really failed on this one this time around, but learning the language can be very rewarding and open up other avenues for meeting people and becoming involved. When I lived in China, it was essential for me to speak Chinese. My time there would have been extraordinarily different had I not learned the language.
8) Shop and cook local
It is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when I speak with other expats or travelers who ONLY eat food from their home country. Sure, I sometimes miss my favorite dishes from home, and I've been known to hit the import store on occasion, but I've met people who won't even try the famous local dish (it's fine if you don't like it, but you've got to try it at least once). So much about a place is in its food.
9) Join local Facebook groups or mailing lists to learn what's going on
Social media, particularly Facebook, is a great way to see if anything cool is happening near you. For example, in Vilnius, I've joined Vilnius Expats, Vilnius Area Online Yard Sale, and Play Group in Vilnius (just search them on Facebook if you'd like to join). Additionally, I follow my favorite restaurants and cafes as they frequently post events. I also send out a monthly newsletter where I share events happening in Vilnius, so feel free to subscribe!
10) Start a garden or grow a plant
I've been wanting to have a small herb garden for a while now, but every time we travel, our plants die. I've now resorted to planting a few Crassula (a genus of succulents) that will hopefully survive our travels.
11) Get a roommate
This isn't a practical option for me at this point in my life, but when I lived in China, I had up to four local roommates. And it was awesome. They showed me the best restaurants for noodles and Thai food, as well as woke me up at the crack of dawn for karaoke birthday parties.
In Vilnius, instead of a roommate, we have a cat!
What do you do to feel at home in your adopted country? What point are you focusing on this year?