When I wrote my earlier post, I did it to celebrate my 10th anniversary of living in Belgium, and I never imagined how many people would feel connected with my story. People that, like me, left their countries to start again, but also people that are already in the process of moving abroad.
I decided to write a second part and share my experiences during my integration process along these 10 years. Since the idea is to provide enough information, I asked to my friends to help me answering some questions related to their Integration process.
My intention with this article is to provide you a guide to prepare yourself for a new beginning.
Please, adapt it to your own situation and BE OPEN to learn from others 🙂
Let’s start from your mindset… because all your fears and frustrations during the process will be mostly based on what you BELIEVE and not on what you ARE or CAN DO.
Regardless of the reason to move, everybody pursue a BETTER life. Thus, for sure:
- You want to be ACCEPTED: have new friends, have a family, meet new colleagues
- You want to be SUCCESSFUL: have a job, start your business, complete your career
- You want to feel @HOME: be comfortable and integrated in your new society
Be aware that you come to a new country… new people… different behaviors. Even when the culture is not so different than yours, people react in different ways than in your country. Example: two (neighbor) countries and same language: Guatemala & El Salvador (is ok, go to Google), you should think they are ALL THE SAME, but they’re not. I can feel the difference interacting with people at social and professional level.
LEARN HOW PEOPLE THINK AND BEHAVE AND BASED ON THAT ADAPT YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Keep in mind that you are not the first immigrant in the host country and Local people might also have their own expectations. Because of they had a “bad” experience with other immigrants that doesn’t mean that it will be the same with you, right? But they don’t know that yet. Thus:
IS YOUR JOB TO LET THEM KNOW WHO YOU ARE
Even though (we) immigrants come with “empty pockets” to start a new life, I don’t know why some people come with the idea of RECEIVING… What will I get? What will the Government do for me? Listen:
YOU ARE NOT HERE TO RECEIVE BUT TO GIVE… AND GIVE FIRST!
I understand that in your country you had a name, a life, a career… But ALL that you did in the past contributes to your personal assets. Here, nobody knows you and you have to build that name again. How?
Along the process, you will be disappointed or frustrated and it will be very easy to attribute it to your status of “foreigner”. Let’s be honest… I don’t know any country where EVERY SINGLE immigrant has failed… If at least ONE could make it: YOU can do it too, right? Thus:
DO NOT USE THE LABEL “IMMIGRANT” AS EXCUSE
If I have to choose on what was the fuel that helped me to move forward on this process, I should say: CURIOSITY. Every step I made was a new world to discover… like kids, even if they are afraid, their curiosity is bigger than anything else. Thus:
LET YOUR CURIOSITY TAKE YOU ALONG THE WAY AND MAKE IT EXCEED YOUR UNCERTAINTIES AND FEARS
Starting the Journey
Ok, let’s move to practicalities.
These are two of the questions I made to my friends:
- What were your biggest frustrations during the integration process in your new country?
- How did you overcome them?
Their answer was the same as mine:
By far, this has been the biggest pain in my process… and still is. I will not go in detail on this because it deserves a Part III :). But I advise you the following, if you are going to learn the host language: INVEST IN YOUR EDUCATION… In money and in time!
When I came to Belgium, the first thing I did was to inscribe myself in the Dutch course. It was expensive and intensive, I learned a lot in a very short period. But for some reason, I decided to switch to another course: cheaper (almost free) and less intensive… Bad decision! The other students, immigrants like me, had no commitment, they had lower level of education and had no ambition on their future. Their idea was to learn enough to survive and find “a job”. I didn’t feel comfortable, so I went back to the previous school (btw: University of Antwerp).
Do not underestimate the cost of your education. Remember: is an investment in your future!
Don’t make that face… believe me: weather matters!
By principle, I’m not a winter person and even though Belgium is not an extremely-cold country, to wake up and see the sun every day is more a privilege than a fact. However, I’ve learn to appreciate the different seasons (also from shopping point of view) and contemplate the beautiful landscapes on the streets and parks during the autumn.
Check the weather (in advance) in your host country and be prepared. If it’s something different than what you are used to:
GIVE YOURSELF THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN ABOUT THE NATURE
Different weather… different activities… different sports… be open and enjoy!
Being isolated is part of the process. I know! You miss your family, your friends, your colleagues… But as I said in my earlier post, to build a new relationship requires TIME and DEDICATION.
BE PATIENT! Remember one of the mindset above. People behave and respond different than you: learn how they are and don’t try to change them… accept them.
One of my friends advised to look for a hobby, inscribe yourself in a course or do some volunteering work. In that way, you meet new people in a relaxed environment, you learn their customs and who knows… maybe get some new friends 😉
FINDING A JOB
Focus on what you want to achieve. If the biggest obstacle to find the job YOU WANT is the language, then LEARN IT!
Don’t put the label “Discrimination” on every attempt you make. Unless there is a CLEAR indication of discrimination during your interview or selection process, there is no such a thing. Then is your profile, your language skills or something you might be doing wrong. If so:
- Ask for feedback to the same company that rejected you. They will tell you.
- Or look for help of a professional (coach).
I did both, and I got interesting feedback to improve my process.
If you were effectively discriminated… They made you a favor: you don’t want to work with someone that doesn’t respect you. Right?
One more thing: check in advance the formats for CV/presentation letter in local websites and adapt your current documentation accordingly.
By car: If you drive, check in advance if your current driving license is accepted. If not, you have a homework to do (Exams required? Documentation to study? Driving schools?).
Public transportation: every transport institution provides general documentation (train, tram, bus). Ask for it or download it from internet. Another way: ask to locals or your classmates.
CUSTOMS & FOOD
Go to the local markets and watch their products. Try THEIR food.
Watch TV and take a look to the local-popular TV shows, even if you don’t understand. Observe what makes them laugh, you can get closer to their culture via the humor.
I would say: GET INVOLVED
- Anything you want to investigate is on Internet, you can do it at any time.
- Keep contact with your local embassy/consulate, they can guide you on legal things or even connect you with some people when you need it.
- EVERYTHING you need to do/investigate: make a list and PUT IT IN YOUR AGENDA, if is not there, it will not happen.
Stay on your way
Here are two more questions I asked to my friends:
- If you had the chance, would you move to another country to start again?
- What advice would you give to the new (or potential) immigrants to facilitate their integration process?
To the first question, apart from one person, everybody said: YES!… I would do it AGAIN!
Keep in mind that ALL of them had frustrations on the way, and even though, they still would do it.
Advices?… pick one:
- Don’t forget your roots… who you are… where you come from…
- Be open to learn
- Respect your new country and follow their rules.
- Never give up!
- Don’t rush, play the long game
- Be patient
- Be prepare… it will not be easy!
- Accept the differences on others
- If that is your dream, take the decisions that get you closer to your dream and make it true!
- Don’t be the victim… take responsibility of your life!
I want to thank:
- To all my friends that contributed with their answers on the realization of this article.
- To EVERY SINGLE PERSON that has helped me on my integration process along these 10 years, specially: my husband and my mother in-law (mi suegra)… Believe me: they never give up!
Dedicated to all those who are in the process of moving abroad… Success!!!
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Hasta la próxima,