Newcomers Network Newcomers Kit
A practical tool to help communities, newcomers and seasoned expatriates make the most of their life in their current location.
Written by Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI
Founder and Director, Newcomers Network
2nd Edition published 25th June 2009
1st Edition published 8th September 2004
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
The information in this publication is Copyright © 2004 – 2017.
It is available free of charge thanks to the generous support of HSBC Bank who sponsored the initial research project conducted in 2004.
You are able to print the full kit and use it in its entirety or you can use extracted information in your own publications, but you must quote that it was written by Sue Ellson from Newcomers Network.
This publication is dedicated to anyone who has moved to a new location or returned to a previous one. May the new opportunities inspire you to embrace and enjoy the triumphs and the challenges. May the light of your experience and wisdom be shared amongst your new community.
The information in this publication is Copyright. You are able to print the full kit and use it in its entirety or you can use extracted information in your own publications, but you must quote that it was written by Sue Ellson from Newcomers Network. If you do quote from the publication, please tell us via email – info [at] newcomersnetwork.com
In July and August 2004, Newcomers Network conducted a Worldwide Online Survey ‘Moving in the 21st century.’ 541 people around the world completed 20 questions and this tool kit has been designed from the information collected as well as research and experience collected by Sue Ellson from September 1999 to June 2009.
This practical kit is designed for Community Representatives – locals living in an area who can help ease the transition in simple, effective and sustainable ways.
It is also for Newcomers and Seasoned Expatriates – providing them with some practical and accessible options for making a smooth transition in to a new environment, regardless of where you have come from or how long you plan to stay.
Comments and feedback are welcome at any time. This is a ‘Living Document’ – changes and editions will be made based on feedback and suggestions received from people like you…because locations, trends, technology and circumstances do change.
Definition of a Newcomer
A Newcomer is someone who has moved to a new location. It could be a distance of a few kilometres or many thousands of kilometres. A newcomer may have moved to the new location for the first time, or returned to a location where they have previously lived. This term includes moves made by people from intrastate, interstate and overseas. They may be a current citizen, a migrant, a refugee or an asylum seeker.
These people are called ‘newcomers’ because it is a transitory phase – they will not be a newcomer forever. Our research shows that this transition time is usually up to three years (but this can be significantly reduced if you utilize effective settlement strategies). Becoming a ‘local’ varies depending on the location – from six months to third generation – but most people would begin to feel well connected in all ways after 10 years in the location. The goal is to become an active citizen who enjoys their rights and fulfils their responsibilities in a cohesive community.
Section 1. Community Representatives
1.1 Priority Issues
1.1.1 Information requested
1.1.2 Unspoken issues
22.214.171.124 Existing community perceptions
126.96.36.199 Personal challenges
188.8.131.52 Resources required
1.2 Sustainable Options
1.2.1 Government and Organisation options
1.2.2 Local Newcomer Coordinators
1.3 Performance Measurement
Section 2. Proactive Newcomers
2.1 Priority Issues
2.2 Sustainable Options
2.3 Performance Measurement
Section 3. Seasoned Expatriates
3.1 Tell me something I don’t know
Section 4. In Conclusion
4.1 Our main message
It is common for individual communities to be represented by people who have lived there a long time. If a local person has not lived the ‘newcomer’ experience, then it may be hard to believe that the following issues are very real for newcomers.
The following information is suitable for people in Community and Administration Roles. It will provide you with an insight in to the concerns, needs and wants of newcomers so that existing resources can be utilised more effectively. Newcomers will then become effective citizens much sooner.
The most common information requested by newcomers relates to:
- Housing – somewhere to live
- Employment – finding work or setting up a business
- Education – suitable schooling and education options for children and adults
- Health services – doctors, dentists, hospitals, medicines, emergency care
- Essential services – electricity, gas, water
- Transport – public and private, road rules and licenses
- General services – banking, telecommunications (telephone and internet),
- Shopping – where to find favourite foods, ingredients, grocery items, clothing, white goods
- Social – new friends, going out, tourism, pets
- Language – people need help pre departure and on arrival
Naturally this information is also relevant for existing residents.
What is less well known are some of the other ‘unspoken’ issues:
- The different customer service attitudes and approaches in different locations
- The reluctance of existing groups to watch out for newcomers and give them extra attention in the initial phases (schools, clubs, networks, employers)
- The frustration experienced by bureaucratic rules and regulations or administrative delays
- The anger they feel when their international experience is not recognized
- The confusion created by returning to a previous location, especially after more than five years away
- Significant changes in personal safety – either better or worse. Improved safety is also difficult to adjust to, particularly for victims of violence
- The tendency to return to a previous location within two years because they have not settled well or found a reliable social network
- The lack of services that are understanding of the issues facing newcomers – some local people assume a certain level of knowledge that a newcomer may not have or they may use language or terminology that a newcomer does not understand
- The lack of services that are understanding of the issues facing newcomers – some local people assume a certain level of knowledge that a newcomer may not have
- The assumption that you are no longer a newcomer after six months and that you do not need assistance (similar to people who have faced bereavement)
- A lack of acknowledgement of the challenges of being a newcomer
- The assumption that all newcomers need the same service or should be automatically categorized according to their country of origin, religion, work etc
- The challenges of coping if they do not read, write and speak the main language
- The isolation they feel if they do not have regular social contact
- The fear they have of leaving their children in the care of strangers
- The constant desire for solutions rather than an effective strategy that they can use across issues and concerns
- The various expectation levels – most people moving short distances do not expect it to be as challenging as it is and some relationships have a ‘reluctant’ partner
- The anxiety created by living off of ‘savings’ until a suitable income is generated
- The grief that is triggered by the move (loss of friends and family) but also the unresolved grief that reappears
- The reluctance to associate ‘moving’ with the challenges they currently face
- The significant change in their identity – they become ‘unknown’ – from ‘hero’ to ‘zero’
- The difficulty they have finding new friends that they really relate to
- They do not seek professional assistance via counselling or therapy (paid, low cost or free)
- The overwhelming desire to taste the same foods and drinks to recreate a familiar experience (people can become ‘foodsick’ not just ‘homesick’)
- The high standards they have for their ‘new life’
- The comparisons they constantly make with their previous location/s
- The reluctance to use local transport options in the first instance for fear of getting lost
- The difficulty they face finding unbiased, reliable and confidential information at low cost (in time or expense)
- The lack of preparation accompanying most moves – particularly in relation to employment
- The reluctance to pay for newcomer related services and assistance
- The need to have their current finances safe and secure and a seamless transition from their previous location
- The difficulty of sourcing appropriate options for teenagers in transition
- The duplication of resources and yet the lack of easy access to them
- A lack of options for more introverted people and the traps of online social media
- A lack of privacy – most newcomers do not wish to be ‘labelled’ or identified when they are asking what they perceive to be ‘silly’ questions
Now that you have a general understanding of the issues that newcomers face, the following section is a ‘shopping list’ of options you may like to consider implementing in your community. You may find that some of these are particularly helpful, but as you are also aware of the unique nature of your community, you may write some of these off as useless! That is perfectly okay.
All that is asked is that you consider some of these options. They have been very carefully selected based on the survey results and experience. It is easy to say that ‘it is all too hard, we would have to do a full analysis before we go down that path.’ But perhaps there are options here that you can do today, right now – and you will know that you have started.
It can be as significant as changing your perception of newcomers. It can be as small as saying ‘welcome.’ Whatever you do, it will be a significant improvement – because you have taken the time to read and learn and every newcomer will appreciate the fact that you have made an effort.
Section 2 in this Newcomers Kit reveals options that individual newcomers can use themselves. You may already feel that it is up to the newcomer to make the most of their new life in their new location. After all you cannot make them happy, they must do that themselves.
However, think about how much easier it could be for newcomers. They need good strategies, you need good resources. It is not necessary to ensure that all newcomers have a personal, hand delivered, fully funded chaperone service.
But having a person on call and effective systems and processes suitable for all community members will ensure that everyone has similar access to equitable options.
Do not assume that implementing effective strategies will cost a lot of time, money or resources (financial or human). Regular and reliable is what counts. An ‘all care but no responsibility’ approach may sound harsh, but ultimately, each person must make an effort but instead of adopting a ‘do gooder’ approach, work out ways to share responsibility and provide opportunity, not welfare. Establish places where people can come for free and then facilitate the process, don’t take over. Most people need to feel as if they achieved the outcome they were seeking.
Each community has various levels of government that supervise its administration – national, state and local. National policies need to recognize all types of newcomers and reflect the overall direction that the country has chosen via their social, cultural and economic policies. This will be unique to each country and it is important to consider both the citizens within the country as well as those living outside of the country (often referred to as the diaspora).
State governments also reflect the general direction of a particular region and can provide a useful vehicle for coordinating local options as well as reporting to national decision makers. They can be a very useful information exchange point.
However, the survey and experience used here has shown that most newcomers gain most of their support at the local level. It is therefore critical that local programs are both strategic and coordinated so that an entire community can accept responsibility for the people who live there.
Traditionally, many of the people who start or seek sources of support related to being a newcomer are very much ‘in need’ themselves. What has also been found is that once their ‘need’ has passed, they are no longer interested in the issues of newcomers. The experience and knowledge they have gained is then lost from the public domain.
This starting and stopping on a regular basis wastes resources. The momentum for generating new programs and initiatives is often lost right at the point where it can be moved into a sustainable option. It is therefore essential that an appropriate central point is located within each local community so that the knowledge can be maintained beyond the newcomer ‘cycle.’ For the sake of this kit, the person could be called a Local Newcomer Coordinator (LNC) and there needs to be at least two people available for this role (in case one person needs to leave at short notice).
In Australia, this would be most appropriate as a full or part time paid role within a local government council. This would provide secular coordination support to an entire community.
In other countries, it may be appropriate to establish a local not for profit enterprise with a board of management consisting of various community representatives who would then pay the wages of an LNC.
Finally, within individual communities, like global employers, religious groups, ethnic communities, trade groups, networks etc, once again, a central LNC can be appointed (part or full time). Naturally it would be appropriate to link to other LNC’s within that community as well as in the community where the newcomers are located.
The other major considerations are language training and citizenship. Interpreters need to be available for people without local language skills and provision made for local language training. Citizenship can make people feel more at home, particularly if Dual Citizenship is available, but it is not a pre-requisite for successful settlement.
Local Newcomer Coordinators (LNC) need to be:
- someone with a ‘heart’ and a ‘head.’ What this means is that the person must be empathetic to the needs of newcomers, but beyond the challenges of the newcomer experience. Their intellect is required to keep up to date with local information, resources and events that they can recommend to newcomers – and they need the ability to manage this information in an effective and unbiased way. They also need to provide continuity so that when the time comes, they can train their replacement before passing on the role
- able to gather support from various community leaders. The ‘common denominators’ with the newcomer experience must be identified and informed about the resources that the Local Newcomer Coordinator can connect newcomers to. Organisations like real estate/property agents should have information on hand so that they can refer newcomers directly to the LNC
- able to publish relevant unbiased information online and keep this information up to date. General essential community information that is currently available for existing community members can also be translated into various community languages in printed format. The research does not support comprehensive guides in printed format – newcomers prefer to access more detailed information directly from people
- able to conduct regular research on local information. They need to attend local groups, networks and events, preferably as a guest, so that they can learn more about the formats and styles and meet the people that they will refer newcomers to. These representatives will then be aware and sensitive to the issues of a newcomer when they arrive. If they can distribute regular newsletters via email, including details of event costs, if childcare is available, local resources etc, many local residents would also be interested in subscribing
- able to source local mentors. These individuals will be representatives within the various local groups. For instance, if a newcomer is from a particular country, the LNC should be able to refer them to a local person with a similar country of origin that is familiar with the services for that community group. Newcomers do not necessarily want to connect with the same country of origin group, but these people are essential for the ‘transition time’ and even if they are not utilised, a newcomer needs to know that they are available. Other ‘local’ mentors, preferably community volunteers on a central ‘register’ would also be helpful – a possible ‘friends of newcomers’ group
- newcomers want to mix and meet with local people. But arriving at a function when you know no-one is challenging. If newcomers are going to be recommended to attend events, it is important that they be given the name of someone to meet on arrival so that they can be introduced to others and made welcome.
- expatriate communities and individual newcomer groups are valuable for the ‘transition time’ but it is essential that the coordinators of these groups understand that there is a high ‘churn’ rate – people attending only a few times and then not attending regularly once they establish other networks more closely related to their work, interests or passions. For this reason, coordinators of these groups need to be able to share intense short relationships and then let these people move on. Expecting people to remain a part of these types of groups for a long time, unless they are mentoring others, is unrealistic and not sustainable. On the other hand, if the person is remaining at the location for less than two years, it is common for newcomers to remain in this group and not develop other networks
- be prepared for people who would like to assist other newcomers. After some newcomers have gone through their own transition, they often like to help others. Encouraging these people to develop their ideas, mentor others or even start another newcomer group or service is vital. There would never be too many newcomer services because each would offer something a little different (time, location, format, people etc) so LNC’s need to encourage the development of additional groups
- due to the low repeat attendance of people to newcomer groups, it is important, to make these groups effective, to have them in a format that provides:
- low entry cost (not have an expensive membership fee to start attending – possible free entry for the first three events if not all events)
- low level administration (regular events at a regular time and location not requiring advance bookings or pre-payment and not in direct competition with another local newcomer/expatriate group date and time so that for people wanting to attend more than one event each month can do so)
- simple format – preferably social rather than ‘professional’ and informal
- variable timings – some during school hours as well as after work hours
- options to ‘pay for your own’ – arrive free, but newcomers pay for their own drinks and food
- usually held at least once a month and regularly promoted in local media so that people in the community can refer newcomers to the events because they are a consistent format (for instance, on the second Friday of every month from 6-8pm)
- whilst newcomer groups are suitable for communities with a high turnover of newcomers, an alternative option for communities where local people expect newcomers to join in with locals and local activities, is to provide newcomers with various options at the local level. A priority listing that does not list all events, but ones that would be particularly welcoming to newcomers, from all backgrounds, would be very helpful. If these events are run by local organisations on a regular basis, it would also be beneficial to list the organizers so that the newcomers can ask for them on arrival. It would be necessary to include a mixture of social, family, business, sports and arts events
- it would be very helpful to have local people who are happy to take newcomers on local ‘reconnaissance’ trips around the community. Taking them in their own transport and explaining local icons, precincts and sources of local information (libraries, internet cafes, tourist centres etc) – their personal particulars need to be verified
- neighbours should be encouraged to say ‘welcome’ when newcomers arrive next door. Offering to provide answers to questions is all that is needed
- newcomers do not remain newcomers forever. But it is important for local people to understand that it can be challenging, so promoting ‘newcomer friendly’ events can help raise the awareness of local people so that they can be ambassadors for their community. Local capacity building programs need to be highly visible in a variety of formats so that newcomers can easily find them
- many communities host ‘Citizenship’ Ceremonies, usually after a newcomer has been a permanent resident after a qualifying period of time. This ceremony could easily be expanded to include a welcome to all new residents. This will ensure that the new ‘citizens’ will remember their role in welcoming other newcomers, and newcomers can be prepared for the option of citizenship at a later time. These events can also be opportunities for local community representatives to come together on a regular basis and share information, ideas and opportunities
- sharing information opportunities. There are many ways for newcomers to share their stories and for local people to impart their knowledge. Functions and online forums that celebrate and embrace the experience of all people and facilitate these opportunities can save the development of negative perceptions and stereotypes
- encouraging the development of extended families. Quite often local people have had their loved ones move away, so pseudo grandparents, aunties and uncles can make themselves available for newcomers
- establishing online groups, tools or services so that the more introverted types can still access information (preferably anonymously)
Unlike many processes, managing the benefits of connecting newcomers to resources can be difficult. There is significant evidence that if newcomers are not supported effectively when they move to a new community, they can develop serious psychological problems, including depression. If existing resources can be effectively utilised, this saves the need for duplicate services just for newcomers. It is better to train existing providers to understand the needs of newcomers than to try and design services that match the various needs of newcomers.
Another significant issue is culture shock. Completely resourceful and talented people can instantly lose their usual ability to source solutions. They then appear very rude and disagreeable, complaining about minor items or the people that they meet. It is critical that they find someone that they relate to soon after arrival. They do not need a ‘best buddy’ – just someone that is ‘on call’ to answer questions as needed.
By considering the needs of newcomers, your community will cross several ‘sections’ of your existing community. The economic issues relating to population, trade and investment can all be facilitated by understanding the needs of people moving from other locations. Community capacity can be improved by increasing diversity amongst existing groups. With an ‘excuse’ to have a celebration, newcomers have the opportunity to showcase their previous culture, food and lifestyle with the existing community.
It is also important for the various initiatives to incorporate all newcomers – even those moving a short distance. Newcomers moving a short distance often find it more difficult to adjust to their new surroundings than someone who has moved a long way – because their expectations are entirely different. The research showed that someone moving to a very structured and involved culture found it easier to settle than to one they would have found very familiar – and this could easily be related to their expectations.
In fact managing expectations is critical. If your community has worked hard to attract a newcomer, business or investment and then the person finds a hostile environment, not only will they leave after a short period of time, they will also ‘report back’ to others that they did not find the community welcoming. As ‘word of mouth’ is so powerful, it is important to provide people with a realistic expectation of their new lifestyle so that they can be ‘pleasantly surprised’ rather than ‘easily disillusioned.’ Creating a good first impression is vital.
Local Newcomer Coordinators, who are often very visible within their local community, can be very valuable networkers, sharing information, ideas and suggestions across various sectors of the community. They will be able to identify duplicate resources, encourage groups to merge or collaborate and promote local initiatives and programs on behalf of the local council/enterprise or community that they represent. A personal interface can often be far more effective than written publications, either online or in print format – but a combination of all of these methods will ensure that your community will make the most of the opportunities that newcomers can bring to it.
Our experience has shown that most newcomers would like to have their current situation ‘acknowledged’ by the people that they meet. Not necessarily special treatment, but a simple ‘welcome’ would be nice – regardless of how long it has been since the move. Questions about ‘where are you from’ if your facial appearance is different or you have a different accent are a regular source of annoyance.
Many newcomers have declared that the moment when they felt ‘better’ after a move was when they found a friend. It cannot be emphasized enough the importance of finding this person, as soon as possible.
People who have moved for the ‘first’ time go from being ‘someone’ to being ‘no-one.’ The mirror reflecting who you are, to yourself and others, has disappeared and any unresolved issues (including past grief and loss) can suddenly resurface. Being able to talk to people who are willing to listen and share stories is critical.
Some newcomers arrive with unrealistic expectations. If it has been difficult to gain access to the new location, assumptions can be made about what will be ‘waiting’ upon arrival. Many newcomers who have moved short distances find it harder to settle than people who have moved long distances – again because of the variable expectations.
There appears to be a significant period of difficulty, generally between six and twelve months after arrival. If a friend has not been found before this time, newcomers can find themselves regularly in tears, unable to leave the house or suffering various stress related illnesses.
Whilst research has shown that most newcomers will find work within three months of arrival, many newcomers do not prepare for the job search process prior to arrival and do not seek paid assistance from career experts. It is not always necessary to pay for recruitment help, but you will need to market your skills in an appropriate manner to the local employers. For instance, it is more important to focus on how you can add value to the employer rather than focus on what you did in a previous location. It can take up to two years to return to a similar level position as your previous location if the employment market cannot relate to your experience (and you may need to go ‘backwards’ for a short period of time but it is vital to secure work in the right industry or organization and not digress to cleaning or driving taxicabs)
Newcomers generally only seek information on an ‘as needs’ basis – but it is often helpful to pre-prepare and utilise a variety of information sources. Many newcomers trust other people, and the research shows that the options of sending an email and making a telephone call have increased in popularity for newcomers needing assistance. To find information, most newcomers ask people they have met, use a local community website, search the internet using key words or look in a local printed directory. Printed publications are difficult to keep up to date and can be lost (and are not as ecologically sustainable).
Newcomers regularly assume that they are ‘new’ for around twelve months, but the research suggests most people would say three years. This is more realistic as it takes a long time to develop ‘automatic options’ in a new location – extended family and friends, trusted information sources and service providers, regular activities, rituals and celebrations.
Many newcomers develop a fascination for sorting out ‘problems’ but not learning effective ‘strategies’ that they can apply to various situations. The research indicates that developing new social, professional and personal development networks and expecting it to be challenging are better strategies than starting or continuing a hobby/sport/interest/course or learning more about the local culture and participating in local community activities.
Newcomers need to find information easily – and seasoned movers rate this very highly. Next on the list is having a person that can help you followed by being well prepared. Whilst this information is very effective once you have moved to a new location, don’t forget to enjoy your farewells and collect all of the necessary records and information before you leave.
Newcomers describe a successful move as when they can say that their new location is home, when their partner and/or children and they are happy in their new location and when they have good friends in their new location. Statistically, it is not as important to feel like a valuable member of the local community.
Many newcomers do not want to re-connect with people from the same country of origin when they arrive in a new location. However, these groups – of expatriates, newcomers, fellow countrymen and women, can provide a very useful ‘transition’ service to gently ease newcomers in to their new environment. It would be most practical to use these resources in conjunction with your other options at the local level – there is no point making it harder than it needs to be. It is not a sign of failure. Make new friends of all backgrounds and enjoy the familiarity of people from the same culture.
If you are moving back to a previous location, you may be surprised to find that it could be as difficult, if not more difficult, than when you moved away. This was a very consistent finding across all age groups. Watching eyes glaze over as soon as you start sharing stories or showing photographs can be a rude shock. To realize that you may need to create a new circle of friends, with similar types of experience, may be unexpected. It is important to realize that friendships change over time, even if you have lived in the same location.
Newcomers accustomed to a dynamic external environment can find a ‘slower’ environment challenging. Whilst a fantastic lifestyle is desirable, newcomers that have been accustomed to regular intellectual activity and without an opportunity to continue at the same pace, can find life stifling. In this situation, it may be necessary to make an assessment of the current opportunities, find out if there are existing or alternative options available – and seeking these out rather than trying to recreate a past experience. This may be the opportunity you need to source a new direction in life – or to re-evaluate your life to date. In some cases, you may decide to move again or return to a previous location. Once again, be ready for the challenges this will present.
Our research indicates that newcomers have received most of their help from people that have lived there a long time, people that have moved many times before and people with the same cultural background – not from people that are trained to help newcomers. People with local language difficulties secure most of their information from other people that can speak their first language (and unfortunately, they often receive mis-information).
If you would like to connect and grow in your new community as soon as possible, consider utilizing some of the following options. Remember that these are general strategies that once implemented, will help you overcome a variety of newcomer related concerns. For instance, if you have a friend, you can ask them your questions rather than try and work out where to find the information you need.
- introduce yourself to local people – and if you are invited out, make every effort to say yes (quite often if you are unavailable, a second invitation is not usually made. If you are genuinely unavailable when invited, make an alternative date and time to catch up in person before the conversation has finished)
- create new networks – social, professional, personal development. These networks have proven to be most valuable for newcomers. If you are going to visit these on your own, make enquiries before you go and find out not only who you can ask for when you arrive, but find out what they normally do and how they operate. You may even like to visit the location before your first function. If you are not comfortable with meeting large groups of people, consider other ways to meet smaller groups – book groups, local clubs well before a function starts, dinner groups or activities with small numbers (bushwalking, tennis etc)
- respond to people who extend a welcome to you. Whilst these people may not be your ‘first choice’ for friendship, they will be able to answer questions, make recommendations and help you maintain your confidence, which can be quickly lost, when you are in a new environment. Once your first friend has been found, others will soon follow. You do not need to maintain relationships with everyone you meet, but you need to start making them
- start your initial conversations in a light hearted manner. It is a good idea to spend most of your time sharing general information, perhaps asking a few local questions and only answering questions that are asked. This way you won’t overwhelm local people the first time they meet you
- consider saying yes to initial employment options, even if you would normally say no. It has often been said that it is easier to go from ‘a job’ to a ‘new job’ than from ‘no job’ to a job. If you start looking as soon as you arrive, rather than waiting until you are fully unpacked, then you will not have a gap on your resume. It is also a good opportunity to gain some local experience and if you view it is a ‘temporary’ option, it may provide you with a useful transition to your new location and a ‘warm up’ for your next role. Try and remain within the right industry or type of company that you would like to work for in the future
- review what you would like to do now that you are in a new location. It is a good idea to use a move as an opportunity to reflect on and review what you have done so far, and if you are heading in a general direction that you would like to continue. Perhaps, now that you do not have a full social calendar, you can start a new course of study, begin a hobby you have always wanted to pursue or enjoy some voluntary work for a local charity
- get involved. Most communities will welcome someone keen to learn, humble in their approach and willing to share what they know – provided they do not come in and try and convert the existing practices overnight. Find out as much as you can, not just about the closest city, but around the corner, in your local neighbourhood. Many newcomers will tell you that they know more about the local area than the people who have lived there many years
- be careful about the information you share with work colleagues. It is generally better to source new friends outside of your work circle, so that you can be confident sharing information without it reflecting on your work record. If you are in a relationship where you are the ‘newcomer’ and the other person is a ‘local,’ do not rely on your partner to provide the support you need. You will need to find your own friends as well as joint friends and not rely on them for all of your support – women need other women, men need other men
- if you are staying for a short term, some local people will be reluctant to form a close bond with you. Decide whether you can accept this or if you really do need to connect, you can tell people that you meet that you are not sure how long you will be staying. Circumstances can always change, so even though you have a ‘contract’ that states ‘two years,’ it is common for variations to actual departure dates
- although you may assume that only people from the same culture will understand what it is like to be in your shoes, you will find that many other people have been through a similar experience. Do not exclude these people from your life. They may need your support as much as you need theirs
- seek help if you need it. There is no shame in admitting that you find the new location difficult. Many communities offer private, confidential and low cost options and if you have moved away from a close knit family environment with many regular celebrations, gatherings and telephone conversations, it can be very difficult to feel comfortable in a new location – despite the best of intentions of everyone you meet
- ask questions. Your questions are not silly, dumb or stupid. Many other people have asked them before you. If you do not understand something and you cannot ask a question at the time, make a note to find out the answer in another way, that you feel comfortable with. Join a relevant online group and read other posts. Ask questions via online forums with an email address that doesn’t identify you. Make a phone call. Find out the details of therapists, counsellors or local religious leaders so that in a moment of ‘desperation’ you know who to ring, preferably someone just around the corner. Do not make big decisions based on the comments of just one person – do your research.
- keep in touch with your previous location. Don’t assume that cutting yourself off is the best way to move on. What you ‘have been’ is still part of ‘who you are.’ You do not have to give anything up to be where you are now. You just add a bit more
- keep your radar turned on for other people who have moved, particularly if they have moved within the last 12 months. These people will understand what you are going through, and in most cases, will be happy to join you for a social occasion in public – a drink at a café, a meeting in a park etc
- be sensitive to the needs of your partner and/or children, but also make time for you. Some newcomers choose to spend time comparing locations and this is natural. Local people may view this as criticism – so it is best to share this information with people who are happy to listen, and then reflect on what you do like in the new location
- make sure you have local community information easily accessible – so that when you are looking for information, you can try a local option rather than travel across town to a recommendation provided by someone else. Make an effort to attend local public events, particularly celebrations and special occasions. You will soon have a list of activities that you will be looking forward to
- although men do not rate finding friends as highly as women, it is important for men to find friends – and not just because a partner has encouraged their participation in a joint event. Work can quickly consume spare time – but leisure time is still important
- learning a local language, at least at a basic level, appears to be critical for newcomers. Our research shows that people understand more about the local culture and customs through this experience and it certainly makes it easier to find the information you will need for everyday life
- becoming a citizen of your new country may or may not make you feel more at home. It does help some newcomers and not others, so it really is a personal choice – it can be a nice way to officially welcome you into a new community or provide you with personal security if that is what you are seeking
- be prepared for emergency returns to a previous location, particularly if you have elderly parents. Have options available to fund an airfare, take time off work, or assist with childcare. Just because you have moved, you are not expected to look after your children 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a common issue and it leaves most parents feeling overwhelmed – most cultures share the responsibility for raising children amongst various family members so you will need to re-create this opportunity with people you trust
- celebrate special occasions, like birthdays of loved ones living elsewhere even if they cannot attend. Make friends of all ages so that on your special occasions, you can invite them to be your extended family of ‘grand friends’ or ‘aunties and uncles.’ It will never be the same as your real relatives, but they will create occasions to remember and will be able to share your current history with you – make it interesting by including people from various cultures
A successful move is generally defined as when you can say that your new location is ‘home.’ But making sure that your family unit, including you, are happy and having good friends are significant too. Most newcomers rate their move as either Successful or Very Successful – and perhaps because they were interested in completing a survey about moving, they are motivated to make the most of their new life in their new location.
There is a significant proportion, 20% in fact, that say that their move is either partly successful or not successful. When this is viewed in terms of how many countries people live in (generally between one and four countries during their life), it is important to have good strategies in place. Most people move more than 10 kilometres away from their previous location 6 – 15 times prior to the age of 70 and have lived in their current location less than three years – so they could be moving again soon.
It is very easy to be fearful of another move if the move to the current location has been difficult. For well educated movers, it can get easier as time goes on – and the variety and challenges are often welcomed – in fact these people often become regular movers. Like many life events, having successful strategies can make a huge difference, but so can being well prepared, expecting it to be challenging and accessing good pre departure and on arrival information resources.
Success could be measured by how long it takes to:
- have all of your new household arrangements in place
- find new friends
- develop new networks and feel comfortable about asking for help from these networks
- feel as though you can welcome other newcomers
- know where to find the information you need
- say that your new location is ‘home’
- how you feel emotionally and how you cope with sad news from your previous location
- decide whether you should stay or go (some people decide on a time limit)
- deal with past grief and loss and look forward to each day
- realize that you have done your best and that is all you can do
Indeed it seems that many newcomers who choose to move take on responsibility for issues that may be beyond their control and that they expect too much from themselves. It takes time to go through the moving cycle and it is important to be patient and ask for help when you need it. Be prepared to ask questions and seek help. There is no need to be alone. The issues you face are real.
For most seasoned expatriates, it is probably impossible to tell you anything you don’t already know! No doubt you have lived through the trials and tribulations of many moves and despite the best cultural briefings, the best language courses and professional advice on arrival, you are still challenged by living in a new location – and in some cases, you thrive on it.
You may have worked out all of the local tricks of the trade – checking in with people leaving the current location and finding out the best networks to join. But after so many moves can you say:
- I know who I am
- I know what I want from life
- I know how to get it
It seems that many expatriates get close to these, but that they don’t get quite close enough. They find that a piece of them is left in many locations and that they can’t pull them all together for a complete ‘whole’ right now. Rather than sort this all out, they move again. They also find it hard, at the end of the ‘travelling road’ to settle or find a location that meets their needs. The weather may be great and the scenery idyllic, but the lifestyle boring. Or the lifestyle may be great but the weather atrocious.
As mentioned previously, it is time, in these situations, to carefully look at your options and go with the ‘best option for now.’ Rather than reflect on it too deeply, make a commitment to ‘stay’ for a minimum period and see how it goes. Sometimes being locked in to a decision takes away some of the constant reviewing that you may find yourself doing.
Fortunately, with the age that we live in, you can generally maintain your international relationships. None of us really knows what the future holds, so you can leave some options open. In your situation, you may need to do a bit more research and find out whether you are likely to find other people who have lived an international life or if the community will welcome you. If you are returning to live closer to relatives, have realistic expectations.
As time progresses, many people source a closer relationship with a country where they spent their childhood years. This is natural too. If you cannot live in those locations, again, you can connect to people who share similar histories through online groups or expatriate communities.
As with any newcomer, a person who has lived in the current location for less than three years, use all of the existing strategies and suggestions, even if they don’t work the first time. Opportunities can be affected by anything from the month of the year to the date of the next political election. Persevere until you find the friends you need to share the journey of your life.
He who floats with the current, who does not guide himself according to higher principles, who has no ideal, no convictions – such a man is a mere article of the world’s furniture – a thing moved, instead of a living and moving being – an echo, not a voice.
Henri-Frédéric Amiel, 1821-1881
This quote is fascinating – as once again, it leads to the conclusion that happiness can only come from within. Your location is just the context in which you exist. How can the voice of who you are be heard? Most people will feel comfortable in a situation where they can really be ‘just me.’ How can that be improved?
- By having a good first impression when you arrive
- By finding friends and good sources of social support quickly
- Utilising effective strategies for collecting reliable information, making effective decisions and completing tasks
- By being kind to yourself and others if things don’t work out as planned
- Putting the current situation into context – will it matter in 50 years?
When we are in stressful situations, it is much harder to operate from a position of unconscious competence. We usually start with being unconsciously incompetent, then become consciously incompetent before moving towards consciously competent. But in this third phase, we are not performing at our best and if we have a tendency towards perfectionism, we can be easily demoralized. Unconscious competence is when we can do things without effort – like putting dishes back into our cupboard without thinking ‘now where do I put the saucepans?’ You just complete the task without making decisions or remembering information.
I sincerely hope that you have gained several ideas and strategies from this publication and have allayed any fears you may have about whether or not your feelings are ‘normal.’ If you are a community representative or a policy maker, I will be delighted to hear that you have been able to use this information to improve your existing policies and practices.
Feedback, suggestions, opinions and questions are always welcomed…I look forward to hearing from you!
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