Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Top Tips: Settling Into a New Country

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I know, I know, this post is rich coming from me. I’ve already written here and here that I’m not completely settled living in Yangon. I’m still going through growing pains; but everyone does and I think that if we talk about it honestly and openly, it can help.

In past moves, I found it very difficult to reach out and take initiative meeting new people and getting involved in different activities. I’m a total introvert and it doesn’t come naturally to me. The fact that I landed smack dab in the middle of a brand new country and culture completely different from mine caused me to further withdrawal into my little, safe, inner introvert world.

The same thing happened when I not only moved overseas, but moved back to the US from living abroad and moved cities within the US. No matter where you’re moving, you will have to adjust.

With this move, I made the conscious decision to take initiative and put myself out there. I mean, not doing that didn’t help me out the other times I moved. Here are a few things I’ve learned and have been practicing since arriving. I hope this helps someone out there!

Go here for general expat stuff and here to find expat resources for kids on my blog.  For info on Myanmar, go here.


Settling-In Top Tips

  • Read blogs (and comment), websites, and community forums on the city/country you’re moving to before you arrive. Introduce yourself. Who knows, you might make a connection with someone before your plane lands!  In Yangon, you can check out: a new community website, What’s on Yangon and its Facebook page; What’s Happening in Yangon FB group (you have to send a request to join); YEC (Yangon ExpatConnection) google group (which you also have to sign-up for). These are very active sites where you can get a lot of questions answered. I also recommend checking out Myanmar Times, the only English newspaper. Most of their weekly content is uploaded online here. They also have a going out section. :)

  • Ask/search for photographs of the city you’re moving to before arrival. My husband took video with his iPhone of the house he rented and the drive ‘home’ from work so F and I had an idea of what things looked like. This helped immensely. I was able to start visualizing what the streets were like, what our neighborhood looked like. When we drove around the first day, it seemed slightly familiar as a result. You can find some happy snap shots here and see some beautiful, professional shots from local photographer, Chris James White Photography.

  • Go to the supermarket as soon as you can. Sounds silly, I know; but this way, you can find out what food is available that’s familiar to you. There’s still not a lot of information about Yangon online. I was shocked when my husband told me there were brand new, very modern supermarkets here that sold lots of western food. (A lot of expats in Yangon go to City Mart, a supermarket chain, on Dhamazedi Rd. It’s in a shopping complex called Marketplace.)

  • Check-out expat restaurants. If you have a chance to find out about some of the nicest places before you arrive, then you can go to them first. My husband used this strategy with our family. On our first day to Yangon, he took us out to Sharky’s on Dhamazedi Rd. This sort of thing helped us realize we could access places that were perhaps a little similar to what we’d find at home.

  • Re-introduce yourself on expat forums when you arrive. Let the expats know you’re here, what your interests are, and ask questions. You’ll find most people are very welcoming, friendly, and willing to help.

  • Routine. Set a routine as quickly as you can. Even if you’re not working outside the home, schedule your day. This will help you feel like you have a purpose being here.  Do something relaxing in the evening. Take care of yourself.

  • Explore!  Schedule several things for yourself to see in the area when you first arrive.   Act like a tourist!  Check-out cool shops, visit pagodas, have someone drive you around different neighborhoods. Get a feel for the area. I remember the day I realized where I could buy beautiful ceramic pots on the side of the road (and totally know where that road was from where I lived), I felt like it was a HUGE victory. Not knowing little things like: where the shops are; how to get to my house; how to explain where I live if I needed a taxi; where to buy xyz made me feel like a child and super dependent on others. I didn’t like it one bit. Slowly, as we drove around a lot, I started to get my bearings. This was a big deal and really helped me.

  • Hobbies: get active. If you like to run, then run. If you play tennis, play tennis. Again this goes back to reaching out to others on the community forums. Find out where the best places are to do the things you like to do. If you paint, be sure to bring as many supplies as you can with you and paint. Do what you love.  This will provide an outlet for you to release stress. And let’s face it: you’ll have A LOT of it. Moving sucks, no matter what!

  • Community: have you wanted to try mountain climbing, but never had the chance before? Join a group.  If there isn’t one, create one! This is again where you have to pull up your big girl (or big boy) pants and just put yourself out there. All sorts of magic happens when you do this. I promise you.  

If you’re part of a religious or spiritual tradition, reach out to that community. There are mosques, Hindi Temples, Sheik Temples, a variety of Buddhist temples, Christian churches (including Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Assembly of God, Lutherans, Baptists, etc.). If you’re Wiccan, you’d probably find others here. Whatever it is, I’m sure you can find a community.

There are surprising number interest-groups that meet-up in Yangon. Here are a few that I know about:
            Hash harriers (for runners and walkers who love beer)
            Cyclist clubs (there’s a group for mountain bikers, too)
            Writing group
            Book clubs
            Board game groups
            Mountaineering/Rock Climbing
            Drama: a community theatre will be starting soon
Music: there was a chorus for awhile. There are lots of indie bands. You can find your niche here.
Horse riding (English saddle)
Poetry open mic nights (once a month, I think)
Art scene
Photography club
Salsa nights
Exercise classes: yoga, pilates, aerobics, etc.

  • Learn at least a few words in the local language before you arrive. There are loads of apps out there now. Myanmar centric: there’s one called iBurmese. My daughter and I practiced saying mingalaba and tata and a few other words before we arrived. This app helped because we could hear someone pronounce the words. There’s also an app called Yangon Taxi. This is helpful, too. It has a list of places many people go in Yangon and then provides a map + taxi card written in Myanmar that you can just show the taxi driver.
  • Taxi tips: You’ll be surprised how many taxi drivers speak a smattering of English; but if you’re staying at a hotel, ask reception to give you a business card in Myanmar language w/ the address on it so you can hand it to taxi drivers. If you’ve moved into a house/flat, ask someone (like the agent who helped you get the place) write the address down in Myanmar. Keep that card handy so that if you run into trouble, you can show it to someone. This is really important! 
  • Give back. Volunteer. Get involved in the community. This is a great way to meet new people.
  • Meet people from your own culture.  Try restaurant/bars that cater to your country folk. There are also cultural/educational institutions you can connect with like The Institut Francais de Birmanie, the BritishCouncil, the American Center to name a few. You also can join clubs like the Australian Club, the British Club, the American Club. In Yangon, there are people from all over living here: Russians, Romanians, New Zealanders, Germans, Swedes, Finns, Norwegians, Kenyans, Koreans, Italians, Filipinos, Singaporeans, Chinese, Japanese, Canadians, Thais, Brazilians, Spanish etc. If you’re from a country you think isn’t widely represented, you might be correct, but you never know: there may be someone from your country or a nearby country. Put it out there on YEC or What’s on Yangon, reach out to others.
  • Get to know locals. Yes, it’s helpful to meet other expats, but your experience here will only just barely, barely scratch the surface if you don’t make friends from the place you’re living.  

I don’t know a lot about Yangon, really. I’ve only been here about six months. Despite being a total introvert, I’m not a recluse. I’m also nice. So you can always email me/connect with me and I will be more than happy to meet-up for coffee and have a chat when you arrive. Of if you just want to ask me questions, you can post them here or email me.

There were many kind people who replied to questions I had before we arrived and those individuals made a huge impact on me and helped me feel better about my move, so I know how reassuring it can be just to make a connection with someone.

Though I'm still adjusting to life here, I do usually accept this is just part of the process. I also have really reached out and stretched myself. I've joined a writing group, a book club, and I'm the features editor for the new website, What's on Yangon. By doing this, I've met some amazing people that I completely admire and look forward to spending time with every time we meet-up. You can do the same thing. :) 

Well, did I forget anything? What are some of your top tips for moving? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?


  1. These tips are spot on Becky!I think they should be handed to every person coming through passport control who is planning on staying in any country, other than their own, for a long time.
    I too have made the mistake in the past of not following a few of them and fell flat on my face.

  2. Thank you, Alex! I'm glad you got some use from them. :) :)

    Thanks for your lovely comment!

  3. What a wonderful blog post Becky. I admire your courage to live in a different country and how much you have had to stretch yourself and learn during this time. All the best. xo

    1. Thank you, Suzanne! :) I really appreciate your support. :)

  4. I think this is a wonderful post, very helpful for anyone moving. It is so true...it all takes time and effort. I think you will help many others with your posts.

  5. Thank you for all the great information and the wonderful sharing you do on your blog! I love the wonderful, the good, the bad and the ugly of all the expat living experience! :) I'm so nomadic in nature, but married a rooted to America kind of guy, LOL! Thank goodness, my children take after me with their wanderlust and living! I'm living vicariously through you. :)

    1. Aw, Indigene, you're the best. I think I'm a bit more like your husband, honestly. lol I actually love the concept of travel, especially abroad, but not necessarily the *living abroad* bit. I am a homebody and, like your husband, quite rooted. Uprooting is hard for types like me! lol I'm not nomadic. I really see traveling and living abroad as two separate things. I'm glad you can live vicariously, though. If you ever come to SE Asia, you've got a place to stay!! :)

  6. Thank you so much for the helpful advice, Becky! I will be moving to Myanmar (Yangon) in a few months and am looking for teaching jobs. Any advice on how to connect to the local universities? I've looked online but haven't seen any listed email addresses. Or how about language schools? Your help is much appreciated!

    1. Hi,
      I'm so sorry that I have only just seen this comment. Welcome - almost - to Yangon!

      I think the main local university is Yangon University. My guess is that you might find out best once on the ground here. I'd also recommend, once you've arrived, to go to Inya 1 (a restaurant) on Thursday nights. Every Thursday, they have a networking evening and lots of people who are "connector types" go. They usually are in the know about how to get in touch with specific people.

      In terms of language schools, are you looking at Myanmar language classes?

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