What can expats do to integrate - How to overcome stereotypes and build a community together
Relocating to a new country is an exciting prospect for those who want to experience new adventures, but what most expats don’t realise is that building your new life abroad and fitting in isn’t always as easy as it seems.
After relocating, a lot of people can get caught in an ‘expat bubble’, surrounding themselves with only the things that feel familiar to them from back home. This can be anything from the people we hang out with, to the types of food we eat. Creating an ‘expat bubble’ for yourself can result in you not truly embracing the new culture you find yourself living amongst.
Trying to immerse yourself in the culture of your new home isn’t just about learning the language. Although this does go a long way, and most locals will appreciate the effort, there are plenty of other things you can do too. How we are perceived, especially by the locals, is so important as it can profoundly affect our ability to integrate into a new culture and, therefore, our long-term happiness.
Despite being an open and expat friendly city, there are still some things to keep in mind to ensure you avoid behaving like a stereotypical expat in Barcelona. Below we have put together our top tips on how to integrate effectively and overcome stereotypes.
Be open minded
The first reason most people decide to move abroad is usually the desire to experience other cultures, but after living in a new environment, the little things that you initially regarded as alluring might start to have the opposite effect. You’re automatically going to compare everything to back home, when in reality, you should learn to appreciate the differences. After all, that’s why you moved, right?
A part of being more open-minded, would be showing an interest in the Catalan culture that you’re now surrounded by. Catalans are extremely proud people and appreciate their own traditions, so we’d advise to really get involved in the holidays that are celebrated around Catalonia and show a genuine interest in their culture and language. Catalunya has a rich history and no end of Catalans who love sharing theirs.
Until you start to settle in, attempt to be respectful and patient. There are a lot of preconceptions and stereotypes that surround expats. The most important thing to remember if you want to avoid being tarred with the same brush, is to be respectful and mindful of the place you now call home.
Live like a local
Simply living like a local can often be one of the best ways to integrate yourself into the community. Curiosity is your best ally. Avoid sticking to your usual group of expat friends, try the local delicacies, and attend cultural events/festivals. Try and avoid going to the mainstream supermarkets for your weekly food shop, and head to the local markets instead. Ask your neighbours or colleagues for restaurant recommendations, rather than going online and finding the tourist hotspots.
Get out of your comfort zone
It is not as easy as it seems to adapt to living abroad and will definitely take some time to get used to. People react differently to new environments, some choose to remain in their shell and do things solo, others take on a positive and proactive approach to meeting locals, making friends, and becoming culturally aware. It’s good to remember that just because you’ve moved to a new country, this doesn’t mean that you need to completely change who you are and what you like, but it’s always good to embrace new things and try and incorporate them into your life in some way.
Learn the language
Whether you arrive not knowing a single word of the local language, or you’re almost fluent, you will inevitably find yourself facing a ‘language barrier’ at some stage of your expat life. Expats who make the effort to communicate in the local language vs speaking English, will without a doubt be more appreciated and better welcomed by the locals.
In Barcelona, there are plenty of schools and private classes you can attend to improve your Spanish or Catalan skills. You could also try listening to Spanish music, watching local TV channels, reading the local newspapers or magazines.
Getting social and mingling with other expats and the locals is a great way to help you fully understand the culture & gain some great tips about everyday life in your new home.
Developing relationships in Catalonia are typically associated with eating and drinking, so take initiative and propose to meet your new friends for a coffee or the ‘menú del día’ at a local restaurant. But whatever you do, don’t invite them round to your home at first, that’s way too intimate for the locals!
Spending time with fellow expats who already have prior knowledge of the country is a great way to learn about the basics of being an expat; how to open a bank account, how to get access to the healthcare system, how to get a NIE etc. However, the best way to integrate into your new life abroad is definitely by getting to know the locals. The best ways to do this are by; joining a sports club, making friends at work, working at co-working spaces, and going for a coffee at the local cafe.
Earlier we mentioned that you should definitely show an interest in the Catalan culture and their customs, but this doesn’t apply to their politics. Be very careful not to start a political discussion with any of your Catalan friends or neighbours, this is dangerous territory and probably won’t end the way you predicted. Most Catalans are very politically opinionated and the conversation can get quite passionate, which might come as a shock to most expats.
Lastly, surveys show that Barcelonians actually see expats as a ‘gift’ because of the diversity they bring, and the locals appreciate the injection of fresh knowledge and ideas. It goes without saying that Barcelonians enjoy having us expats around, so don’t be scared to get stuck in and try and integrate as much as you can!