Ask the intern: How to settle into a new country
Hello fellow interns! I’m Laetitia, and I’m doing a five-month internship for The Intern Group. I’m from England but am working in South America, which is a long way from home! Just like you, I’m experiencing the ups and downs of working abroad, making friends, and discovering new places. I’ll be sharing my top tips for interns with you by writing weekly posts answering your questions and queries about living and working abroad and exploring a new country. So please let me know how you are finding your international internship!
“I’m about to move to Colombia to start my Marketing internship and I’m nervous about moving to a new country and experiencing a new way of life. This will be my first time in South America and I’m worried about settling in and making new friends. What if I end up spending the whole trip on my own? What if I don’t like the internship? Any advice to help make me feel more at home in a foreign country?”
Hi, it’s lovely to hear from you! It is completely normal for you to feel this way; I remember how nervous I was before starting my international internship. Here are my top 5 tips for interns. These things helped make me feel more at home when I went abroad:
1) Decorating your room
Firstly, the advantage of The Intern Group program is that your accommodation is already sorted out, which means you can arrive and start settling into your apartment straight away. I would suggest decorating your room with photos, fairy lights, and posters to create a cosy and comfortable environment that will instantly make you feel more at home.
2) Building a routine
Before you start your internship, spend a day or so exploring and researching the area around your apartment. Finding a local supermarket, gym or local coffee shop that you like and are likely to visit often will help you familiarise yourself with the area. These little things will become part of a weekly routine, and you will soon feel more settled in with these points of reference.
3) Befriending roommates and work colleagues
Making friends can sometimes be more tricky when doing an internship as opposed to studying abroad. A good place to start is befriending your roommates. They will be in the same position as you, and doubtless they are just as keen to meet new people. Try to spend some time in the common area; you can be doing your own thing, but your presence will make you appear more social than sitting in your room. Propose bonding activities such as a flat dinner or a group excursion to get to know the city together. It is worth making the effort to spend time with your roommates as this will make you feel more comfortable and at ease in your apartment. At work, suggest going for lunch or drinks with colleagues to get to know them in a more informal environment. Building a friendly but professional relationship with colleagues will make your work days more enjoyable. Moreover, colleagues are good people to ask for travel, restaurant and activity recommendations. They are also likely to give valuable advice on the city and lifestyle; so make sure to take notes! For the first couple of weeks, spending time with flatmates and work friends will allow you to establish solid friendships during your time abroad.
4) Joining clubs and groups
Aside from roommates and work colleagues, use your hobbies to branch out and meet more people. For example, you could join a dance class, a running club or even a local choir, helping you to continue your hobbies as well as make new friends. Moreover, if you know of anyone staying in your area, why not message them and ask if they would like to meet up? I’ve learnt that friendships start through connections and you have to be willing to make the first move and approach people. Another idea is to join local facebook groups, find expat communities or try apps such as Meet-up. This will allow you to meet people with similar interests to you, already giving you something in common. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
5) Adopting a positive attitude
Lastly, a big part of settling in involves your attitude. It often takes time to adjust to your new lifestyle as it is likely that the customs, food and behaviour of the people in your new country will be different to what you are used to. However being patient with yourself while keeping an open mind will allow you to adapt better to your new environment. From my previous international internship experience, I found that it took me about 2 months to feel completely settled in and comfortable with my new life. It can vary for each person, but don’t feel frustrated if you feel disorientated after only a few weeks, as this is completely normal!
Traveling and living abroad is not always easy. Sometimes you may feel homesick and lonely, but with time these feelings will quickly fade. It helps to remember that interning abroad for a long period of time is an amazing opportunity and not something that can happen all the time. So make sure you take every chance to meet up with new people, discover new cultures and visit different places. I can guarantee that the experience of interning abroad is one that you will cherish forever, and is worth every bit of the struggle along the way. In the end you will remember the adventures that you went on and all the people you met, and being nervous will be but a distant feeling!
Let me know how your internship abroad is going! Send your questions, queries or news to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo 3. based on The Intern Group.
Photo 4. based on The Intern Group.