Our Puerto Rico Experience
The first place outside the continental U.S. that B and I lived together was Puerto Rico. We lived on the western side of the island, in Aguadilla, for 3 years and truly fell in love. Now, it wasn’t an easy adjustment initially. We were use to orderly lines and speedy customer service, and that just isn’t common in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans value chatting with friends, lingering over food, and island time; which means that everything happens way slower than we were use to. No one is really ever in a rush. We soon learned to value the slow paced life and the emphasis on relationships. We learned to expect long lines and the conversations that would spark up while there. We learned that there was no such thing as a sharp time, whether you were at university, the doctor’s office, or church. 5pm really meant 5:45 or 6pm, no joke, but the wait would almost always be worth it.
Our friends Linda and Roberto were the first to take us exploring on the island. While in Puerto Rico, we also became really good friends with a couple named Kristian and Keyshla, who run an Afro-Puerto Rican restaurant. We spent many hours in their restaurant asking them questions and getting to know what it was like to grow up in Puerto Rico. We even spent our first Christmas in Puerto Rico with them. B and I have so many cherished memories from our time there and are so thankful to have learned life changing lessons that have stuck with us even to today. Our new found love for island life and culture played a huge role in us choosing to move to Guam once our time in Puerto Rico was up. Above are some photos from our time in Puerto Rico during the Maricao Coffee Festival, San Sebastian Market, and the Aguada Town Festival.
Making Friends with Locals & Learning to Love your new Country
Moving to a new country can be exhilarating, especially if you’ve never visited the city you’ll be moving to. But just as quickly as you can leap and click your heels together with excitement you may feel your heart sink with dread as you begin to ponder how you will make friends, fit in, learn the language, and truly grow to love your new home.
My hope is that this article will encourage you to feel more instances of heel clicking joy than heart sinking fear. I will outline my five absolute rules for moving to a new country and how to make friends along the way. These nuggets-o-wisdom will apply to a move to any country around the world. It’s important to remember though that different regions of the world have their own personality and customs. A large part of fitting into a new culture is learning to navigate those customs while giving yourself grace to make mistakes. What is culturally acceptable in Puerto Rico, like kissing on the cheek accompanied by a strong embrace may be a bit awkward or even discouraged in a place like Japan; especially between those of the opposite sex.
Growing up I moved just about every 3 years. I was born in California and soon after moved to Guam where I lived as a toddler. Later we moved back the U.S for a few years and then overseas to Japan. While there I was introduced to customs very different than ones I’d known previously. I remember how after just a few short months in Japan I’d nailed the customary bow (ojigi) that everyone greets each other with. When we moved back to the United States after living in Japan for years it was really hard for me to stop bowing every time I met someone. This simple gesture is a key part of Japanese life and would set me apart if I hadn’t adapted to doing it, but once back in the states it was perceived as strange to bow to anyone. Needless to say, it took me some time to shake the habit of bowing and adapt to a whole new set of American customs. But that little lesson of ojigi, was one of my first in respecting local customs and learning to live like a local.
I’ve created a list of 5 tips that will help you ease into your new host country.
1. Be open and friendly.
You don’t have to walk around with a smile plastered on your face or be overly outgoing, but do take opportunities to step outside your comfort zone. For example, if someone invites you to go listen to music at a local park, take them up on the offer. Even if outdoor music events aren’t your thing, getting to see how the locals interact with one another and discovering what’s popular in their country as a opposed to wherever you’ve moved from can be a great lesson. It will help you relate to the people in your community better. Remember, there is a lesson to be learned from every opportunity or experience. All the things you try while getting to know your new home won’t be about you. Think of them as mini lessons or lectures. Take notes on how people are dressed, how they greet one another, how they eat, how they interact with those of the opposite sex. This might seem strange, but they will all help you to fit in more smoothly and feel more comfortable when you are placed in a situation that you do enjoy and are hoping to make friends. It would be better for you to learn simple customs before you really need to put them into practice.
2. Find a local blogger before you move.
Finding a local blogger that loves their town and does a great job of sharing that passion with others is a wonderful way to get to know your new home before you arrive. Bloggers are generally a friendly bunch that like meeting new people. If you think about it, that’s exactly what all bloggers do. They write about what they’re passionate about in hopes that strangers who don’t already know about that subject would find it interesting, return to read more, and create a dialogue in the comments. They are great at providing insider tips and advice. Think, the best farmer’s markets, optimal places to have a kid’s party, or restaurants with English friendly wait staff or meals. Reading a blog is also non-intimidating. You don’t really have to worry about making mistakes as far as etiquette or in-person greetings are concerned. You can read the blog in the comfort of your home, review comments left by other readers, and the replies from the blogger. You can learn an enormous amount of information from even the most basic blog. I’ve actually found this trick to be personally helpful for me when my family and I were planning for our move to Guam. I found this blog of a woman who quit her job and moved here. She shows beautiful photos of the best beaches around Guam, island events, and even tells about Chamorro etiquette for barbecues. After scouring her blog I was so excited to get here and see if all the things she mentioned were true. I imagine that the same is true for others moving to a new city or country. It’s nice to know someone who already lives there and loves it! You may even be able to build a friendship from afar and have a friend before you arrive in country.
3. Explore outside the expat community.
The expat community is a great place to turn when you’re feeling homesick or want to stay within your comfort zone. But stepping outside your warm native bubble will give you a rich experience that just isn’t possible by sticking with people who relate to you. By meeting locals, you will find out what makes your new city great and why others have chosen to live there and stay. You’ll learn “insider tips” for getting great local produce, the best restaurants, the best time to travel, areas to avoid, local-only known discounts, and even be introduced to other locals. In my experience, locals love sharing their city with foreigners. They are proud to share what makes their city unique. And no expat can truly give you a taste of a new city like a local can. Locals will take you off the beaten path, invite you into their home, teach you to cook with foods found there in a traditional way, all for free!
4. Invite new or potential friends over for dinner.
Dining together in your home is a great way to knock down barriers. It’s hard not to relax over food and a glass of wine. Eating together is also a great way to share about where you’re from with locals that may not be familiar with your hometown. Simple things like a traditional American breakfast of french toast, muffins, eggs, bacon, and potatoes o’brien can be recreated in most places around the world. You could also make a spaghetti dish from scratch for your guests. Yes, you may find it difficult to find familiar items in the local supermarket, but it will provide you with an additional opportunity to hang out with your new potential friend. Ask them for some help in navigating your new grocery store. Be sure that when you invite your prospective friends over you clarify that they eat the foods you’re planning to prepare. Remember, in some areas of the world specific animals aren’t consumed for religious reasons or may not be consumed on certain days of the week or times of the year.
5. Find out where local events are posted.
Whether it’s a local newspaper, community Facebook page, or the city’s travel magazine, finding where the locals look for things to do is a perfect way to meet others who like to do similar things as you. Once you find where times and locations are posted for concerts, kid play dates, dance classes, local running club meet ups, etc., head out, practice a short introduction of yourself and where you’re from and you’re bound to make new friends eventually! And you already know that you’ll have something in common with those you meet their. Remember, don’t place too much pressure on the first meeting. Returning to meet with the group over and over again will show that you genuinely want to make friends and be a part of their community.
Each of these tips are ones I’ve personally used and have helped me as I transitioned to living abroad. Though I absolutely love travel and meeting new people, there’s always a small transition period where I miss the last place I lived and the people there that made me feel comfortable.
Final Piece of Advice
If I could offer a final piece of advice, it would be to not compare your old home with your new one. There will be many differences between the two, that when given the opportunity, will make you a more well-rounded and cultured person. You will most likely learn early on that others do many of the same things you do but with a slight twist. Let go of any feelings of superiority that you may have. You are most likely not in the majority and not in a position to change a whole nation. Fighting to have everyone stand in an orderly line at the motor vehicle office or not speak loudly in the movie theater will just frustrate you and make you seem like an angry foreigner. It’s best to learn how to navigate around things that truly irritate you and adjust to things that are simply annoying. After all, you may even learn a better way of doing something.
Don’t be afraid to try something you never imagined. If the moms in the new area you live in all meet up to surf and want you to tag along, pull out your most comfortable bathing suit and head out! If you love to eat and there’s a local food tour, take it. Even if you’re freaked out by the local’s love for raw fish or eating with their fingers. No matter what the outcome, you’ll have an awesome story to share with friends and family back home.
Where is the first place you ever lived or visited outside your home country? What lessons did you learn? Scroll down and leave a reply. I look forward to hearing from you and always respond to comments.