The Dos and Don'ts of Settling In When Abroad

Oh, how many moons ago it feels! A little over 3 years ago now, I was a month into my year abroad and finding my way in the wonderful Mexico City. I look back now with the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses, but as my poor mother will attest, the first 6 weeks were really, really tough. 

Reflecting on this time, I realise I made some critical errors as well as some decisions which, once time played its part, turned out to be quite smart!

I wanted to share the Dos and Don’ts for settling in when abroad with you all as I am sure some words of encouragement are needed by some of the STT community during what must be an incredibly strange time to be moving abroad. Here goes:

By Toby Feldman

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Do...

1. Follow the lights

 Everyone says ‘try everything’, ‘be adventurous’ but what does this even mean? It’s true – be as curious and daring as you can be, but how do you do this in an actionable way? I quickly learned in Mexico City that following the lights is a good rule of thumb. The same was true in Porto and Geneva. Lights = activity! 

Trust your senses, follow the lights and allow yourself to be enveloped by the city’s offerings. Look down side streets, through shop windows and around central squares. 

2. Go and drink by yourself

Picture the scene: Week 1, you’ve got your best mates from the hostel and all seems well… until you realise they’re all leaving the city you’re in, and you’re staying. Definitely not speaking from personal experience, this can be a frightening realisation.


The traditional avenues you may go down to make friends when travelling won’t apply whilst you’re living abroad. Going solo is the best way to do this (Tinder can also work!).

It’s far easier to approach someone or be approached if you’re alone, and with a bit of luck, it may blossom into something. Pick your bar wisely!

3. Document your first few weeks

Get a good old fashioned notebook and pen and keep a diary! I cannot tell you how much you will thank me for this when you’re back.
The first month or so will zoom by and whether you love it or are suffering deeply from homesickness, you won’t want to forget it. Really. I recently reread my diary and it was genuinely fascinating to get a snapshot into my mental state during a very unique period of my life.

Avoid letting this valuable emotional information slip away, and put it down on paper.

"The first month or so will zoom by and whether you love it or are suffering deeply from homesickness, you won’t want to forget it."

Don’t...

1. Forget your friends at home

There’s a tendency for people our age to get caught up in situations and be tunnel-visioned. For the first few weeks of my time abroad, I tried to be stoic and ‘brave’ and resist reaching out to my friends back home.

When beautiful things happen in our lives, there shouldn’t be shame in sharing these with the people we love and care about. I wish I’d come round to this sooner. It would have given me more of a sense of normality, and bless her, relieved some of the pastoral burdens from the shoulders of my mother!

2. Get complacent

Watch your back, big shot! I remember about 6 weeks in, I thought I had made it! I was the guy. I finally thought I was fine… until I got my wallet nicked.

Don’t ever get complacent. This is different to having fear. Don’t have fear either, but don’t get complacent. Respect the city you’re in, appreciate that things may work differently and constantly take measures to mitigate things that could go wrong.

I remember I cried on the phone to my friend Luis when my wallet was pickpocketed and in no uncertain terms, he essentially said “Grow up! You’re fine, aren’t you?” 

3. Obsess over speaking the language

Many readers will be studying languages at their home universities, and my biggest piece of advice to them is this:

Don’t obsess over practising! Don’t over-complicate things.

I didn’t learn Spanish in Mexico City by copying down vocab lists in my office, I learnt it during my late-night pissed uber rides home and asking for directions 7 times a day. Trust me, live life as normally as you can out there, and the language will follow.

Golden Do

I also have a golden do: enjoy it! 

Forget all the admin and all the boring bits and enjoy every day! Don’t take anything too seriously. Laugh off the ‘bad’ and embrace the ‘good’! Drama abroad feels far more important than it ever is. Keep everything in perspective! 

Thanks for reading – leave a comment and let me know if you try these out!

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