Moving to a new country can be daunting and it’s quite normal for people to struggle to adapt to a new society. I often say Cameroonians are very friendly and welcoming people. They open up easily to foreigners and go out of their way to invite them for a drink, to their homes and generally to socialize.
I cannot say the same for the UK where I currently live and I’m not sure about other places. Not that people are bad, they simply are different. And so, as a foreigner immigrating to another country, the onus is on you to integrate yourself into that society. Life can be pretty much hellish when you constantly feel the nostalgia of home, when you have no friends and when life gets tough. And it can get really tough out there.
And so, here are my favourite tips to help you settle into your new country.
1. Familiarise yourself with the culture
One feedback I got from my supervisor while at university, was that I did not look people in the eye while talking to them. This, according to her, was seen as a sign of someone being distracted and not engaging in a discussion. And she was equally surprised to find out that in Cameroon where I am from, looking an elder in the eye while talking to them was a sign of disrespect. When you move to a new place, endeavour to read as much about the culture as you can. Some expressions may not be offensive to you but will be in your new home. Brits will say “sorry” at everything without really meaning to apologize. Brits will address you as “my love”. Don’t be fazed out. You aren’t getting a new lover. That’s simply very British.
Also, make it a habit now to read daily newspapers and watch the news. This is a really good way of getting a feel of the society, their humour and generally, their sentiments. Watch the latest soap operas and reality TV (if that`s your sort of thing). At work, you can chip in something and feel like a part of the discussions, rather than sit back and feel like an unwelcome stranger.
2. Get to know the locals and try to learn the Language
Social media has made it so easy to connect to each other. When I travel to a new country, I like to meet fellow Cameroonians and so I’d pop a question on Facebook, asking if there are any Cameroonians in that area. You’d be surprised someone who knows someone will always respond. Even in the most remote places.
Connect through professional groups and blog forums around. There will be plenty of people like you looking to connect. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities that work in communities. Joining such groups could be very helpful as well.
One mistake we often make is to stick with our fellow nationals. While this is a good thing, it limits our view of society. This takes me to my next point.
3. Be engaged in your local community.
When I first moved to England, it took me two years to join the Cameroonian community in my area. That was a year ago. I have since met some really lovely souls, some people who would go out of their way to help you. People with whom you can socialize “à là Camerounaise” while out here.
I know many people refuse to join such communities because they get put off by things like gossip and unnecessary friends and problems. Those were some of the reasons I stayed away in the first place. And I did encounter some of those problems when I finally joined. But then, as an older brother said, “You cannot live as an island”. You are Cameroonian, that’s your identity. You can’t run.
My advice to others will be to join but cherry-pick their own friends. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.
4. Socialize, socialize, socialize
Your friends don’t have to all be Cameroonians or black people. Socialize with colleagues, hang out at the pub, attend work or school dinners, respond to invitations etc. Just be yourself at such gatherings and do what makes you comfortable. Most of these societies are multinational and multicultural, and people tend to be curious and open to other religions.
There’s a website I’ll recommend called MEETUP. There you’ll be able to find people with the same interests as you do.
Finally, do not forget to stay in touch with home.