This week we have been talking about how to take advantage of living abroad, focusing on making your host city your home without losing the feeling of being a tourist. It may seem complicated but it is something that we have been working on for awhile, in different places. As Claudia is relatively new to living in Finland, today she is sharing her experience.
Moving is something that most of us have done and I don’t think it ever gets to the point where it is easy. Sure, some elements might get easier, but that doesn’t mean it is easy (read more about this topic here). And moving abroad, has a whole plethora of other issues that you might not expect before you leave. If you are lucky, you speak the language and have somewhere to live; otherwise, you might just feel as though you have to battle through the basics.
However, no matter your experience, there are ways that you can make the city that you are living in your own, maximizing the experience by becoming a local in some ways and enjoying what the city has to offer as a tourist in others. About eight months ago I moved to Helsinki, in a country I had never been, with a language that I never really thought about speaking. The process has been slow, but I am starting to feel like I am becoming more integrated in the city. This is what I have been doing…
Making my host city my own:
We talked about how important it is to invest in the city you are living in, making it your home as opposed to a place you are living in for a time. This is something that won’t just happen overnight and, most likely, will require some investment (both time and energy wise) on your side.
As a fairly active person, one of the first things I did was look for team sports activities. I mostly play sports because I don’t like to go to the gym but I do like to do weekly activity. However, if you are the type of person who likes going to the gym and joining group classes, this is also a good option. Because the people who join a team or are regular gym visitors have a longer-term commitment to their exercise, this is also a good way to meet people who are living in the area and have similar interests.
Another good way to make your host city your home is by frequenting the same coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. We’ve talked about how coffee shops are important in Spain here and the role bars play in daily life here; however, this is true no matter where you are. It took me awhile but in Helsinki I’ve found a couple of places that I go to on a regular basis. One of the places I frequent with another friend but others are places that I have found otherwise. When you spend a fair amount of time in a place the waiters and other locals get to know you and welcome you in a different way than when you are visiting somewhere for the first time.
Another thing that we recommend doing is learning some of the local language. Granted, I have been really bad at this here in Finland (I’ve been here for over six months and barely know some basics), but I truly believe that learning some of the local language makes a big difference with your integration. Even if you cannot communicate in the language, it will give you a better understanding of the people and how they structure their thinking.
Note: We have also written about the fact that we are different in different languages, even when we are fluent, and the people you meet probably are too. Learning a bit of their language shares some insight into this.
A final way I am working to make my new city a new home is by shopping at local supermarkets and trying to understand the food here. This might not seem like a big deal to most people, but I love connecting with food and feeling comfortable when I am doing my weekly shopping is important to me. In addition, I love seeing what people eat here and trying new things every once in awhile just to try what others enjoy.
Without losing that tourist feeling
At the same time, I am trying to create a home for myself in Helsinki, I am also trying not to lose the magic of being in a new city. This balance isn’t always easy as sometimes I just want to hang out with my friends at our regular place or spend the evening reading a book with a cup of tea in bed. However, I am trying to keep some tourist activities in mind.
For example, there is a great option for a museum card in Helsinki that gives you 12 months access to a bunch of different museums. Even if you only go to 10 of the 300 museums on the card, it is worth the initial investment (69€). In addition, this motivates me to check out what exhibitions are on and to take advantage of visiting the same place more than once when something changes. Most big cities will have a similar option—I even remember doing something like this in Tarragona years ago—that you can take advantage of.
Another thing I really like is trying new places. It is easy to get stuck in a rut of only going to the same places because it is what you know and like. As a tourist, however, you would always be experimenting and trying new things! Taking this feeling into my weekly life, I like to try new places when meeting up with different people or when I have guests. Sure, I like to take them to my favorite places as well, but I also like to check what looks good on tripadvisor or try recommendations from friends.
Note: Recently when visiting my cousin in her city that she is living in, we tried three new places (to her) because we found them on tripadvisor. She probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise, but the food was great and we had a lot of fun.
Finally, one thing I like to do is take tourist tours and check out the tourist markets. A friend and I were recently talking about how we should sign up for a walking tour around Helsinki (she’s been there for 5+ years) because it is a great way to see and learn about the city. And while you might think you know all the important things, in all likelihood you don’t know as much about history/architecture/social structure/etc. as you originally thought. In fact, these tourist activities will give you a great opportunity to connect with the local culture in a way that you probably don’t see in your day-to-day life.
So, that is what I am doing to make my new home-away-from-home without getting too complacent in everyday activities. What do you do? Or what recommendations can you share with me? I am looking forward to hearing about them!