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How to Learn About a Culture Before Moving Abroad

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Moving abroad--even more so than a regular move--is a frightening experience, but learning a little bit about the culture of your overseas home will help ease some of your tension. It will also get you properly prepared for your international move.

Research in advance

The easiest way to learn about another culture before a move abroad is to properly research it through the internet and via literature. Take care to study all aspects of the culture, including appropriate clothing, interacting with co-workers, social niceties, the cuisine, transportation, currency and what to expect upon arrival.
  • Study up on the culture and its history using several reputable internet sites
  • Visit your local library for even more information
  • Invest in a travel or guide book about the country you are moving to (preferably one you can bring with you)
  • Take a class on the culture (even if the class only focuses on one aspect of the area such as cooking or dancing)
  • Subscribe to magazines or newspapers from your soon to be overseas home

Get a local's perspective

All the research in the world cannot outweigh the benefit of talking to or reading about a local who has been fully immersed in this culture from birth.
  • Discuss the culture in person or online (such as via a forum) with someone who lives or has lived in the area
    • This will be especially beneficial if you can make a connection with someone before moving there
  • Read a book written from in insider's point of view to get an on-hand account of the culture and its day to day minutiae
  • Take a visit to a local cultural center or museum if one exists in your area

Get an outsider's perspective

That being said, a great look at this new culture can also come from an expatriate such as yourself, one who experienced living internationally from a completely different viewpoint.
  • Check for blogs written by others who have lived abroad and their experiences with the culture
  • The same goes for books about their experiences overseas
  • Discuss a fellow expat's view of things through forums

Learn the language

While it's not necessary to be fluent in the language of your new culture, you should learn common words and phrases to be able to navigate everyday conversations like ordering food, asking for directions and saying hello and goodbye. Just showing that you have made the effort is a great way to display that you are being respectful toward that culture.

Create a cheat sheet

Don't wing it when you arrive internationally, write down some helpful things to remember on a cheat sheet that you can carry with you and study while moving. Some things to consider adding to your sheet include:
  • How to say common pleasantries (hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome)
  • Reminders about commonplace slang and gestures used by locals
  • Traffic laws for drivers and pedestrians
  • Social etiquette (workplace, personal, meeting a new person, talking on the phone, dining out/tipping)
  • Local holidays and customs
Fully armed with plenty of knowledge about your overseas home? Don't let your cultural research take over all of your planning time, remember to also hire international movers before it's too late!

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on November 5, 2014 - Moving Expert
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