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The 6-month rule of settling in

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

After six months of living in a foreign country, you may feel a shift. Suddenly, everything looks and feels a bit different. You worry what it might be until it dawns on you it’s just that you’re feeling... home.

It takes a while to get used to a new place. No matter how hard you try with decorating, sightseeing, and bonding with the people around you, some time needs to pass before you can really feel settled in. Before the house you live in feels like your house. And the neighborhood becomes your neighborhood.

You know where to find stuff

After six months you definitely know where to buy all your groceries and find the school and the embassy without getting lost. In less developed places you will have learned crucial survival skills like computer game-style driving on lawless roads and getting used to the smell of burning heaps of garbage. In more developed countries like Germany it’s stuff like: knowing where to recycle empty batteries and refill your Soda Stream canister.

You made friends

In non-COVID times, six months is plenty of time to meet colleagues in the embassy, get to know the people in your neighborhood, and meet at least a handful of folks on the local scene who share the same hobbies as you. Making friends takes time, but when you’re a diplomat it shouldn’t take more than half a year. When you only live somewhere for two or three years you don’t mess around—you make connections quickly.

It’s normal to go through multiple cycles of friend-making. First you meet a bunch of kind colleagues who help you settle in. You repay them by staying friendly for a while and most people you meet are through them. Then you start looking for people and activities that match your style and hopefully broaden your circle with some locals and non-embassy expats. Unless there’s a pandemic and you only get one shot at making friends because the entire country goes on a sustained lockdown as happened to us during this tour.

You accomplished something at work

It feels like any time you move to a different post there’s so much stuff that happens in between (travel, training, babies, moves) that your brain resets. So at the start of each job you feel kinda useless with your jetlag, language insecurities, limited geographical knowledge, spotty memory of the FAM, and rusty software skills.

Around the six-month mark, however, you’re back on track and you’ve usually completed enough projects to feel like you contributed something to the mission. And you should, because now you’re only six months away from becoming the “old hand” who has to teach the next batch of diplomats moving in during the summer!

You bought a completely new wardrobe

By now you’ve probably figured out I’m talking about my own life here, not necessarily everyone else’s experience. And I’m a bit of a shopaholic when it comes to clothes, which tends to spin out of control when I arrive in a new place where the climate and the fashion is different.

What am I supposed to do, wear my tailored batik skirts from Africa around Germany? Sport my baggy tunics from Pakistan in Berlin? I think not. Besides, in Germany I have the opportunity to go shopping in nice stores, which can’t be said for every country. So I shop. And I’ve already bought enough to last me this whole tour (and beyond, if I wanted).



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