Lessons on Surviving a New City 101

A few years ago, I had moved to the city of Milan in Italy, from India. The city I came from in India was a Metropolitan bustling with over 8 million people; abound with cacophonic city scenes, crowded streets, and a hot tropical climate to boot – a stark contrast to the centerpiece of Italy and a place which hosts the world’s biggest fashion brands.

Being an expat could be hard – especially when you don’t speak the language or don’t share a cultural past. But then, to gel with the community, it serves well to be open-minded, with the temperament to embrace the local flavor and the culture that it brings along. The first lesson to feeling at home in a foreign place is having the willingness to engage with your neighborhood. And with that, we shall move onto little things that I learned and appreciated along the way, which I trust you would find helpful as well.

Try Some Local Cuisines

I’ve had a lot of adventures in my life, ranging from being chased by wild dogs to being stranded in the middle of a forest while solo-backpacking. But nothing beats the experiences I’ve had on the dining table. The feeling of trying new cuisines which probably don’t seem quite inviting to your tongue is inexplicable. You look to take a leap of faith and trust it to feel good. Remember, luck favors the brave. Go for it!

Understanding Your Average Guy-Next-Door

Every country has its stereotypes. A cursory google search would help you get an idea of the idiosyncrasies of the local people. It could be physical traits or the quirky mannerisms. For example, when I was traveling to Budapest I learned that Hungarians loved eating a lot of meat and cheese, loved to drink Palinka (their local brew) and weren’t too fond of working out. So when you see a lot of obese middle-aged men on their streets, just connect the high-calorie diet and their lack of working out – you get the picture.

Also, try working around with the basic greeting words of the local language. Don’t worry about the tougher sentences at the start; you always have Google Translate if conversations escalate. Try this out with the grocery store or the lady selling flowers on the street corner, and I’m pretty sure you’d have found your first acquaintance. (Psst, do buy something from them as well)

The Many Facets of Wanderlust

Wanderlust is your inherent urge to travel. Traveling keeps us alive, helps us sail past mundane routines and refreshes us enough to spring up from our bed every morning, ready to face the world. Or probably our boss at work. Ouch.

You could go and dip your toes in sunset beaches, stroll down shopping boulevards, click pictures over plush tulip gardens, visit the local cultural centers and probably take history walking tours if you’re a nerd. The point is, new places have something to offer for everyone. Go out and enjoy the sun!

Friendly Peak into the Expat Community

Look around you. If the city is big enough, you probably have your fellow countrymen in there, working all around the place. Expat communities are nice to join in during festivals and weekends – cook your meals together, share jokes and generally have some great time.

Learn Gestures and Use Them Well

I stayed in Italy for over a year, and I learned something essential from the locals – that non-verbal hand gestures were as important as the verbal ones. There is a running joke on the street that you can live in Italy by just practicing the nonverbal gestures using your fingers and your face.

Gestures are an important way to communicate, and you probably should get to know some of them, and use them too. They are quite fun to try out. So, chop-chop and Godspeed!


All said and done, moving to a new city is like changing schools. You might be taken aback by the initial change, but things slowly start to settle in, nice and easy. Keep looking out to blend with the setting, and you will end up enjoying the experience of being an expat!

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