Say what? How to survive in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language

Montage of languages. Prototype header for the...

So as a globetrotter there is a high likelihood that your interests will potentially take you to country where English may or may not be commonly spoken and if so, only as a second language. As your guide I am here to reassure you that this can indeed be done and here are my tips for doing it well.

  • Read beforehand (prices, geography, cultural sensitivity etc)     
    Board to read Karelian-language newspapers

As with everything, knowledge is power, the more you know, the more comfortable you will be and the less likely you will be to experience culture shock.

  • Study the language beforehand

Realistically, not many native English speakers will be fluent in a second language, however there are many ways you can give yourself a head start. Visiting your local library, contacting local colleges or even the embassy/consulate of the country you plan to visit may turn up some opportunities for a weekly course, self-study materials or other ideas.

  • Ensure if possible you have a return ticket home (or the means)    AJENTSThis is not only sensible in the case of a personal or family emergency but it will help you relax in tough times and remind you that you are where you are by choice.
  • Try and organise both a job and accommodation if possible, at least to get you started

For many people, a job opportunity may be  the main or sole reason they chose to re-locate either temporarily or permanently. Fortunately, many employers of English native speakers are aware of this and will provide extensive support in finding accommodation or place of residence. This said, a quick look at the website of the employer you plan to work for should give you a good indication of the specific help you can expect. They may also provide links to further means of support such as helpful websites, recommendations for services you may need like doctors etc. If you haven’t found employment yet, a quick search online or a visit to a careers expo will provide you with invaluable information.

  • Have the internet at home (if reasonable)

Not that I like to condone anti-social behaviour in any way (especially overseas) but having the internet abroad can be a phenomenally useful tool. It can be your means of communication, information source. entertainment provider and method of booking any future adventures simultaneously, (and of course guarantee you never miss your latest from the globetrotter’s grind…).

  • Make new friends from the county you plan to visit    
    Just FriendsThis is more a strong hint to get networking and engage yourself in mutually beneficial exchanges that will provide you with the foundation of a support network upon your arrival. When and if you meet people, swap contacts, there may be no need or obligation to use them but a missed contact is a missed opportunity for a friend and insight into your new home.
  • Keep old hobbies and start new ones

There are many examples where this may be impractical, say if you play a sport that is uncommon in your new location. As always there may be an alternative that is not too far from your usual and many new things to try. The basic principle is, if you like listing to music, listen to music where you move to, if you like to go drinking with friends, then do that too, if you like cooking then cook in your new place, and so on. This will remind you that some things are the same the world around, give you some sense of balance, and an insight into the nuances of what exactly is different.

  • Don’t feel guilty about time spent with only native English speakers but assure you have considerable amounts of time with mixed or local company.

 This one speaks for itself, be aware that you may need this interaction from time to time but be cautious of staying in a comfort zone as this may defeat the purpose of your travel as well as send a negative message to locals you do have dealings with.

  • Take a few English language books with you (or find a source in your new location)

This can also be applied to music, or any specific activities you may be into. Just an idea to see what’s available before you turn up with either nothing or far too much.

  • Actively search for new cultural experiences both local and international on a regular (say monthly) basis.

This will remind you that the local community is interesting, accommodating, and also that there are many new cultural experiences for locals to be exposed to as well. If you have a public holiday off work, find out what it’s all about, maybe some local festivals are going on that you can check out.

  • Find someone who has lived there. 

You must have developed an interest in your destination of choice from somewhere so go for a beer and pick some brains.

  • Try and make a friend from home who will be not too far from where you will around the same time.

This is easy if you go for a group job interview and meet other applicants. Again it’s about networking, you may find you have the chance to give each other a head’s up on many things, from local must-sees to the best news website from home.

  • Spend time eating the food and familiarising yourself with the music, and popular culture of your intended new home.     "The New Fred Meyer on Interstate on Lomb...

It’s all about what you know. There will be enough surprises waiting for you without having no clue what people eat, listen to, or believe as a religion. This can be fun to learn and you can impress your home posse with your expertise before you go.

  • Try and source a local language course once you arrive.

This may be through the local council, or depending on how organised your new workplace is they may already have your name on an application form for a course. Use your boss/friends/co-workers (nicely of course) as a source of information, they may already have ideas on how to get started with your language study. One website I personally have used is but there should be plenty more.

  • Search the web for any feedback from previous travellers.

Of course the is dedicated to covering issues you may be interested to read about. At the same time mine is but one humble opinion. When you become employed, conduct a quick search to see the experience others have had with your specific situation. Also visit for another fantastic travel perspective.

  • Maintain humility.

You may have a preferred way of doing things that is considerably different from the way you will be expected to do them. It is important to remember as a responsible globetrotter that the new way is simply another alternative and attempt where possible to refrain from judging the value of an individual or community based on what you are familiar with.

You should now be more than ready to go so get excited and feel free to comment with any questions you would like to have answered or with any valuable insights that other globetrotters may love to hear.