5 Steps to Conquering Life in a Big Foreign City

5 Steps to Conquering Life in a Big Foreign City

Making new friends and adjusting to a new life is not easy, but these five steps will certainly make a big difference.

Picture this: You’re walking along a massive six-lane road at seven in the morning. Cars zoom by, blaring their horns while trying to beat the red light. Pedestrians are holding on to steaming cups of coffee, narrowly avoiding each other as they head towards the underground subway. You’re standing in the midst of human bodies, trying to figure out if the street you’re standing on matches the address you’ve been given.

Once upon a time, that was me.

That scene will always be ingrained in my memories. It was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I took the once-in-a-lifetime experience of volunteering abroad for six months. It was daunting, especially so since I’ve lived my whole life in the safe confines of sunny Singapore.

If you’re thinking of studying, working or volunteering abroad and would like to maximise the experience, here are small steps to conquering life in a big foreign city.

1. Break the Language Barrier

Having had little experience speaking Spanish, just striking a conversation was definitely a daunting experience for me. The simple task of buying groceries at the supermarket and paying at the cashier counter was as nerve-wracking as speaking politics.

The good news is that the slightest effort goes a long way. Buenos Aires offers many Spanish courses of varying levels. I, however, did things a little differently. I download several Spanish language apps on my phone and practised a couple of hours each day. I would even head out with a dictionary in hand, casually eavesdropping on strangers’ conversations just to pick up the language nuances.

life in big city

You will come to realize that if you make the slightest effort and show that you are trying to learn the local language, locals will be more than happy to speak to you, even if it is just to find out how your day is going.

2. Embrace Differences

Having differences is not always a bad thing. I come from a completely different cultural and racial background from anyone in Argentina and I had the impression that I wouldn’t be able to connect with anyone I met there.

life in big city

However, I came to realise that looking and sounding different isn’t a barrier; it’s in fact the perfect conversation starter! I would meet people who would believe I was from Singapore only after looking at my ID. They were very much intrigued by the other side of the world, having had no opportunity to venture to the Asian regions.

3. Put Yourself Out There

One of the many benefits of social networking sites like Facebook is the frequent update on events that are happening around you. But first, do change the location on your profile to get started on RSVPing! With the endless events to attend, you’re bound to meet really great people and even forge friendships.

life in big city

One of my personal favourites was Mundo Lingo, which are events scheduled in selected cities where you can meet international people. In Buenos Aires, Mundo Lingo events are held three times a week, at different locations with good beer and free popcorn or pizza (depending on the day).

Alternatively, you can also join pub crawls for a great night of drinks, music and fun! If you are willing to put yourself out there and try new things, you will be meeting people and making friends in no time! 

4. Have a Positive Mindset

If you have a positive mindset, your outlook changes for the better. Being so far away from home can stir up all sorts of negative emotions that would entice you to start packing. Not only that, I’m pretty sure that not everyone you meet will be someone you can get along with. But like the saying goes, “People come into your life either to teach you something or to learn from you”.

So be open-minded and remember that there is always something you can learn from every new person you meet. And who knows? The most unlikely person could turn out to be your newfound friend.  

5. Let Your Guard Down

If you come from a conservative background like I do, the sense of intimacy in countries like Argentina might just take you by surprise. People here are generally affectionate with each other and they greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. It took me about a week to get used to that. Eventually, I grew into it and I definitely took this way of greeting home with me! It is a beautiful way to greet someone and it really shows your appreciation towards them.

My advice? Let your guard down and be open to these cultural differences. You could even share your customs with people in the next big city you venture to.

About Author

Yasmeen Munira
Yasmeen Munira

An inspiring activist, Yasmeen intends to bring stories to life through her camera lens. A dreamer, a believer, a traveller, Yasmeen continues to venture into the unknown hoping to emerge with a better understanding of the world out there. If she isn’t buried in a book, she’s either in a flowing skirt attempting to salsa or in search for her third cup of coffee for the day.


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