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How to Feel Like You Belong in a New Community

Finding a sense of belonging in a new country.

Key points

  • It takes an average of eight months to feel at home in a new host country.
  • People planning a move say they don’t know where to start.
  • Expect a bedding-in period to help overcome feelings of isolation.

"Home is where the heart is," the saying goes. But how long does it take for the heart to establish roots in a new place, if ever? While opinions may vary, it is indeed possible, but only when we’re able to cultivate a sense of belonging in a new community.

In today's interconnected world, people frequently seek to live and work in other countries, whether in the short or long term. Our increasingly global community provides ever more opportunities to pursue work across borders and embrace new cultures. Yet, when we move abroad we can face invisible frictions or barriers that make it challenging to find a genuine sense of belonging in new surroundings. It can sometimes pose new hurdles to overcome, without immediate access to the familiar comforts that typically provide stability in our lives.

Indeed, not everyone feels settled, at least not straight away. Research has found that it takes international citizens, such as working or studying ex-pats, an average of eight months to feel at home in a new host country. For almost a quarter (23 percent) of those surveyed, it can take over a year. These findings highlight the various challenges faced by ex-pats; and how the reality of moving to a new country can sometimes fall short of expectations. More than one-fifth of respondents, around 22 percent, reported feelings of loneliness and isolation, 20 percent experienced homesickness, while 17 percent expressed a sense of not belonging.

If so, what’s the best way to overcome potential obstacles? There are science-backed, proactive steps you can take to nurture a sense of belonging when moving to a new country. By implementing these strategies, you'll get on the front foot. By expecting a bedding-in period, you can overcome feelings of isolation and ultimately establish a deep sense of belonging.

Planning before the move

The research found that 44 percent of international citizens planning a move said they don’t know where to start. The best place to start is learning as much about the local culture as possible, as this will help you integrate with, and even endear you to, the local people. You won’t be an expert overnight but just being able to say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘excuse me’ will mean a lot to those you interact with and help you become accepted into other people’s circle of belonging.

Then there are the practical matters that might seem mundane but could make all the difference. You’re a lot more likely to feel unsettled if you don’t have the basics such as broadband, a mobile phone, and utilities set up. But it isn’t just tech and electricity, it’s also the specifics about your local area you need to be thinking about. Where do you find great coffee? Where do you buy groceries? How do you manage childcare in the vicinity?

Starting the process of getting your finances in order is key to feeling at home and settled in your new location. For over half of the individuals surveyed (53 percent), opening a bank account and obtaining a credit card in advance was considered vital to achieve this. There are many resources to help you through the process, such as online groups or your employer.

However, if the entire process feels overwhelming, focus on achieving small wins by completing one small preparation task every day.

Setting down roots

Finding a sense of belonging in a new community can feel like an insurmountable task, particularly if you don’t know anyone when you first arrive. Finding people who love what you love can bring a sense of belonging. United by common interests and shared bonds, the local community can offer a foothold in an unfamiliar country. Ask neighbors, browse local papers and public notice boards, as well as online forums and digital apps. 

Being immersed in the culture has a range of benefits, increasing trust and creative thinking. And having even brief conversations with strangers makes us feel happier, and they are probably especially important when we are feeling lonely. These seemingly insignificant interactions can have a profound impact on our lives, occasionally leading to lasting friendships that can shape our future in meaningful ways.


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Walton, G. M. (2011, March). A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students. Science.
Pennebaker, J. W. (2017, October). Expressive Writing in Psychological Science. Sage Journals.
Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (n.d.). The psychology of change: self-affirmation and social psychological intervention. National Library of Medicine.

Survey: Ipsos UK, surveyed over 7,000 adults across nine international locations. The research was conducted by Ipsos UK on behalf of HSBC. The study investigated the experiences of those currently living, working, and studying abroad, as well as those who are planning to do so and those who have returned within the last five years. It explored the experience of a range of different international citizens, including ex-pat families, digital nomads, and overseas students.

Notation: The author is working with HSBC's Unforeign Exchange digital community for people moving abroad.

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