1) Shop at local businesses and markets, as much as possible. In the beginning, we went to the supermarket a lot. It was ok, but life really improved when I started going to the local market. When I was trying to speak Spanish, this was also the greatest source of empowerment. I could fail spectacularly to communicate in every other way, then go to the market. As long as I could ask for a quarter-kilo of peanuts, I knew I could say something right. Shopkeepers were also great sources of information about local events and customs. (Sometimes they were even mildly flirtatious... a compliment AND peanuts).
2) Home is whom you are with, not where you are. This was by far the hardest for me. (I hinted at this here.) I had days where I felt so far from home, only to realize that home was right there with me. Jack and a certain little white dog were home. As long as we were happy together, we were home in a way that no other place would be. [I have so much respect for my friends who traveled alone and made a home solely through their new relationships, but for me home was a case of realizing what I had all along.]
3) Don’t be timid. At first, I got pushed past and ignored a lot. I got huffy and more assertive, eventually. The results were amazing. Outside the United States, and our culture of customer service, meaningful doe-eyes don’t get you very far. I had to communicate my wants and needs out loud. I always tried to be polite, but there was no need to be apologetic about it. The same went for speaking the language. I learned to hold my head up and try to get my point across, sometimes more than once. I found people didn’t hate me for it. They gave me respect and honest answers instead.
4) Set aside time to be a tourist, wherever you are. Living in Spain, I had this incredible opportunity to reach a level of comfort with the place. The flip side of this was that I stopped exploring. Then I decided I could always explore, without feeling self-conscious. Tourists should never be getting more enjoyment out of where I was than me. Actually going to the tower/museum/street performance around the corner changed my whole perspective on the place I lived.
5) Attitude colors every experience, think accordingly. When you live somewhere new, it’s easy to blame everything on the region/city/county. You will have good and bad days wherever you are, but always striving to be positive makes the biggest difference. From experience, self-pity and bitterness will only leave you shivering IN a broken futon and bemoaning your life choices. If things aren’t meeting your expectations, change your expectations, put on rosy lenses and kick yourself in the butt. Hard.