First impressions. You only get one chance at them. So, let’s talk how you make the best first impression, before that day comes.
First Impressions Are Important
Always good to make a good first impression. That’s true when meeting anyone. But when we move overseas, especially to places where we’re obviously the minority, people take special notice of you.
So, when we move abroad, that first impression can be huge, and lasting. Here are 7 tips to help us not embarrass ourselves.
1. Study / Research / Learn
Before you board any plane, you’re thinking about a zillion things at once. You’re thinking about a job and where to stay. You’re thinking about money, the cost of food, transportation, electricity. And what about the language…should you learn 1-10 first, or “where’s the bathroom?”. Or maybe you’re already dreaming what hot vacation spots are nearby.
First things first: learn proper greetings, ways to say thank you, sorry, and how much. Research cultural differences, like personal space, what hand to use, eye contact and many more – all these help shape that first impression.
2. Two Ears > One Mouth
The other day I heard a mother sternly say to her child: “You have two ears, but only one mouth for a reason!”
At the time, I thought “What a bitch.” But I’m a dad and felt her frustration.
Anyway, the phrase works for new expats— keep your ears (& eyes) open. The greatest opportunity for this is when you’re with new people and you watch them greet each other, and how they introduce you to others.
Listen and watch closely. Then speak or do. Or try at least.
3. When Shaking Hands, Don’t be a Dominant Braggart
Handshaking is just one example, a clear jab at US President trump. Because, to rest of the world, he is the perfect “dominant braggart.”
When you’re about to make a first impression, you might be nervous. That’s cool and totally understandable. Anyone who cares, is going to be a bit nervous. But it doesn’t mean overcompensate, go over the top with dominance and showmanship.
In general, don’t be an asshole.
4. Be Humble and Confident.
This is a step up from #3. Confidence and courage come from being calm.
If you don’t feel confident, then fake it till you make it. You’ll find, faster than you can imagine, your confidence gets very real.
5. Loudly, Slowly, Smile
I bet I have written this phrase on the site before. If I wrote “loudly, slowly, smile” before, I also probably told the story.
In South Korea, waaay back in 1996, when a sweet teen-aged student told the new, nervous TESL teacher (me), how some days I was a better teacher on some days than other days. The “good days, you are loudly, slowly. And smile.”
Proof having a calm, happy confidence works.
Speak loudly, speak slowly and with a sincere smile.
6. Speak With Your Body
Most communication is non-verbal. You probably hear that as much as “make a good first impression.”
And what about when traveling or living abroad? Wow, when abroad, the non-verbal communication takes over! Especially when we don’t understand the host language (–and they don’t understand yours).
This brings up two important points. First, be mindful of your normal non-verbal communication (stance, facial expression, arm/hands waving). Basically, what you appear to say if you were in a silent picture. Second, be mindful of how you use your hands or sounds to get your idea across (gestures, pointing). This is super useful for communicating your question or idea, but be aware some gesture innocent to you, turns out to be offensive to someone else.
When there’s a language barrier, non-verbal communication can become the only language. Use it well!
7. Never Stop Improving on that First Impression
Hey, the bottom line is, it is loads of fun living abroad, communicating and understanding others. It’s a journey of a 1000 steps.
Sure, it starts with the best first impression. But everyone you meet recognizes you’re new to their home and their ways. You’ll be given lots of latitude in improving on that first impression.