How to Move to Another Country & Adjust to a Strange Culture

by Maria November 20, 2018
Road trip with the team

Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, customer success manager Usoamaka Aninyei was looking for a way to combine career growth with a change of environment. When she moved to Tallinn, Estonia, Usoamaka got more than she bargained for—a culture that couldn’t be any more drastically different from the country she left behind.

Now more than 6,000 kilometers (3,800 miles) from home, Usoamaka finds herself pining for food she can’t get in Tallinn. “Yams, plantains, efo riro, okra soup, amala, ofada stew, moi-moi, akara, egusi soup, pineapple, mango, pawpaw, guava, tangerine, sugarcane…” she lists. My jaw drops. With a laugh, Usoamaka adds, “You asked!”

So what brought Usoamaka to this place that leaves her tropical palate so unsatisfied? And what wisdom has she distilled from the experience?

How to move to another country and adjust to a strange culture

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Usoamaka first discovered Jobbatical, the Estonian startup that helps people find career adventures in exciting locations across the globe, in January 2018. The urge to move to another country for personal and professional growth had well and truly taken over by then. “I began my search for tech startups that were not doing what everyone else was doing,” she says. “Companies that were hiring based on people’s skills and not their nationality.”

For Usoamaka, that meant looking for interesting startups in Germany and Estonia. In the end, she decided in favor of Estonia for the country’s fabled tech scene, relative lack of a language barrier (English is very commonly spoken), and cost of living. Looking for jobs on Jobbatical, she ended up applying for a role at Jobbatical itself, which came with visa sponsorship and a relocation package—the globetrotting professional’s jackpot.

Leave your expectations at the door

And so, about four months after applying, Usoamaka landed in Tallinn—strictly with no expectations. “I think expectations can be a hindrance to experiencing,” she says. A blank slate and an open mind it was, then! “But I knew I would struggle to adjust to food, cultural differences, and the weather.”

The weather is a no-brainer—Estonia is temperate verging on cold, while Nigeria is tropical. But what are the most striking cultural differences she’s discovered?

“For me, the main difference is planning,” Usoamaka says. “In Nigeria, we just start moving when things need to be done. In Estonia, there’s more step-by-step planning and detailed research.”

From a personal and professional growth perspective, the change has also been noticeable for Usoamaka. “I don’t remember ever having a job in Nigeria where I had the amount of freedom to express myself that I have in Estonia,” she says.

Remember the world doesn’t revolve around you

Aside from the differences in work culture, what has changed in Usoamaka’s daily life? “Absolutely everything,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve lived in a city with 21 million people my entire life. Now I live in Tallinn, with about 400,000 people.”

From Nigeria to Estonia: How to move to another country

The magnificent urban sprawl of Lagos and the snowy rooftops of Tallinn

In addition to the obvious everyday differences, such as the practically nonexistent traffic in Tallinn compared to Lagos, Estonia’s society is a far cry from what Usoamaka was used to back home. “Nigeria is more of a community-based society,” she says. “In Estonia, people love and appreciate their space.” This strong need for personal space caught Usoamaka off guard when she first joined the Jobbatical team. Had she done something to offend her coworkers who were acting all aloof? Nope—they were just Estonian.

“It can be very confusing to an outsider. But once you realize the world doesn’t revolve around you, you’ll be fine.”

In many ways, then, Estonia and Nigeria are pretty much as different as two countries can be. But did Usoamaka find any unexpected similarities?

“My first month here I’d have said none whatsoever,” she says. “We’re as far apart as heaven and earth, and the Nigerian experience is completely different from the Estonian. And that’s what makes this new chapter in my life exciting. It’s a complete departure from what I’m used to.”

But there is a common thread. “The sense of humor is very similar,” Usoamaka says. “You might not notice at first because people are more reserved in Estonia, but once we’re more familiar, it feels like I’m talking to someone in Lagos.”

Immerse yourself in the culture

Usoamaka has certainly had her hands full with settling in, from adjusting her palate to new foods and finding an apartment to navigating the culture. But one of the most challenging things has been dealing with the loneliness that comes with leaving your whole life behind. What does she miss the most?

“My family,” she says. “Even though we talk almost every day.”

At times, Usoamaka misses the big city noise, too (“Strange but very true,” she reflects), and the concept of having to make new friends from scratch has been a challenge. And, of course, “There are certain foods and fruits I crave daily,” she emphasizes.

Making friends in another country

Taking selfies is an important part of making friends in a new country.

The fix? She decided to immerse herself in cultural activities and experience Estonia properly, to avoid getting stuck in a bubble.

And sure enough, Usoamaka’s Instagram feed is a cornucopia of photos from road trips and classical music concerts. She’s made friends in and out of the office and is gradually becoming an expert on appropriate winter clothing—something that’s entirely new to Usoamaka, but inevitable in these northerly latitudes.

And the exploration continues. “The next thing on my agenda is to learn the language,” Usoamaka says.

Take a leap of faith

What is Usoamaka’s final word of advice for people considering moving far outside their comfort zones?

“Just do it,” she says—just like I’d hoped she would. “Take that leap of faith, forget everything you’ve known, and embrace the new. Life is too short to spend it only with people who look, sound, and think like you.”

If you’re ready to take your leap, there’s a world of awesome career destinations waiting for you out there. Explore jobs on Jobbatical, let go of your expectations, and immerse yourself in a whole new world.

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