As an American living in France, I’ve dealt with all sorts of hurdles in my three and a half years here. From bureaucracy issues to language mistakes to trouble making friends, you’ll find that expat life will test your limits and push you like nothing ever has before. But if I could give a new expat (or immigrant, as it may be) advice, I’d say join your neighborhood gym and do it NOW. Why? For a bunch of reasons that will make you happier. Promise.
Joining a gym makes you a happy expat
When I first moved to France, I was a bit of a homebody. It’s my nature to begin with, so add in being new in town, not yet having a dog to walk, not being too confident with French and living in a smallish town and you have a recipe for hermit life.
I’ve always been passionate about fitness but didn’t really love the gym (yes singular) in my area, so I worked out at home, on my own, for two years before making a change and joining the gym in my neighborhood. No, my gym isn’t high energy with all the new equipment like my gym back in NJ, but it does have its perks.
NOTE: Before I go on, I know that the gym isn’t for everyone, so you can replace “gym” in what I’ve written below with whatever type of social activity works in your situation. Maybe for you that’s an association or meet-up group that is centered around a hobby, or a language group, or knitting club. Anything really. The point is to get out of your house. The result is the same.
Here’s why joining the gym is essential to being a happy expat no matter where you live:
You will meet people.
It’s a fact. You will interact with other human beings and that’s the whole idea. When you’re new to an area (abroad or not), you’re going to want to meet other people and you won’t meet anyone staying home and keeping to yourself all day (aside from the mailman, or in my case the DHL guy who is awesome). When you join the gym, you already have something in common with everyone else there so that will only work to your advantage when it comes to socializing. Even if conversations start off with just a sentence or two, with time that will change and you’ll become a regular. People will expect to see you and expect to chitchat.
In the same vein as above, meeting people can lead to work opportunities and business contacts. You never know who you’re chatting with, so when someone asks where you’re from and what you do for a living, speak up. A fellow gym-goer learned I was American and wanted me to tutor her 15-year-old son. And that can lead to something else. I’ve expanded my professional network just by showing up to sweat.
You’ll improve your language skills.
I’ve learned so many new words at the gym (and gotten schooled on my bisous technique) that I’d never learn otherwise. And not just anatomy and fitness words! Just talking to people exposes me to new phrases and expressions and for someone looking to get better in their new language, the gym is a fantastic no-stress place to do it.
It’ll hold you accountable.
If you’re anything like me, you like getting your money’s worth. If I’m paying monthly membership fees, I’ll be at the gym daily so I don’t feel like I’m wasting money. Finances aside, you’ll also feel accountable to others — maybe to your workout buddy or a gym instructor or other participants in the Tuesday night class you take. Feeling like you belong somewhere and have a standing appointment gives your life structure. If you don’t have much going on, let the gym start you off with a routine and schedule.
It does a body (and mind) good.
I left the most obvious perk of joining a gym for last. Exercising is not only great for your body but mind too. Did you know exercise reduces stress and can lift depression? It also creates “new brain cells and establish[es] new connections between brain cells to help us learn.” Could come in handy for language learning, eh? So destress, energize yourself and torch calories while having fun. Don’t let your membership go unused!