The simple answer is it depends. Alright, that wasn’t particularly helpful so let me explain.
It is normal to start out your journey abroad by looking for something familiar, something that feels home or makes you feel comfortable. But if you stick only to that which you are accustomed, you will exist in a bubble and not truly live and enjoy the local culture. You won’t be just a foreigner, you’ll become an outsider.
So yes, to some extent you have to adapt. As enticing as it may be, do not just associate with other expatriates, meet with the locals, try new things (isn’t that one of the reasons you chose to move in the first place?). It is not only the big things you want to know, but the little ones as well, any subtlety that make up the local ways of thinking and living.
Every culture has a different pace or tempo to it. Make every effort to get in the swing of things and adjust to that pace.
-So that’s it then? I have to act in every way like a local?
Well, no. Most people (those who aren’t familiar with the great advice we give on this blog), will probably tell you that you have to think and act like a local: “when in Rome, …” that’s where we disagree. Adapting is not forgetting who you are. There are things about yourself, big or small, that you are not necessarily willing to change to adapt. Then don’t.
Let me give you an example: I was attending San Diego State University in California (Go Aztecs!) and one day one of my classmates told me that she liked my style but deplored the fact that I dressed in such sad colors. I had never thought of my clothes as sad, to me they were just regular. As most French girls, I mostly dressed in black, blue, brown and other dark colors. I was never a fan of the neon yellow, green and pink that raved on campus at that time. It looked nice on the other girls but I felt ridiculous wearing them. I knew that I dressed differently than my Californian girlfriends but I chose to keep it that way. It’s a simple example but you get the point.
The most important thing is to get to know the local ways, to understand them, to try them out and respect them but you can chose which one to adopt or not. We’re all different and that’s what’s so great about the world!