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Tips to Survive & Overcome the Initial Shock

Language Assistant playing cards with her host siblings

There is a big difference between travelling abroad and living abroad. When you travel, you have only a brief moment in time to experience a place —the food, the sites, and the people. It is fun, fast paced, and exciting. However, when you live abroad for a long period of time, things are much different. To begin, not only do you experience a country’s culture… you start to live it! And this takes a lot of adjusting. It is then that you might need tips to survive and overcome the initial shock!

The Initial Shock

When I finally arrived to teach English as a Meddeas Language Assistant in Spain (Algeciras, Cadiz), I started to stress. I was living with a family in a small apartment who had 3 little kids. It was a totally different environment from the life I had lived back in the States. (For example, I had never shared a bathroom with a 3 year-old before).

Even the school I was teaching English at was different than anything I had experienced before. The students in primary hugged me in the hallways and shouted, “Miss Amanda, Miss Amanda!” The bell schedule confused me (and honestly still does a little).

woman with a girl reviewing some English homework
Reviewing and practicing the Cambridge Exam with one of my students.

At lunch I looked like a bobble head, nodding and smiling as 20 teachers spoke Spanish very quickly (typical in Andalusia) all around me. I had also never been at a school with such a wide range of ages all in one place (infantile to secondary) and was shocked when I tried to help in a secondary class and there were crying toddlers outside my door walking to the playground.

I’m going to be honest: I panicked. What was I thinking? Could I really live here for 8 months? Would I be able to teach English in Spain to those kids?

How I Calmed Down

I realize now that this is a completely normal reaction. It’s OK to be nervous. But of course, I did like anyone else would and called my mom upset. I had barely given it 3 days before I thought I had admitted defeat.

one English teacher playing cards with two Spanish kids
With my two host siblings playing “Go Fish”.

However, after a week or so I began to adjust. I learned my family’s routine and started warming up to them. (I brought the card games “Go Fish” and “Old Maid” from the US and we always play together now!) Finally, I figured out how to navigate my school (though I’m still working on the bell schedule). I even found another native English teacher to be friends.

Although this transition is a hard one, it is by no means insurmountable. I want others who read this post to know that they are not alone in their struggle to live abroad. I wanted to share somethings that I found helpful to me during this adjustment.

Things to Say to Yourself:

Moving to a new country is hard!

You’re brave for packing your bags and embarking on this new adventure.

It’s OK to be nervous

But don’t let the nerves prevent you from all the opportunities this experience has to offer.

Not only are you teaching, but you are learning too

You are meant to grow here. There is no better way to discover who you are as a person and what you want in life than to leave your comfort zone!

Finally, always remind yourself to do your best

So what if you made a mistake? Learn from it and be better because of it!

three pictures of landscapes of Algeciras, in Spain
Some places I visited in Algeciras.

Things to Do

1. Make Friends

Make friends with your fellow teachers! At my school, everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I was too nervous at first to really open up and talk with them, but once I did it really helped change my experience. Now I look forward to seeing them every day!

2. Explore

Explore where you live! There are probably lots of things to do and see (restaurants, monuments, beaches, museums, etc.) If you don’t get out there to check out where you live, you’ll never know! After I had the chance to walk around Algeciras I discovered some really nice areas (for example, Plaza Alta, where people shop and eat outside).

3. Skype

Skype your family. If you are missing the people you love most at home, don’t be afraid to take time to talk to them. Keep them updated about your school and the things you are doing. It will help you to still feel connected even though you are far away.

4. Keep on with your Hobbies

Continue to do the things you love. Just because you are in a new country, does not mean you have to surrender all your favorite hobbies and traditions from home. It’s important to find a balance in your new life here.

5. Go on Trips

Plan excursions and weekend getaways. Yes, you are here to teach and study, but you are also here to see new things and places. Plan a weekend trip with a friend to visit a nearby city or even a new country! You have such a great chance to see the world and you should take advantage of it!

In the end, there are plenty of ways to make adjusting to life in another country easier. You should know that it is most likely going to be hard but through the process, you will learn a lot about yourself. The experience of living and teaching abroad can be the opportunity of a lifetime, so make the most of it!

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