Hi everyone! I want to take some time to share my thoughts on what it is really like moving to a new country (here’s a hint: it’s not easy).
There is a big difference between traveling abroad and living abroad. When you travel, you have only a brief moment in time to experience a place—the food, the sites and momentarily, the people. It is fun, fast paced and exciting. However, when you live abroad in a new country for a long period of time, things are much different.
The first week I was in Spain I was visiting Barcelona and Sevilla. Being back again made it feel like a dream. My heart was full of adventure! However, when I finally moved to Algeciras to meet my host family and see my new town, I began to stress. The family I live with has 3 little kids (Julian who is 8, Sofia who is 4 and Mario who is 3). We live in a small apartment in the center of town. It was a totally different environment from the life I had lived before (for example, only sharing a bathroom with adults).
I’m going to be very real with you: I panicked. I thought (like probably most people do at some point or another) that I was not capable of doing this. What was I thinking??! I had just packed up my stuff, got on a plane and thought I could live and work here?! Back in the United States the thought of leaving and going some place new had seemed so magical.
My first night in Algeciras I felt like the walls of my room were closing in on me. I was stressed, over-tired and (for some reason) sweating. Everything from taking a shower to going to bed at night just felt different and strange to me.
I had lived abroad before, but not like this. When I studied in Sevilla, I had one of my best friends as my roommate. Someone to talk to when I was sad or homesick, and someone to explore my new city with. I also had a study abroad program, helping me to adjust and planning activities and trips for me. Here in Algeciras, I felt very, very alone.
To be honest, I still feel a little alone, but things have gotten better. I owe a lot of that to my family and Mark, who are always there to talk to me when I am upset. I have befriended a few teachers at my school as well, and although I have not spent time with them outside of school, I feel as though I could in the future. On Friday, I hope to accomplish at least one of my responsibilities (opening a bank account or getting my NIE appointment). I will keep you posted though.
Another strange part of this adjustment is the toll it takes on your body. Mentally, I was worried and anxious 24/7—and this affected my stomach, my skin and my hair. My whole body felt out-of-whack because of my stress. I haven’t honestly discovered a way to overcome this part of adjusting, so I am letting it take its course. I try to stretch before bed and take walks to help me relax. I think in a week or so my body will be completely adjusted.
Finally, although I know Spanish relatively well, the region I am living in (Cadiz) is known for having the most difficult Spanish accent. People here string their words together quickly and drop off letters. I imagine it is similar to someone trying to understand a person with a “wicked” strong Boston accent (pahk tha cah). My brain is tired of listening to (and trying to understand) Spanish again. In the lunchroom at school my brain is in hyper-mode, trying to understand 30 teachers talking over each other at once.
I know that most of the time, life abroad seems glamorous and fun. Although it can be those things, it is also difficult and trying. It takes perseverance, patience and a strong will to adjust to a completely new culture. When you move to a new country, you feel very far away from your “comfort zone”. I always think about how I miss my Dad’s home cooked meals when I am biting into something unknown at lunch. Or after I’ve had a bad day, I wish I could cuddle up with my Mom on our couch at home. Although I miss this type of comfort every day, I know that this is a test for me. I am meant to grow and learn from this experience. Soon, I will find comfort here.
That is mostly what has gotten me through the past week. Each day I try to do a little something to help myself. I’ve taken a few walks through my town to explore Algeciras. One day I treated myself to gelato, and another day I bought a new dress. I am learning the routine of my family and their kids. I have even attempted (and mostly failed) to communicate in the lunchroom with the other teachers. But the point is that I’m trying.
I don’t want anyone to worry about me because I am doing fine. But I think this post was important to share with you all. I want you all to know that my life is a fun adventure here, but it is a difficult one nonetheless.
I think there is some quote (I cannot recall now), that says: While traveling, if you don’t say to yourself, “what the hell have I gotten myself into” at least once, you’re doing it wrong. I can truly relate to this quote. Honestly 90% of my day I ask myself that. But I understand that this is all just a process (like any change in life).
I have a few things to look forward to that are also helping me. This weekend, my host family is taking me with them to their beach house in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Hopefully a little downtime spent by the sea will help me to relax. Also, Mark’s brother (Matt) is coming to visit in a few weeks and I will be able to spend sometime in Sevilla with them both. I think it will be really nice to have someone from home visit & I can’t wait to see Matt. At the end of November, Mark and I will be spending a weekend in Paris (one of my absolute favorite places) and I am excited to stroll the Parisian streets again and watch the Eiffel Tower light show with him. And… at the beginning of December we are going to Germany for a long weekend to see a few Christmas markets (and eat a lot of German chocolate / drink a lot of German beer). I can’t wait!!
I promise to keep you posted on how I continue to adjust. The next blog post I am working on is one about my school (and how different it is from the United States), so stay tuned!
Lots of love to you all! -Amanda