Adjusting to Living Abroad

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 view in the morning from my bedroom window!

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.

A picture of my bedroom in Algeciras

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 discovered Plaza Alta in the city center during one of my walks!

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

One thought on “Adjusting to Living Abroad

  1. Hey Amanda,
    You know i know exactly how you are feeling and let me tell you something you will be fine soon and you would never ever change or regret the experience. You know u can text me and I will help you figure out your feelings or whatever. Enjoy, have fun and build some good memories. Good things can come out of the experience our friendship is an example when did u dream about having a Venezuelan girl in your HS class and as one of your friends.
    Tons of love,
    Morena Luna (Shary)


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