When I made the decision to become a Meddeas language assistant in Spain, I knew that I was about to embark on one of the most exciting adventures of my life. I expected to be confronted with obstacles of all kinds while teaching English abroad and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to overcome them. I would need to find a place to live, to make new friends, to communicate in a second language, to adapt to an unfamiliar culture, and on top of it all to start a brand new work experience. What I didn’t know was that the hardest part would be something much more personal than negotiating a rental contract or overcoming jetlag: the real challenge of teaching English abroad has been finding a way to make myself feel at home in Spain, and to settle in to the brand new life I’m building from scratch.
I’ve still got a long way to go, but after five months I’ve acquired enough experience to give some basic advice. If you’re thinking of teaching English abroad, here are some tips to help you adapt and settle in as soon as possible, so you can start enjoying everything your new home has to offer!
1. Avoid Comparisons and Complaints
It goes without saying that plenty of things are going to be different here than they are back home, and it’s easy to slip into the habit of making negative judgments based on your preconceived notions about how things should work. I’m talking about complaints ranging from “no one here is ever on time” to “the peanut butter doesn’t taste as good” and everything in between. But just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong—and the sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be. Do your best to start seeing things not through the cultural lens of your home country, but rather with a fresh perspective and an open mind.
2. Find Your Happy Place
Teaching English abroad means leaving behind your comfort zone—not just mentally, but physically as well. More than likely, you’re going to miss your house, your bed, and all the familiar places you used to spend your time. We all need spaces where we feel comfortable and safe, so you’ve got to start creating new ones right away. This could be something as simple as decorating the walls of your bedroom, buying a fuzzy blanket for your bed, or finding a quiet library, a cozy café, or a peaceful park where you can relax after a long day. Do whatever you need to do find the spaces where you feel at home, and before you know it you’ll have created a whole new comfort zone.
3. Put Yourself Out There
It’s hard to feel like you truly belong somewhere when you’re all alone. Moving abroad means leaving behind your family and friends and surrounding yourself with strangers instead. I didn’t know a single soul in Spain before I moved here, and for the first few weeks I struggled with loneliness and longing for the people back home. The trick is being brave enough to go out on your own to restaurants, parties, and events where you can meet new people to fill those gaps. It isn’t always easy, but if you isolate yourself then you’ll never truly feel like a part of your new community. You’ve got to take risks, introduce yourself to strangers, and make a conscious effort to construct a brand new support system—it won’t happen on its own!
All of these things are much easier said than done, and figuring out how to feel at home in Spain has required an enormous amount of energy and effort. I still have the occasional bouts of homesickness, but they’re far outnumbered by the moments of joy, wonder, and overwhelming gratitude I feel to be teaching English abroad. Every time I experience the relief of coming back to my apartment after a rough day, or drink a coffee in my favorite café, or laugh until I can’t breathe with my new friends, or realize that I’ve unknowingly internalized some random aspect of Spanish culture… these are the times when I know that no matter how far away home may sometimes seem, the truth is that with a little bit of patience, curiosity, and courage, home can be anywhere.
2016/2017 Posted by Melissa H.