To this day, the Expat Panic Attack blog post remains one of my most popular. I’ve officially been living in Mundaka for 7 months now, and I’ve had time to reflect, learn and grow from the lows I went through when I first moved. I hope this post becomes just as (if not more) popular and helps those that aren’t seeing that light at the end of the tunnel yet. Spoiler alert – I didn’t pack my shit & move back to the U.S.
- It’s true, I severely underestimated the level of culture shock and the effect it would have. I’d been with Julen for so long, I’d stayed in Mundaka for a month a few years ago and I just wanted this new life so badly, I figured my adjustment would be easy. No amount of family dinners in Miami and extended vacations would prepare me for a completely different living dynamic.
- WHAT I LEARNED: Establish a routine as quickly as possible. When we first moved, it was a weird-pseudo vacation feeling. We weren’t working yet, but we also weren’t “exploring” like tourists on a daily basis. I was coming from a highly regimented routine and then all of the sudden, there was A LOT of down time. I realized a routine didn’t have to be solely based on work. I started waking up everyday around the same time, consistently cooking meals, setting aside time to do yoga, working on lesson plans…. Establishing a sense of normalcy and routine helped my mind shift from “the life I had” to “this new life”.
- Hats off to those of you that pack up and move without knowing a single soul – I couldn’t imagine doing that. Although I had my husband here, I still missed my friends back home. I didn’t realize how much I took friendships for granted until I found myself NOT having those connections, and desperately needing them.
Imagine being in a park FULL of kids riding their bikes, and you’re in your late 20’s trying to learn how to pedal and propel yourself forward on two skinny wheels of death, falling over every few meters. You’d feel stupid AF and very self-conscious, right? Yeah, that’s exactly how it feels trying to make friends as an adult.
- WHAT I LEARNED: The comfort zone is a false friend, just like those words in Spanish that sound JUST LIKE ones in English but couldn’t be further apart in meaning (I should know, I accidentally told a student I was constipated instead of stuffy). Getting out of the comfort zone to meet new people is rough. My tip? Guilt trip your friends into visiting you.
Just kidding. But, it is always AWESOME when friends & family do come to visit! But seriously, start working on building a support system in your new home as quickly as possible. Maybe you join a Facebook group that meets for happy hour once a month. Maybe you start a weekly coffee run with two co-workers. Or, you start taking a class and stay to chat for 20 minutes after with a few classmates. You’ll be surprised how ONE seemingly insignificant connection can help you grow your network. And it takes time. Just like it feels strange for you to push a “connection” with someone, it’s going to take time for them to move you from the “friend of a friend’s friend” box to the “person I’ve seen around” box to the “mi gente” box.
- It’s a process. For being someone who loves to do yoga, I’m impatient as hell and I hate “the process”. When we first moved here, anytime I’d hint to someone that things were less-than-perfect, everyone would shrug and say, “poco a poco”. It got to the point where my skin would crawl when people said that… now it’s my damn motto.
- WHAT I LEARNED: Just because you’re having a bad day doesn’t mean it’s a bad life. Maybe it’s been a long week, it’s Friday night and you’re just not feeling up for being a total social butterfly. Or for those of you that moved to a country where you don’t speak the language, maybe today you can’t fathom having to mime your order at the butcher shop and not being exactly sure what meat you’ve been given.
Give yourself the down day, recharge that mental battery and try again the next day. There’s nothing wrong with a little extra self-love while you adjust. Self-love is all about giving yourself what you NEED, not what you want and not being so damn hard on yourself. We’re quick to forget that even if we were still “back home,” we’d still have the occasional “bad” day.
If you’re having an especially tough time, getting professional help is ALWAYS an option. You ask people in your new country for help with paper work, directions for getting around town and even for suggestions on places to eat – what’s the difference between that and asking for help navigating this major life change? Living in a country where you don’t know the language isn’t an excuse anymore – there are tons of new online counseling services where you can find someone that knows your language, your culture and is available according to your schedule.
I’ve only been living abroad for 7 months. I don’t presume to be an expert on what it takes to make it work, but in 50 years when I look back on this decision, I know it’s going to be one of the best ones I’ve ever made (getting married wasn’t too bad either).
In other news, our first year as Auxiliares de Conversacion is coming to an end, so stay tuned for a new blog post next month reviewing the program. Who knows – you may even get inspired to move to Spain too!