By Lauren Manderfeld
It is no joke that making any sort of move is nerve-racking, especially if you are moving into a completely new culture where they don’t speak the same language. I am here to point out some of the emotional highs and lows in your first year of being abroad.
Before you move to a new place you are typically full of excitement and curiosity. You wonder what your life might be like in this new place, about the people you are going to meet, the job your going to get, where you are going to live, and so much more. Its hard to feel anything except excitement when you have so many possibilities, and you can create your life however you want!
When you arrive and you finally make it to your accommodation and you set down your bags, you may feel a touch of loneliness. You have had so much excitement building for the weeks prior to your departure; you build this perception of what your life will be like when you arrive, and the truth is that isn’t always the case. I remember putting my bags down and thinking “what now”. I had no idea how to get around the city, where to go, or how to get wifi. I felt extremely alone and started to question myself and think "what did I get myself into?".
One way to eliminate some of these thoughts is to be active on social media before you even arrive. International TEFL Academy has so many great resources to allow you to get in touch with people who are already in country. Once you have taken your TEFL course, you will have access to Alumni Facebook pages. These pages are created for each country. On these pages you can connect with other alumni and find up to date information about the country/city you are planning to live in. If you start to develop relationships with individuals before you move and plan to meet as soon as you arrive in country, you may be able to overcome the feeling of loneliness when you first arrive!
Your first two weeks will be complete chaos! It will be filled with finding a job (if you don't have one already), getting a flat, setting up a bank account, getting to know the city, learning how to get around, finding friends, and starting the visa process (if necessary - this will vary & depend on where you teach). You will have feelings of being unsettled because of all the changes, and you will constantly be spending money. It is easy at this point to rethink your decision of moving abroad, but I promise it WILL get better!
After the first month, you will probably have most of your life back in order. You will be moved into a flat, have consistent wifi (because we all know that’s the most important part), hopefully have found a job, and have a pretty good idea of the layout of the city. Things are starting to become normal, but everything is still new and exciting. You are meeting new people everywhere you turn and things are FINALLY starting to become how you envisioned them before you moved!
After about 3 to 4 months of living in your new life, you may find yourself looking at old Facebook photos and missing your friends and family. I have met some people that during this stage wouldn’t even leave their room. They felt so alone, and they started to realize that living in a new place wouldn’t be the party they maybe thought it would be, and living in this new place is the same as living back home; they have a lot of the same responsibilities as they used to have (rent, phone bill, social life, banking, etc.).
My biggest advice to the people who are experiencing this stage is to NOT give up! Things will get better and you will soon realize that your life is in this new place, and you need to make the most of it. A lot of it has to do with your mindset. You have to have a positive mindset and then good things will follow you. Another suggestion I have for those caught in this stage is to plan a trip. I remember after three months of being in Prague, I decided to get away and plan a trip to Venice. This was my first major trip, and I had such an amazing time exploring a new city. I remember on the plane home I started to think to myself, “I can’t wait to get home” and when I said home, I realized that for the first time I meant Prague and not Minnesota! It felt so great to finally recognize Prague as home. So, even if you are just getting away and exploring a new place for a day. It may help spark that excitement and remind you why you chose to do this in the first place!
Approximately 5 months into your transition abroad, you are going to have this amazing feeling of “I got this!” You will finally consistently feel comfortable with your new life and be confident that you made the right decision. You will be able to manage whatever life throws at you; you will have an amazing core group of friends; and you will begin to have the opportunity to travel and enjoy the life you created! This point of your experience is well WORTH the wait. You will be so happy that you stuck it out and never gave up.
** This may not be how everyone feels during their transition abroad. This article is based on my own experience and others that I know who had similar experiences. These feelings may also depend on where you move, and whether or not you know the language or are familiar with the culture.
Lauren Manderfeld is 24 from New Ulm, MN, with a BA in Elementary Education from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She enrolled in the TEFL course immediately after graduation and then set off to Prague, Czech Republic.
To learn more about Lauren's experiences and her great insights on teaching abroad, check out her article, Preparing for Your Adventure Teaching English Abroad.