By: Kaitlin Emmons
Don’t fight it. No goodbyes, only see you laters. Rip the Band-Aid off and coast.
I can’t tell you how to adjust to life abroad; all I can do is share my story with you. Everyone has their own routines on race day. Maybe you have heartfelt farewells with every human you know, or maybe you leave without saying goodbye, whatever works for you. I’ve lived abroad on five separate occasions and the worst part is the two weeks before leaving. Without fail, every single time I am devastated, I convince myself I am going to die. I don’t pack until the day before and I sob hysterically when I have to say goodbye to my dog. It’s to the point now where my parents just laugh at me when I cry at the airport.
And then suddenly it dissipates. As abruptly as the eff-it moment when you click the confirm flight payment button, the anxieties vanish. Bare feet shuffle into the daunting body scanner in airport security. The whirligig spins and I am free.
I won’t expand on how liberating, confusing and challenging moving abroad is because this is what happens when you try new things. I’m not going to tell you it won’t be scary; I can only promise that it will be worth it beyond comprehension.
When adjusting to life abroad, I try to take the backseat. I have traveled across the world to teach English in Indonesia to experience a new culture, not to change it. For me, the easiest way to tackle assimilation in a brand new environment is to remember first and foremost, experiencing a new way of life is so much more exotic when you are on vacation.
Living abroad is completely different.
Fresh off the plane, you don’t know how much things cost – is it really 8,000 for a bottle of water?! Why is it in the thousands in the first place? You find yourself thinking of questions you couldn’t make up even if you tried.
“Can I eat fruit if I can’t drink the water? Does the walk to work count as exercise or should I go to the gym? Do they have gyms here? Is this cab taking the long way? Why is it weird to walk here? Why does everyone think I’m Australian? I can’t even do that accent. Do I take my shoes off in this shop? Is it really that offensive when I eat with my left hand? I’m left-handed! Do the stray dogs know I love them? How many people have fallen in the trash holes in the sidewalk? Will I get sick if I eat this? There’s no Mexican food because there’s no cheese… what does that even mean?! Why is that kid flying a kite next to the power lines? Isn’t that a thing? Why is there a monkey on the table wearing a diaper and drinking a soda… and why does no one think it’s weird?” – Journal Entry May 2015
Upon arriving in a new country, I find myself urgently striving for instantaneous normalcy. It is imperative to constantly remind yourself that it takes time. It’s like when I kept complaining to my friend that my new nose piercing still hurt after a day – she responded with ‘you had a piece of metal stabbed through your nostril… of course it’s going to hurt for a while!’ Take a step back and evaluate the situation. You moved to the other side of the world to a new country to live for a year… by yourself. It’s going to take time.
I have learned to acquire an incredibly larger amount of patience when adjusting to life abroad. It’s okay to take it slow. I had to constantly remind myself that it was okay that I couldn’t weave in and out of the insane traffic on my motorbike while driving on the other side of the road upon immediate arrival in Indonesia.
It takes time to adjust to a new concept of time. After experiencing Africa time, mzungu time, Nicaraguan time and Indonesian time, I’ve realized that not expecting anything to be on time works best. Not much gets done unless you light a fire under someone’s bum, but I can tell you that your urgency for everyday petty wants has no business in Indonesia. (Or the rest of the world for that matter.)
People don’t care that your smoothie took 45 minutes to make, that the wifi doesn’t connect, that there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom, or that there’s 18 other people packed in a van made for 10. In other words, leave your first world problems at home and open your heart to what actually matters when assimilating into societies around the world. You’ll find that family, loyalty, and respect for elders are the fundamentals of life; the pulse the heartbeat of the world.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to realize it’s okay to not like it all the time. Accept the slopes of the u-curve and allow time for mourning. After all, that’s what a journal, a pen, and Christina Aguilara’s Genie in a Bottle album is for. Yep, I was a teen in the early 2000s and I’m not ashamed that I trust in Christina to, without fail, cure my bad days on the road.
In the end, when adjusting to life abroad, don’t forget to strip away daily annoyances and frustrations and discover the underlying phenomenon. What makes this new society unique? Dig past social constructions and you might be enlightened to find that human beings are beautifully resilient.
I will leave you with some advice that has helped me to utilize this adjustment process as an extremely personal opportunity to grow exponentially as an individual. When living abroad, you must have the courage to trust in yourself.
Be brave enough to experience the rawness of being uncomfortably vulnerable; it might just take you to the far corners of this magical world where previously, your dreams only dared to go.
An artist at heart and having an almighty passion for the beach, Kaitlin has been in pursuit of traveling the world since 2010. She loves adventurous activities and trying new things. Kaitlin is a 25-year-old Massachusetts native and is currently teaching English in Indonesia.