I remember the exact day, June 2, 2017, when I made a decision that would ultimately change my perspective and my life, in drastic ways. As I drove through the suburbs of Washington D.C. towards my [then] house, I picked up my phone to call one of my best friends from University who knew I had been thinking about making a big change. My buddy answered and the first words out of my mouth were “dude, I’m just going to do it”.
I was referring to of course, moving to Madrid, Spain and embarking on a journey that would hopefully land me an English teaching job. I couldn’t fathom at the time, just how much more I would truly get from this experience. Now, this decision was by no means an easy one to make. I had a nice laundry list of reservations and naturally so for someone who has never lived in a foreign country, 100% on their own. Nevertheless, I knew that making this move was the right thing for me to do, in spite of all my hesitations. I have to say though, my friend’s response to me on the phone, “dude, do it!” definitely gave me a nice push of confidence, affirming the decision I had already made for myself.
Since I’ve been living, working and taking in this amazing city of Madrid, I’ve learned plenty of things about myself. They say you really find out who you are when you step all the way outside your comfort zone and from my own personal experience, I have to agree with that. Below I’ve outlined three important points I’ve learned about myself, since moving to Madrid that I think would benefit anyone else considering making a move to any foreign city/country.
1. Know what helps you relax and unwind:
You will never appreciate your own room or space more, than when you move to a completely foreign country. Considering the fact that when I moved to Madrid, the only people I “knew” were my soon-to-be instructors from the program, I didn’t necessarily have a large network of friends in place when I arrived. Also, when I say “knew”, I use that term loosely because the extent of our relationship at that point was limited to email exchanges (encouraging and informative as they were).
Moving to a foreign country where you don’t know the language and/or many of the customs can be isolating and scary, to be frank. However, for me, having a space where I can totally relax, unwind and feel comfortable is vital. My first room with a host family was exactly that and I stayed with them under a one-month contact, at which point I needed to secure other accommodations. It was also at this point that I realized how difficult it can be to secure long-term housing abroad and once you have it, there is nothing more satisfying after a long day of class/teaching/work than knowing you have a room with all of your belongings, safe and sound just waiting for you when you get home. So, to wrap-up this point, when you decide to move abroad, you know that you will be uncomfortable and stressed, initially. Personally, knowing that I have a room to myself at the end of the day helped me feel more confident, upbeat and focused. Perhaps you play a sport or music or create art. The point is, it doesn’t matter what it is that helps you unwind; what matters is that you identify it and put a plan in place to have it readily available to you, especially at the onset of your adventure abroad.
2. Out with the old and in with the new isn’t always the best move:
You’re going to form many new friendships when you move abroad and maybe even romantic relationships. It’s exciting and encouraging to know this and I want everyone to understand that YOU WILL meet plenty of people.
I know that I was definitely worried about leaving my group of friends back home and starting somewhere new where I had literally no friends or family nearby. My advice is that for one, it’s good that you’re worried about that [if you are] because it probably means you’re not a psychopath and two, stop worrying about it because everyone you meet in the program is in the same exact situation as you. You’re going to be in the thick of a unique culture where everyone is eager and willing to meet and socialize with everyone else because, to be blunt, 95% of the people in your program don’t know ANYONE either! That’s an encouraging reality you’ll face when moving abroad.
It’s also important to note that moving abroad will not only open up doors to new friendships, but it will also remind you of how important the relationships you have back home are. It can be easy to let weeks and months go by without talking to your friends back home or even your family (albeit, some of us may have slightly more anxious parents than others).You’re going to be in a new city, with new people and partaking in so many different and exciting experiences. It’s easy to lose sight of the people and family that helped you make this great decision to move abroad and most importantly, you should actively try to keep in contact with all of those important people in your life.
3. There are benefits to starting over you may have never considered:
Moving to a completely new city in a foreign country may seem scary to an optimistic person and downright terrifying, to a naturally shy and reserved person. I consider myself somewhere in the middle but since I’ve been living, working and studying abroad, I think I can offer some advice that people on all ends of that spectrum could benefit from hearing. IT IS LIBERATING. Living in a city where no one knows you and you know no one is the ultimate opportunity. You are free to try things that perhaps you never would have back home, for all sorts of reasons. Always thought you might be a great Salsa dancer but never could muster up the courage to take a class? Take one in your new city, abroad! Who actually cares if you make a fool out of yourself? You don’t know anyone in the class, neighborhood or city. You may even find that you have some fun with not being great at something from the start. Experiences like that alone, help us build confidence in trying new things and ultimately allow us to grow and become the fullest versions of ourselves.
In making your decision to move abroad and teach, you will probably seek counsel from lots of friends and family. You’re going to hear all sorts of advice from all of these people, and it’s all useful. My three points to remember: know yourself and have a plan in place so that you are able to unwind at the end of each day; maintain your close relationships back home because it’s not always about the people you meet- the people you’ve known for years are arguably even more important; and finally, there are so many benefits to starting fresh in a country/city where no one knows you.
You’ll always have a million reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t move abroad and teach but you’ll never know what these benefits are until you bite the bullet and just do it! You may be uncomfortable, you may be scared but I grantee you that you will also be excited, hopeful and you will ultimately grow as a professional and as a person.
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