That first pang of homesickness hits you and starts to settle in. And it starts to grow and ebb away at you. Suddenly those unique characteristics of your new home aren’t so interesting or friendly. Work has just thrown up some new challenges that make it not such a fun place to go to. The people you met in those early days have now moved on with their own lives and you’re finding yourself home alone on a Saturday evening in a foreign country.
Culture shock is very much a real thing. The first year of living abroad is always the hardest. There’s a saying among expats that it takes three years to fully feel at home in a country. Whether or not you plan on staying teaching English abroad as a TEFL teacher for a full three years is down to you and your aspirations, but you’ll likely stay at least a year.
Here are 8 top tips for you to overcome those first-year struggles while living abroad.
1. Find where the expat hangouts are
It’s good to go places where either new expats or long-term resident expats frequent. You will automatically feel a sense of comfort knowing that there are people around who on some level either know how you’re feeling or have felt that way before. They’ll be able to relate to you and will have similar Western tastes and point of views. They’ll also be able to offer you advice on how to make the most of your new home when living abroad.
2. Become friendly with your work colleagues
These are the people who you will be seeing the most, along with your students. So it’s a good idea to get to know your colleagues outside of working hours. Your local colleagues will want to help you settle into their country and will show you all of their local secrets that the common tourists would never know. They’ll give you the lowdown of the area and by bestowing this knowledge on you, you will feel more in the loop and settled.
3. Develop a routine
So, you’ve hung out with your fellow expats and got the inside knowledge from your local colleagues. It’s time to go out and take all of their advice and learn more about your area. Find the markets that you want to buy your weekly groceries from, learn where the best deals are, discover your favourite deals and decide which café speaks to you the most for your morning coffee. Make a routine around your area that speaks to you personally.
4. Get out of the apartment
There’s little reason to give up anything that you used to do as a regular hobby back home when you’re living abroad. If you used to attend yoga classes, go to the gym, swim or any other type of activity, you should still be able to continue it wherever you are. If those types of activities aren’t your thing, maybe you could use this opportunity to take up a new hobby. Make sure that you do something, anything, rather than sitting in your room mindlessly waiting for days to roll into the next.
5. Join community pages
Don’t rely solely on the people you meet at work or at your regular haunts to tell you what you need to know about your community. Join the Facebook Community Pages or the massive group chats. Lots of long-term resident expats often post relevant happenings and important information within these community platforms. You’ll get to know what events are coming up and the different deals that are currently happening in and around your area. Having access to this source of information will make you feel more connected and aware of your surroundings.
6. Treat yourself
You deserve to be pampered. You deserve to smile and to feel good about yourself. Living abroad and teaching English can be a tough gig. It’s important to make sure you give yourself the self-care you need during those hard days. This can be something as relaxing as getting yourself a massage, which is popular and cheap in a lot of South East Asia countries. Or it could be to catch a movie at the cinema, or something simple like having an ice cream. Whatever it is that lifts your spirits, do it little and often.
7. Stay connected
That first year living abroad teaching English can be really tough. There may come a time when the loneliness and disconnection from those you left behind weigh heavily on you. It’s only natural when you’re living in a different time zone and the messages from home become more infrequent. You may even try to avoid all communication if you’re feeling low and alone. Try not to do that. Even though those back home are thousands of miles away, they still care for you very much. They are your support group through any tough times.
8. Take a moment
Do what makes you happy. Many expats expend a lot of energy into keeping those back home in the loop of your new life. You end up stretching yourself thin and feeling pressured to do this and that. Take a moment to realise you’re doing what many dream of doing and enjoy this time in your life.
For more advice or support on living abroad for the first year – and beyond, contact the team today.