Tips for Living Abroad in that First Year
After you’ve completed your TEFL course and become qualified to teach English as a foreign language for a living, the temptation is to start jet-setting straight away. You’re full of energy and you can’t wait to soak it all in. The prospect of immersing yourself into the local culture of your new home makes you giddy with excitement. You imagine yourself walking to work in the morning with a spring in your step as you discover something uniquely fascinating every day in this fresh environment. You’ll be desperate to share all of your new experiences and newfound sense of appreciation for life with your friends and family back home.
Then they share with you something you missed back home.
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 is always the hardest and there is a saying amongst expats that it takes three years to fully feel like 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 some tips for you to overcome those first-year struggles while living abroad.
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 to be able to offer you advice on how to make the most of your new home.
Become Friendly with Your Work Colleagues
These are the people who you will be seeing the most of. Them and your students, so it’s a good idea to get to know them 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.
Develop a Routine
So, you’ve hung out with your fellow expats and gotten 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.
Get Out of the Apartment
There’s little reason to give up anything that you used to do as a regular hobby back home. 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 type 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 the days to roll into the next.
Join Community Pages
Don’t rely on just 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.
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 mental care you need during those hard days. This can be something as relaxing as getting yourself a massage, which is a popular and cheap thing to do 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.
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 weighs 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.
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.