Self-reflection is a fundamental necessity of being abroad that can get lost in the midst of listicles of top things to do in a city and travel photos. I think everyone who plans to live abroad in Europe has this grand idea of how their new life will unfold. You may envision epic adventures to the hottest tourist attractions or climbing the tallest mountain you can find. Others think of the shopping, food and drinks they’ll indulge in while away. Even though every article, blog post and book about living abroad says not to create this fantasy, the excitement of moving gets the best of everyone and happens anyway. Believe me, I’ve read it, made it an affirmation, then done the exact opposite of what I was told; it’s a common way to prepare oneself for the move. However, what’s neglected are the “boring” parts, the frustration, and how living abroad will test your confidence, independence and insecurities you thought you left behind.
Sometimes living abroad is actually boring even on sunny days, not just rainy or snowy ones. Other times living abroad just becomes routine so it seems boring. You can travel and live in the most poppin’ cities or countries and still be unimpressed with the people, the nightlife, the food, etc. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Learn to love it because it will happen and catch you off guard, but that’s the beauty of it all.
Living abroad will re-define the very cliche meaning of “adventure.” Boring is good for the soul. It requires us to slow down and think. It requires us to get organized or go grocery shopping so we don’t rush during the week. It requires us to enjoy the little things like lounging around in our PJs with our roommates, taking a walk or doing the laundry that should have been done a week ago. What is considered “boring” may be just the boost you need to re-energize your motivation for living abroad in the first place. Take your rest day and all the nothingness that comes with it.
I’ve said before that traveling is a highlight reel and with the exciting comes the frustrating. Getting lost, not knowing the host language, finding housing, opening a bank account, etc. are all valid when discussing frustration abroad. But, there is also the frustrating thought of “why the heck did I do this to myself?!” I would be lying if I said I never thought about how my year abroad would be different in a larger city. I would be lying if I said I never thought about how it would be different in a more diverse community or country. I would be lying if I said I never wondered how life would be if I stayed in the U.S. this year. These characteristics have always been my niche, of course I would miss it!
Walking around and not seeing people of all backgrounds, food from other cultures in Logroño (it’s authentic Spain) or having conversations with people of other cultures is an adjustment when that’s the environment you thrive in. It’s frustrating to reinforce, multiple times in one conversation, that I was born in the U.S when people ask, “yeah but where are you really from, like in Africa?” Explaining how my hair can go from a fro to Marley twists in 24 hours, #blackgirlmagic, or why I chose a ham eating country as a pescatarian takes intercultural understanding to a whole new level. Luck for me I’m learning patience, generating sarcastic responses for those people who are just being rude, and getting to know nice strangers who are genuinely curious about where I come from. As frustrating as it can be, it’s part of my journey living abroad.
Immersing yourself in a new culture with new food, people, languages and pace of life can bring out aspects of yourself that you don’t recognize. Abroad, you may feel more insecure than confident and more reliant on others than self-driven and independent. You find out how you act in a group setting is different from one-on-one conversations. You realize your independence is more of an emotional wall to avoid deeper connections than true self-confidence. Or, you’re too busy trying to make friends to avoid loneliness that you change who you are to fit a friend group and still feel isolated.
While these feelings are a welcomed part of the journey abroad, be careful because they can transform your energy towards the negative instead of the positive. Insecurities can be magnified outside your comfort zone. It’s a challenge that can leave you completely lost and not in the cliche “not all who wander are lost” J.R.R Tolkien way. Positive outlets such as me-time, journaling, listening to podcasts or music, finding a new hobby you enjoy, venting aloud or in writing, and getting out a good cry or scream can allow these feelings to be felt and not fester into complete unhappiness.
Now by no means am I saying you will experience all or even one of these things while you’re abroad. I have only lived abroad in Spain and Europe so my experiences come from those cultures. You may go abroad and enjoy it, but not stay forever. You may realize you are more comfortable abroad than at home. You may want to never live abroad again. Who knows. But despite all the moments of boredom, frustration, happiness, weakness, insecurity and confidence the only thing I can guarantee is growth. It will happen. Changing and growing while living abraod happens at a rapid pace as you’re always on the go physically and mentally (with personal, work, or travel battles). You may not realize it until your return home or even a year later, but when you finally understand how living abroad has changed you, it’s fulfilling to see just how far you’ve come. Trust the process.
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