As I celebrate one year of living in Spain, I can reflect on all of the challenges I’ve overcome. I struggled with the language when I first got here, but now, I feel more confident speaking in Spanish. I struggled with getting accustomed to being independent, since my parents were no longer a short car ride away. Even though I know I’ve made major growth since moving abroad, I still face challenges.
Living abroad is not as easy as you may think. A huge challenge of living abroad is combating the loneliness and homesickness. I never thought I would be the type of person to get homesick, but during the holidays, I felt so much sadness since I wouldn’t get to see my family for another six months. It’s a fact that you’ll have days where you feel like an island, all alone and wishing for a comforting hug from a loved one.
Loneliness and homesickness are major challenges to overcome, but with the help of social media, you can kick those feelings to the curb (at least for a little bit). Social media has made it easier to connect with our loved ones, and I seriously suggest taking advantage of it. Additionally, going out in the world and meeting new people in a similar situation will begin to help you feel less and less lonely over time. For homesickness, make your foreign home feel like your domestic home by filling it with pictures, knickknacks, or anything else that reminds you of home.
Culture shocks and language barriers exist, and they’re huge obstacles to maneuver. Culture shocks can be overwhelming. Language barriers can immediately alienate you from the population. Living in a new country can make you question why you chose this path in the first place.
Honestly, you will make mistakes, you will feel like an outsider, and you will want to go back to what you know. But you should take this time to really enjoy the newness of everything, because it will fade after awhile. Be like a sponge and absorb all the stimulus from your surroundings, and always take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Most of all, stay optimistic because there will be a day when you finally feel like you’ve adapted to the language and the culture. That day for me was when I was able to return a pair of shoes all by myself!
Food has the power to make us feel good, but sometimes you won’t be able to find the food you crave. This might seem so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but food is literally a necessary component for life, which means you’ll be surrounded by it all the time. Restaurants, grocery stores, carts on the side of the road, all of these options and you still can’t find a slice of pizza like the one you can get at home. You’ll want to find your favorite home food, and when you do, it’s either not right or too expensive (cue the disappointment).
Two tips here. First, eat like a local! Try learning how to cook some of the national dishes (cooking at home saves cash) or finding a national favorite that you can use as a comfort food. Second, cook something from your home country that makes you happy. I make lasagna or chicken parmesan once a month for my roommates and we have a small potluck with all of our favorite foods.
While living abroad can be challenging at some times, you will grow as a person. You will overcome these challenges to learn something about yourself, as well as the country you’re living in. The hardest part about living abroad isn’t arriving, it’s leaving because you’ve grown to love your host country and couldn’t imagine yourself anywhere else.1
Also published on Medium.