Since stepping off my Ryanair flight in Valladolid, I’ve felt it all: excitement, nervousness, fear, anticipation… I was starting a new life abroad! On my car ride back to my host family’s house, I remember thinking, What have I gotten myself into? (along with, what is this delicious pastry they’ve given me?!). Without even noticing it, I’ve fallen into a much calmer, normal day-to-day routine over the past few weeks. Everyone has their own process and roadmap to settling down. In any case, I hope outlining what my experience has been like will help you find your place in a new, foreign city!
I began my new life abroad here with a realistic mindset. I had studied abroad in Ireland before this year and knew that the first few weeks would be exciting. At the same time, I also knew it would feel a bit like being blindfolded on a loopy roller coaster. I had adrenaline and eagerness from waiting so long to arrive, but culture shock is real. I live with a host family, and during my first week, I just sat and nodded and pretended to understand everything.
Well, in actuality I was lost. I studied Latin American Spanish in school, and at first, it felt like I had learned the wrong word and phrase for everything. In fact, one word we were taught to never say because it is entirely inappropriate is actually one of the most common words here and simply means “to pick up.” Imagine my surprise when I heard everyone using it during our first dinner!
On top of managing the language barrier, I was also thrown off by the different pace of life. Coming off of a University schedule can be tough. In the United States, we are trained to have a million and one things on our plates at all times. My pockets of free time felt foreign and empty to me at first. Fortunately, I have slowly embraced them as opportunities for self-care. Now I don’t know what I would do without my daily yoga, reading breaks, and peaceful walks!
Moving Abroad: Challenge Yourself
So, to make a long story short: if you feel disoriented, lonely, and confused after starting a new life abroad, that’s completely normal! Gradually, these feelings will start to shift. Below, I will detail a few things that really helped me feel comfortable here in Burgos.
Finding a Cozy Spot in the City
This has become paramount to my routine here! Chances are, if you’re collaborating as a Language Assistant, you will have random gaps in your schedule. During my first week, I would stay in the teachers’ break room or simply go home during these breaks when, really, I just wanted to find a cozy spot to have some alone time and be productive. Finding a special place will help you with your new life abroad, for sure. I café-hopped for a few weeks until I found one with reliable wifi, incredible pastries, and a warm atmosphere. The baristas have gotten to know me by now. It feels nice to have a place in the city that I can turn to if I ever want to have some time for myself or need to crank out lesson plans.
Creating a Social Circle
Finding a group of friends in a new city can seem overwhelming. Just remember – everyone is in the same boat! From my experience, Language Assistants simply want to meet different people and hang out. Teaching can be stressful, and it’s comforting having a community to lean on for support. That being said, it does take a bit of putting yourself out there to find your group. This certainly didn’t come naturally to me as an introvert, but I fought through my shyness and joined as many Facebook groups as I could.
From there, I messaged people and met up with other Language Assistants even when I wanted to hide in bed and watch Netflix. It can feel awkward at first, but now I’m so glad I have a solid group of friends I can turn to for Spain adventures or even just trashy movie nights. The Meddeas orientation is a wonderful opportunity to make connections if you are starting a new life abroad as a Language Assistant, as well. I met some great friends there who I still keep in touch with!
Figuring Out What It Takes to Be an Effective ESL Language Assistant
I came into this year with an English major and an eagerness to gain experience in the classroom. However, I was severely lacking in teaching experience and began to feel the cold sweats coming on when I met seasoned Education majors during orientation. If you’re like me, don’t worry!
Meddeas is great because the position allows you to gain classroom experience while collaborating closely with a head teacher throughout the process. I was tough on myself at first and frustrated that I couldn’t command the classroom perfectly and keep everyone engaged during my lessons.
I thought my students’ confused expressions reflected my utter failure as a teacher. But I shifted my mindset and acknowledged that this is a learning experience. I am now much kinder to myself: I notice my mistakes and try to reflect on small, concrete changes I can make to remedy them rather than getting down and frustrated. Figuring out what it takes to be an effective ESL Language Assistant is a process!
Get Involved if You Are Moving Abroad
Once you feel like you have established a bit of a rhythm, try to get involved! Facebook can be a great way to find out about different groups, depending on your interest. You can also talk to teachers at your school about opportunities to get involved. I have signed up for dance classes and I am a member of the local University’s hiking club. I also meet with different native speakers each week to have hour-long conversations in Spanish and English (30 minutes of each). Not only am I practicing my language skills, but I have also met some really interesting people this way!
Becoming involved with local organizations and people is truly the best way to feel like a local rather than a lingering, photo-taking tourist. Plus, having fun activities on my calendar after school keeps me motivated and focused when it is time to buckle down and get work done.
Whether you are thinking of serving as a Language Assistant in the future or are already in the process of trying to make a new life abroad somewhere, I hope this blog post has been helpful! Best of luck starting a new life abroad.
By Elizabeth.A., 2018/19