I’m a couple of months in to my programme now and, though I’m really enjoying it I think it’s important to be honest about the realities of living and working abroad. This month a few people from my programme decided that New York was not for them, and although I have no authority to comment on their choice, I had a think about a few reasons why your year abroad might not be going as well as you hoped. Here I’m going to discuss some of the sources of anxiety and stress that are common during your first few months of living abroad.
It’s okay to… not have it all figured out quite yet. For example, my studies are well and truly underway and I have upcoming deadlines which have appeared as if from nowhere. I don’t really know what I need to do for my coursework, I have no idea what work-based learning project I’m going to do, I don’t even know where I will find the time for a project when I am constantly busy at work. But that is okay. It will all work itself out somehow and I have already decided to dedicate some extra time to this in the next couple of weeks.
It’s okay to… have a night in. New York is busy, there is something to do every night be it a comedy show, volunteering project, or an interesting talk held by a well known author. There is a constant pressure to be “living your best life”, “making the most of your time here” and other utter nonsense. You have responsibilities too! Remember that living somewhere and being on vacation are completely different things. Living somewhere means having to do everyday (perhaps duller) tasks like helping to clean your apartment, managing your finances, keeping in touch with friends and family back home, staying on top of your studies and most importantly – self care. Yes try to get involved as much as possible, but take care of your life first so that you can actually enjoy getting involved without the nagging distraction that you have urgent laundry to do.
It’s okay to… be a social butterfly. While some people will have formed friendship groups by now, it is okay to be spending time with different groups of people, and to not have a fixed “squad”. There are so many lovely people on my programme that I try to keep in touch with as many of them as possible – a bit of a challenge as there are 90 something of us, but one I hope that will be worth it in the future. Remember it’s not what you know but who! A year abroad is a great opportunity to expand your network, so I would also recommend looking for as many opportunities to meet new people as possible. If you read my Week 8&9 post you will know that I attended some networking events recently. Though it can be uncomfortable to go to these events, especially if you don’t know anyone there, the reward you get from expanding your professional or personal network will be worth the mildly awkward small talk. Similarly if there are things that you are interested in and your friends aren’t, having a wider network will mean there might be someone, somewhere who is as interested in the same thing which might lead to an unexpected friendship.
It's okay to… not feel at home. I’m not sure if this is a universal experience but in my opinion there are “me places”, cities, towns, even coffee shops where I feel truly at home. My local area, the energetic streets of Barcelona, the Costa Coffee in the back of Waterstones in Portsmouth. Places I love that I could go back to time and time again. Then there’s other places which, while they may be beautiful, great places, they just don’t feel very… you. There is nothing wrong with feeling like you don’t quite fit in to a city, but that feeling does not give you an excuse to give up entirely. Like I said, perhaps you just haven’t found the right coffee shop where you feel 100% at home in. Keep exploring, keep learning about the people, the culture, the places, and in time I can guarantee that you will find your fit.