We asked Dreams Abroad members what they would do differently if they were just starting out on their adventures now. Leesa lived a year in Madrid, Spain and traveled to 13 countries and several regions of Spain while living abroad. After teaching a year in Madrid, Spain, here are five things that Leesa knows now:
1) Don’t Try to Do Everything
Pick your top three things and do them — do them well. I made the mistake of trying to do a lot of things because I am overly ambitious. I felt like I was doing them but not at the level I wanted. If you go to a new country and you only have a year, pick one or two things you really want to achieve. Then, if you end up renewing and have another year, modify your goals.
For example, if you want to travel, map out the places and GO! If you go to a country to learn the language, realize that language practice will take up a LOT of time. Know that you will NOT become fluent in a year (yes, repeat, fluency does not happen in one or two years!). What you put into learning a language is what you get out of it. I tell my students that it’s like practicing for a sport. If learning the language is most important to you, then traveling and doing other hobbies should take second place in your life.
2) Do Your Homework
Make it a point to research what you want before you take the leap while living abroad. This research ranges from what agencies to use before going on your teach or study abroad (if any at all!) to what websites work best for traveling. Also, while you are abroad, keep researching by talking to locals. The locals have the best input! Go the extra mile to research. For example, research travel spots or points of interest before you go – ask the locals what they think of an area.
Make sure that before you travel to a certain location you know exactly what you are getting into. For example, what is the average lodging cost per night? What are places to avoid either because they are too touristy or potentially dangerous? Do your research! Find resources that work well for travel research. Because I find travel one of the best tools for learning, I really enjoy taking tours. One of my favorite websites to find reasonably priced tours is Viator.
3) Accept Vulnerability
Embrace the moments where you feel like you are being tested and share those moments. Oftentimes, I come across people who have the best life experiences (good and bad) to share, but are too shy or too embarrassed about sharing them. The best information is the kind we can all learn from. You are going to make mistakes when living in a foreign place. The better your attitude toward making those mistakes, the better your experience will be. Self-growth is a process that happens by failing and recovering quicker each time. It’s a process, that’s all.
4) Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover
Talk to people while living abroad. You might be surprised how much you have in common with others. There are people who look and act one way on the outside because of whatever they might be feeling on the inside. From my experience, their behavior isn’t directed towards you. It’s happening because of what’s going on with them. Being thousands of miles away from home can be scary, so maybe think about how you are feeling and try to understand what they might be feeling too. The best thing that happened to me was when I started caring less about trying to hang out in big groups of people – mainly Americans – and instead, started spending quality time with people I really enjoyed, which were a handful of Americans and locals.
5) Go with the Flow While Living Abroad
This was my most used phrase in Spain – I would say it to myself as a reminder when I would start to get flustered at the snail-paced moments of life over there. Spain is a very slow moving country compared to how the United States moves on a day-to-day basis. The Spanish operate on the mentality of “no pasa nada.” Once I realized that some things (not all) needed to be at the go with the flow mindset, things started to get better. I didn’t start to really get good at achieving this until the end of the year. This leads back to point number two: do research about lifestyle before moving to a new country. Spain’s slow-moving lifestyle was one of the hardest lifestyle adjustments for me to get used to.