How To Battle Homesickness Abroad

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Hi lovies!

Happy Friday! I’m currently on my way to Salamanca for the weekend, but I wanted to share this blog post (side note: follow my Instagram or Twitter (both @wanderlustkait) for updates during my Salamanca trip! I always post pictures while I’m traveling!). So I wrote a post a few months ago about The Spain Struggle and cultural adaptation, so this is kind of Part II in the series. Now that I’ve had my fair share of culture adaptation and homesickness, I think I’ve finally figured out the key to beating it. I’m going to be completely honest when I say coming back to Spain after spending the holidays in the USA was harder than the first time I left. The travel itself was easier because I knew what to expect when I got here, but leaving my family, friends and Ohio was just a lot harder the second time around. Now I’ve been back for about a month and a half and while it might be that I have readjusted to the culture, I think there is one thing I’m doing a lot different than when I arrived in Spain in September that is making all the difference.

Instead of missing things about home, I am making Bilbao my home.

It’s as simple as that. Instead of missing everything about the USA, I am embracing more things about Spain. I also am beginning to realize that a lot of the things I was missing, I just needed to look a little harder for. For example, my little sister, Emily. It turns out she was living a few pisos down and I just wasn’t looking hard enough. JUST KIDDING. But little things like peanut butter, a yoga mat, a cafe that has to-go soy lattes, indulging in watching #TheBachelor, etc (so many #whitegirlproblems necessities). So if you’re abroad, lonely, homesick and reading this, here’s some simple instructions to get you started. First, leave you house. Go out and get something that reminds you of home. Anything. A book, music, a coffee, a candle, a food. Second, start building your own home in your current city. For me, investing in things that make me feel more at home, are actually turning Bilbao into more of a home for me. And lately, despite all the rain, Bilbao has been growing on me (I can’t believe I just said that!).

I think it’s important for people to remember that when you move abroad, you don’t have to lose yourself. I know all those pinterest quotes are like “LEAVE YOUR IDENTITY BEHIND AND JUST LOSE YOURSELF IN THE TREES AND GRASS OF EVERY CONTINENT AND BECOME ONE WITH THE WIND AND NEVER LOOK BACK” or something, but in all honestly, I think that’s far from the truth (And yes, I’ve probably pinned every single one of those quotes, in case you were wondering). I think the key to battling homesickness is bringing elements of home to you. And I’ve found, the more home I bring to me, the less I feel like I need it, and the more I can truly embrace living in Spain. 

**Note: A close second for the key to battling homesickness was giving someone a hug. Not even kidding. Hug it out. It helps. 

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Have you ever been homesick while being abroad (or just away from home)? What do you think helps battle homesickness the most? 

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The Spain Struggle

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog for a multitude of reasons. A few being that I’ve made some living changes, gone on a few trips to other cities, picked up teaching private lessons, all of which have left me with not too much free time. The main reason, however, is that I haven’t really felt like posting another blog post about a cool city I visited or how awesome living abroad is. Because sometimes, living abroad really isn’t that awesome.

So here it goes; my first post that doesn’t make my life seem like a fairytale. If you follow me on Instagram, it looks like a float around, trying new foods, drinking lots of wine and exploring European cities, which is true. But what I don’t post about is the times where I am struggling at the police station to get my residency card, or the times I am sprinting for the bus to commute to work in the rain, or the times where I head out into the city and realize it’s the siesta so everything is closed. Those times are what I like to call The Spain Struggle. I think The Spain Struggle has become more evident lately, as my honeymoon stage with Spain is officially over. The glamour of living abroad has worn off and I’ve quickly realized that living abroad is very different from traveling abroad.

Somebody posted this picture in the Auxiliares de Conversacion Facebook group under a discussion thread about “How to Battle Homesickness”, and I instantly realized I was living this picture:culture adaptation

If you every talked to me before I left for my trips, I had so many ups and downs it was uncountable. One day, I would be so excited for Spain and the next I was thinking “What the hell am I doing?”. Then, I arrived and Bilbao and it was amazing! New friends, new foods, cheap wines, traveling, the beach, etc…what could be better? I was in the honeymoon stage, and it lasted a solid month. What a great month it was! I went to Vitoria, San Sebastian, Paris (will write about it soon) and even wrote about my favorite things about Basque Country! So what’s my problem now? Why am I out of the honeymoon stage?

Well, it’s because the first month, I felt like a tourist. For me, traveling has always been a short term thing, knowing I was going to arrive back home in Ohio after “x” amount of days/weeks. While I did move away for college, I was only an hour and a half from home, so I could easily drive home for the weekend, or even night, if I wanted to. But here, I am across the Atlantic ocean, in another country. I can tell I’m experiencing culture shock because suddenly, I feel more American than ever. I want peanut butter and a coffee to go and jimmy johns to deliver and soy milk…..

Anyways, The Spain Struggle is definitely real, but I’ve learned the best way to combat it is to think of everything as less of a struggle and more of an adventure. Maybe I did have to go out of my way to San Sebastian to get my NIE card, but I also discovered an adorable cafe and spoke with the barista (in Spanish!) who encouraged me to move to San Sebastian this summer. I’ve also learned that while it is important to try to adapt to the other culture, it is okay to have days where I just want to watch Netflix, in English, all day and only talk to my American friends and hug people when I meet them instead of doing the “European kissing both cheeks” thing. Like everything else in life, adaptation takes time and is a process.

Thankfully, I do have American friends here in Bilbao that make me feel like everything I’m feeling isn’t crazy, and my friends and family at home in Ohio are amazingly supportive and make me feel like I never left when I speak with them. Even though some days feel like I’m taking two steps back and one step forward, I am learning to embrace the set backs and just allowing myself the time I need to adapt. I guess that’s one thing I have in common with Spaniards, giving myself as much time as I need. They always say here “calm” or “don’t worry”. So I guess in some ways, I’m adapting to the culture more than I think :) 

What lead me to the Auxiliar de Conversacion Program in Spain

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Lately, I’ve had a huge internal struggle with if I should be doing this program. To be honest, most of my question is coming from the complete unsupportive and judgmental opinion of my parents. In the past few months, I’ve heard everything from me being selfish for doing this program to them saying they will never speak to me again if I do. While that is a hard pill to swallow, something is still telling me I have to go. Somehow, this program found me and if I don’t take this opportunity, I know I will regret it the rest of my life. It all began the day I decided I wasn’t going to apply to medical school. I remember crying on the phone to my dad, because I just was so confused. I walked into the union at my college campus, a half hour early for my student organization meeting. I decided to get on my computer and look at other post-grad options. The first thing I typed into the google search was “post grad travel options”. After spending only 30 minutes on google reading about people who got their TEFL certification and have been teaching abroad, I quickly decided that would be my next step. I began dreaming of teaching in Europe and having a life abroad after graduation. It was all I could think about….

The next day, I was at lunch with my friend and I excitedly told her that I had figured out what I wanted to do after graduation. I told her I was still looking in to ways to make it happen, but I wanted to move abroad. To my surprise, she didn’t think it was crazy and knew a friend who moved to Spain. She gave me his contact information and that is when I learned about the Auxiliar De Conversacion (North American Culture & Language Assistant Program) and the rest is history!

The tough part for me has been explaining to others that people change, dreams change and life doesn’t follow a direct path. All through college, it was about medical school. But when I finally let myself really think about post grad life, I realized there was a whole world out there, billions of people with different culture, perspectives and experiences to grow from and learn about! While I am not working an entry level job in the United States, or going to medical school, I believe I am making an educated decision in making myself a more cultured individual. Some may call it irresponsible, immature or foolish, but they can think what they want. Only the truly ignorant would not see the opportunities, self discovery and growth that this program has the potential to be. 

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Have you ever done something your family doesn’t approve of? Have you ever changed career paths? 

The Fear of The Unknown…

Maybe I’ve been spending too many hours working my life away at monotonous jobs that give me too much to time to think but not enough time to resolve thoughts, but lately I’ve been worried. Worried about a lot of things. To be honest, with the auxiliar program, there is quite a lot to worry about: VISAs, NIE cards, living arrangements, money (can you really survive off 700 euros a month?), the language barrier, going to Spain alone

Right now, my life feels like it is at a stand still. I’m not really going anywhere. I’m just kind of here, in Columbus, working towards Spain. It seems so far in the distance, so unreachable and not even real. Working three jobs and 65+ hour work weeks is really taking its tole on me. I was in an awful and pessimistic mood all day, but then at the end of my work shift, a buzzfeed article came up on my facebook wall….

http://www.buzzfeed.com/henrygoldman/10-trips-you-need-to-take-in-your-20s

Specifically, with this video…. 

….and I realized everything I’m doing does have a purpose. This program is the opportunity of a lifetime. I need time away from this monotonous life. I also realized that I am not only venturing abroad to find myself, but I am following one of my life passions…traveling. While it may not be a conventional life passion, and definitely not a passion my parents would want me to have, it certainly is a passion of mine. So here’s to chasing your dreams and never letting others, or society, define your life.