Raise your hand if a bad break up has ever made you make spontaneous, somewhat irrational decisions.
*Hand shoots up.
Yup, right over here, that’s me. Pierced my nose, cut and dyed my hair, took the gym back up, you know, the standard. But still, it seemed like what I really needed was space. An entire ocean and half a country of it. Now, don’t get me wrong, my original decision to go to Spain was not entirely because of this break up. I was a Spanish major and I still couldn’t roll my Rs or speak without constantly translating in my head. The idea to study abroad had been in my head for a long time, but because I didn’t want to put my poor boyfriend through the agony of being without me for four months, (painfully ironic, right?), I put it off. Well, I guess I should thank him at some point because his break up came right in time for me to apply to study in Spain. And here we are, eight years later.
My parents have always been my biggest cheerleaders and have supported me in any way they possibly can. But wanting to study in Spain threw them. Especially my mom. All she had were concerns, questions, reasons for me not to go. Luckily I was blessed with her strong will and any question, concern, or reason of hers for me not to go, was just fuel for my fire. And eventually when I had found a sub-letter for my apartment, applied for student loans, secured my student job for when I got back, double checked the classes and the credits they would fulfill, she had no choice but to give me her blessing.
And four months later…I told them I was going back.
I was going back and it wasn’t studying abroad, it was a job. A job, that, to be honest, did not seem legitimate at the time, and had no real information online from people who had done the program before. (Luckily in the years since then this has changed a LOT and you have people like me to tell you what’s really up). But in 2010 I didn’t have a place to live or even know where to begin looking. I didn’t have any friends who were doing it with me. I had no idea how to get to the town I was working in. I had no contacts in or around the area. I could not get in touch with my future boss, or anyone at the Ministry to give me more information. And even after spending four months in Spain, I could not speak fluent Spanish. Just to add to this, I had $12,000 in student loans that I had to pay off while I was making $700 a month. My mom officially entered panic mode. And to be honest, I wasn’t far behind. But in the end, despite everything I did it. Yes, the minute I stepped off the bus in Bumfuck Nowhere, Spain I immediately started sobbing and walked to the police station to help me find my hostel, (no smartphones back then) but I made a couple of friends, found an apartment, and carved out a little life for myself on the Atlantic.
Moving abroad isn’t something most people take lightly, and it ends up being “too crazy” for most. But fear doesn’t get anyone anywhere, and I’m here to tell you that of the long list of concerns and worries you may have, you shouldn’t let any of these be one of them.
- A lot of people who do a year abroad or move abroad doing a program like one of these, think that they may be “wasting” a year, (or two, or seven, as the case may be), doing something that has nothing to do with their degree or potential career. And if you are American, you probably paid, or are still paying, a lot of money for that degree you’re not using. I’m here to tell you that this should not be one of your concerns. According to Forbes, the top skills employers look for these days include the ability to work in a team structure, verbal communication skills, ability to solve problems and make decisions, and plan, organize, and prioritize work. I can promise you that your time spent abroad will develop and enhance these skills immensely. Not to mention the fact that you will be able to add a foreign language to your resume. A skill that nowadays is becoming increasingly sought-after, regardless of your career path.
2. In the United States, despite a 50% divorce rate, we are married to debt our entire lives. Its a huge reason why more people don’t leave the country. We are anchored by thousands of dollars in debt. If it isn’t your college education, its your credit card, or its your house mortgage. My point is, do NOT let it keep you from moving to another country. Every person is different and only you can know what you can allow yourself to do financially, but I’m telling you–if you afforded to go to college in the first place, you can afford to pay the minimum on your loans while you are abroad. I have tons of American friends living in Spain who were paying off credit card debt and student loans and they still managed to be here for nearly eight years. This was one of my mom and grandma’s biggest concerns while I was spending three years making minimum wage in the south of Spain. But I’m telling you, your loans will always be there. Your debt isn’t going anywhere, but you can.
3. Ahhh yes, a classic. All of my friends have “real jobs” that pay decent money and are related to their field, they are in stable relationships, they are looking for houses, and are following the right path to fulfill the American dream. I’m gonna let you guys in on a little secret–this fear/concern, whatever you want to call it, doesn’t ever really go away completely. There are times I still get frustrated with the salary I make or our tiny apartment, or the fact that we still sleep on pull out sofas in our friends’ apartments when we go visit instead of paying for a hotel. But let me tell you, I would not trade my shitty salary, quaint apartment, and budget travel for a “real job” and a house mortgage any day. Let me be clear, I am not putting down anyone’s job by ANY means. Everyone has the right to their own happiness. But “when are you getting a real job?” is a question I have heard a lot in my time abroad, as if many people back home think these years I’ve been here are one giant vacation and my job isn’t significant. I’m here to say that anyone who ever suggests that your job, whatever it is, is not “real” just because you are living in another country and might not continue in that field for the rest of your life, is an asshole. And I give you full permission to let them know that.
4. Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means suggesting that simply by speaking English you can travel wherever you want with ease. If you do have the opportunity to live or even travel abroad, it is my rule of thumb to at least know how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the language of the country I’m going to. You cannot expect to fully integrate into a culture without at least attempting to speak the language of the locals. This, however, should not be a concern that holds you back from moving abroad. Luckily, if you are reading this, you are one of the very fortunate people who was either born in an English speaking family and/or country, or you have been able to learn it throughout your life. And luckily for us, English can get you around most places without too much struggle. Here I am reminded of a time when I went to Oświęcim, the small Polish town where Auschwitz is located, and had to communicate with the locals in order to find what we were looking for. But in the end, we got what we needed, by using a language that we both understood; hand signals.
Like I said before, when I first stepped off the bus in Almería, I could barely form a fluent sentence, much less understand what they were spitting back at me in their thick Andaluz accent. And did I suffer? Hell yeah I did. I’ve been at more Spanish house parties, just silently translating in my head without speaking, than I can count. But after being there for nine months, not only could I understand them, I could go shopping, order food, and even make long lasting friendships with locals. There is no better way to learn a language than to throw yourself head first into it.
5. For some people its a boyfriend or girlfriend. Others its friends or family. I’m here to tell you what anyone who lives abroad can tell you. The best and strongest relationships you have will still be there, wherever you are. I have to say that I don’t keep in real touch with most of my good friends from my childhood. I keep in touch the way most people of our generation do now; following their Facebook and Instagram feeds. But my best friends are still my best friends, and my family still loves me just as much as they did when I left. My point here, though it may seem obvious, is that fear of losing relationships should not be a reason you don’t move across the country or across the ocean. The only thing you open yourself up to is finding more relationships and making more connections. Most times where you least expect it, and often they become the strongest relationships you have.
Have you been living abroad for awhile? What do you think people worry too much about that they shouldn’t? Were any of these really hard for you when you came abroad? Let’s chat in the comments below!