Fake It 'Til You Make It: How to Survive the First Few Weeks Abroad

Authored by:
Olivia M.

Olivia M.

When I thought about living in Spain, I imagined it being something like Emily in Paris: strolling down the street with a croissant in hand, the sun shining on my face, and a faint romantic tune playing in the background like a soundtrack to my life. I’d like to say my first few days here in Spain were something like that. They weren’t. To be honest, the entire first week was a blur. Between jet lag and the sinking feeling that I was thousands of miles away from home, my friends, and everything familiar, I felt lost.

By my third day in Spain, I had moved into my apartment and started setting up my bedroom. Making my space my own made my new home start to really feel like home. I put up pictures of my friends to remind me that they were not as far away as it felt. During the first few days I even thought to myself, “What am I doing? Why did I move so far away from everything I know?” When you take a leap like this, you’re bound to have thoughts like these. You might wonder why you moved so far away, left everything you know behind, and started a new life. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings that come with moving to a new country, whatever they may be. This is hard! Know that this experience is temporary and that you will start to settle into a routine and feel normal again soon.

I came to Spain not knowing anyone in my program, so I really had the opportunity to create a completely new social circle. One of the easiest things I did to make friends was talking to people near me on the bus, metro, or in a coffee shop. I know, I know, that sounds weird. But trust me, everyone in the program is looking to make friends too. I even made my first friend that way – by introducing myself on the bus from the airport to the hotel – and we’re still friends today. Even if you feel uncomfortable reaching out first, odds are the other person will appreciate your friendliness. If talking to random strangers isn’t your thing, seek out groups or people that do something you like to do. Into hiking? Send a message in the CIEE WhatsApp, GroupMe, or Facebook groups. Play soccer or another sport? There’s plenty of recreational sports teams around the city. Whatever your interest, there are sure to be other people that are looking for someone like you to join them. Building your community will start to make this new place feel like home.

When you have not met many people yet and are feeling homesick, it can be tempting to stay in all day talking to friends from home or scrolling on social media. Don’t get me wrong, getting your rest is important and it can be comforting to hear a familiar voice during the first few days. Everyone is different, but for me the most helpful thing when I was homesick was to leave my apartment and be with other people. Sharing a laugh with someone or admiring an incredible sight in the city on your own might be all it takes to lift your spirits. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Moving across the world is no easy task! 

Now don’t get me wrong, some of my days now are like scenes from Emily in Paris. I have taken leisurely strolls through El Retiro park, drank café con leche at a quaint Spanish cafetería, and spent Sunday afternoons at the Museo del Prado. But the reality is during the first few weeks you will be navigating the ups and downs of your new life before you start to feel like the main character of a Netflix TV show. Those first few weeks after moving to a new country are daunting. Creating a space that makes you feel at home, building a community of people you can count on during your time here, and staying busy all work together to make the transition a little bit easier. It won’t be easy, and it will take time, but pushing through the discomfort will most definitely be worth it.

"Nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy." — Indira Gandhi

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