The Trials and Tribulations of Living Abroad Alone

Authored by:
Hanna N.

Hanna N.

The ability to live in a foreign environment alone to "find yourself" has been glorified for years, especially as it pertains to American media. For as long as I can remember, I have dreamt the perceived elegant lifestyle of solo traveling would one day be mine. I saw myself gliding through the European streets in an ‘Eat Pray Love’ fashion, eating bread and laying on an island alone with a book fastened in my hand. When I realized that my career passions could also potentially align with this idea, I was convinced that after I finished my university work, I would be the solo traveler extraordinaire. I would be the young American girl with an immense want to work with children in another culture and the talent to adapt on a whim. This is one of the many reasons I chose the CIEE Teach Abroad Program in Madrid, Spain.

Today marks two weeks of my adventure en España… and it isn't as simple as planned.

I want to say I still wholeheartedly believe I made the right choice to take on this program. Madrid is enchanting, the city is so alive and progressive in every way possible. I wake up every morning knowing I am in for a new piece of knowledge on Spanish culture and language. If I might say so myself, my social media accounts make my lifestyle look pretty cool to everyone at home. Those who see my journey on the surface are beaming and proud of how effortlessly I am taking on a new country.

But the problem is, I am not whatsoever.

I have faced numerous struggles, and I believe that living abroad alone is the hardest thing I have ever faced in my entire life. I am navigating through culture shock, a serious language barrier, homesickness, physical sickness and my really bad sense of direction (Madrid is HUGE). While I have been abroad before for an extended period of time, there is nothing like the sense of utter horror at realizing, “Man, I might actually not have an apartment when I leave my temporary accommodation today and my friends from home aren't here to give me advice,” or “I really should have taken Spanish longer in school because I’m confused at this grocery store right now and can’t ask for help from Spanish workers”.

There’s also the terror of realizing that school hasn’t even started yet, and THIS is supposed to be the easy part? Then comes the doubt that maybe I wasn’t ready to be here, or that my job would be done much better by someone who really can take on a new country like its nothing. I start to think maybe someone who is proficient in Spanish, someone who has years and years of teaching experience, or at least someone who isn’t scared to go to a Spanish doctor all alone would be a better help to my school.

While this sounds quite negative so far, I am here to leave this statement for a purpose. For those of you looking at doing a CIEE Teach Abroad in Spain program, or for those of you who are already here (hey guys!), know that you can’t let fear distract you from your purpose for choosing to teach abroad. I am in no way looking to turn these next 10 months into fairytale, however I have gotten through every single problem that has come by way in the last few weeks with a newfound independence. I have found the most beautiful apartment, survived all my appointments and spoke to locals in Spanish! If you are looking for a trip abroad that is just instagrammable, I would recommend a peaceful short vacation to the islands. However, if you want to push your limits, test your emotional grit, and ultimately find the strongest parts of yourself while in an absolutely breathtaking city, I believe you have come to the right place. While I have to tell myself this piece of information ten times a day (and one or two times mid-cry), I have never believed anything stronger. This is why I want to dedicate this blog to my trials and tribulations of living abroad alone.

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