How To Not Feel Terrible in Your Move Abroad
I’ve officially, unofficially, lived in Portugal for one month now. To be honest, it feels like a solid six months’ worth of lessons, roadblocks, and emotions. I’ve learned to appreciate the little victories more than ever before, and most of all, I’ve learned that the uncomfortable decisions in life can be the most rewarding.
I intended for these few months in Portugal to be my “test run” in order to get a feeling of what life will be like after my next performing contract, when I settle permanently, and legally, in Ericeira. But I’ve come to find, life doesn’t really have a “test” mode. I’m not pretending to live in Portugal. I live here. This is my life now. And while not every aspect of “real life” is nailed down (cough *job* cough), I think I’m starting to get in the groove of a life abroad.
Approximately two months ago, my brain was overflowing with one billion questions about establishing life in another country. And based on some of the questions flooding (or trickling in…) my inbox, it sounds like y’all have some questions as well. So, as a complete expert with approximately 39 days of experience, I’d like to share some of the most important things I’ve learned thus far, while living abroad.
and ask for help
This is a big pill to swallow for headstrong people, like myself. One day I was working on a German cruise ship. The next day I was dropped off into a brand new life, where I was completely overwhelmed by… everything. I wanted to take a language class, I wanted to buy a scooter, I wanted to find a yoga studio, I wanted to decorate the apartment, I wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter, etc etc etc. The list went on and on. And for some absolutely stupid reason, I tried to start doing all of them at once. Guess what? It didn’t work! I was so overwhelmed by everything I wanted to do, and having just landed in a new place, I had no idea where to start. You know a very good place to start? Maria von Trapp sure does! It’s called the very beginning.
Purchased on Day 38
I’m lucky to have a partner by my side on this adventure, but even if you don’t have that luxury, reach out to someone (have nobody? click the button below) and ask for help. Preferably, choose someone who has lived in your area for longer, as they can point you in the right direction. They know things. (Hopefully.) Ask. What’s the most attainable, first step, in order for you to feel a sense of belonging or accomplishment? For me, it came in the form of a trip to IKEA, and Casa (what a wonderful store) where I grabbed a few cool pieces to store my things, and represent my style, in my new home. This was a tangible, manageable task that could be done in one day, without spending a billion dollars, and gave me a much deeper sense of belonging. This was my “step 1.” Everyone’s step 1 is different. Maybe I have a weird attachment to furniture. But it worked. I checked it off the “To Do List” (I swear by these) and proceeded to the next task.
my yoga spot
Moving to a new place can be lonely. It can be sad. And it can be scary. But you didn’t move to sit and wallow now, did ya? Get up, get moving and find a way to stay motivated. For me, yoga came back into my life at the perfect moment. Yoga is everywhere, and more importantly, lots of people are always doing yoga. It’s the perfect way to meet some wonderful people, and start your day in a productive, and peaceful way. Not into yoga? Running (or walking) in the morning has the same effect. Find a way to get out, and appreciate your new surroundings, while loading up on endorphins! You’re going to need them.
they’re just like us
This topic is a tad touchy, so I’ll try my best to proceed with care. The locals in Ericeira, Portugal are different from the locals in Paris, France who are different from the locals in Hanoi, Vietnam. They all have their own economies, local communities and unique ways of life. But most of all they are human. I know countless great human beings. I also know a few rotten eggs. Normally, the rotten eggs leave a bigger impression.
In my new town, there are a few rotten eggs who have some strong feelings about the “foreigners” destroying their land, taking their jobs, and overall, ruining everything. And you know what? There are some rotten egg “foreigners” who deserve to hear that. But like every other place in the world, the rotten eggs are louder, but the good eggs are more plentiful. On a day-to-day basis, I’m overwhelmed by the open, friendly faces saying “bom dia” everywhere from the coffee shop, to the pharmacy, to the running paths on the outskirts of town. When I told Diogo (the bee’s knees over at The Mill) that I was interested in practicing Portuguese, instead of my bill, he produced a handwritten paper with helpful Portuguese phrases. Be still, my little foreigner heart.
I have immense respect for the people who’ve been here through incredible hardships, and have watched this town blossom over the years, into the bustling international community it is today. So lead with respect, fellow foreigners, and leave the rotten eggs to stew together in their own, weird, egg salad.
Learn the Language
because we’re not in kansas anymore, toto
Unless you’re moving anywhere in the lovely British enclave, chances are the native language in your new home isn’t English. And what a gift! A language course is an ideal place to meet new people, and make a fool of yourself in a positive environment. Not to mention, it’s an absolutely brilliant exercise for your brain.
But seriously, you need to be able to communicate. Google translate can help you with some basics, but try being at the public hospital and google translating your symptoms. I’ll give you a hint. It’s not ideal. BUT, if you’re able to use a few choice phrases to express that, while you’re not fluent, you’ve at least started learning, and know how to say basic phrases, you can happily walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for God Knows What, nodding and saying “YOU ARE NICE” in Portuguese to the doctor. Why yes, that is exactly what happened to me yesterday. Hashtag Fluent.
Play Tour Guide
all day every day
Follow me friends!
Since moving to Portugal, I’ve hosted and/or played tour guide to approximately eight different friends and family members, in a period of one month. That’s about double the people I did the same for in New York… in a period of seven years. Why the sudden surge in guests? Because I have pride in the life I’m slowly building in this beautiful town, and what’s more rewarding than a great show & tell session? Nothing, I tell ya. (Did I mention I’m a theater kid?)
But in all seriousness, I’m giddy at the number of family and friends who’ve stopped by Lisbon, and subsequently Ericeira, on their trips elsewhere in Europe. Connecting flights can be loads cheaper, so tell your friends to connect away, and come on over, wherever you may be! I fall in love with my little town all over again, when I get to see the cobblestone streets with fresh eyes, and introduce somebody else to the insane Nata tarts at Maria’s bakery on the plaza.
I relish living in a place with a spare bedroom, only 30 minutes from a (somewhat) major international airport. There’s most likely a good reason you moved to your new home abroad. So share it, and fall in love all over again. (Maybe even eight times.)
that’s all she wrote
It’s an incredible privilege to live in a new country, and learn how to adapt and thrive in a foreign setting. But it’s not easy. If it were, everyone I know wouldn’t live in the United States at the moment… But the reward far exceeds the risk. The past month (and change) of my life has taught me invaluable lessons, and also kicked me flat on my face numerous times. Some days were truly terrible. And others brought little victories, which had me feeling on top of the world, in my new Portuguese home. I don’t want to sugarcoat anything, as this blog reflects my voice, and not that of some instagram airbrushed robot. Moving abroad is hard. And there will be rotten eggs. But please-oh-please don’t let the rotten eggs in life stick with you, wherever you are. Wake up, get going, and go explore this incredible world we live in. There are so many good eggs to be found.