The first week of my life abroad was a difficult time. I felt disconnected from my life in America and I had a tough time controlling my emotions. I didn’t know how to survive the first week abroad. I cried four times within my first week in China. I hadn’t even been in China for two days before I found myself crying with no explanation. I was on the way to eat a fancy dinner and I started sobbing uncontrollably in the taxi suddenly remembering how much I missed my mother. The second time was the next day after leaving Shanghai for Nanjing. I was in the backseat of the taxi, beyond exhausted and hungry, when I started crying at the strong odor from the buses and the brightness of the shopping street. The third time was more out of fear than out of sadness. After my first metro ride from my apartment to my boyfriend’s apartment, I couldn’t find my boyfriend. I had only been in China for five days and I didn’t have a cell phone. I panicked and I started quietly sobbing as I walked around the metro station with no idea of how to call him or how to find his apartment. Two days later, I cried on the metro while thinking about how much I missed my friends at home. I quickly contained my tears as the Chinese are not fond of showing outward emotions.
Here are my tips for how to survive the first week abroad:
1. Form a community.
You MUST form a community of new friends. What you’ll find is that the people you become friends with while on the road may not be the friends you’re accustomed to at home. Maybe they’re too loud. Maybe they’re a little quirky. Maybe you don’t actually like them at all. No matter the circumstances, you form friendships and relationships with people on the road so that you won’t feel as lonely. And from what I’m told, you’ll actually meet a lot of like-minded people who enjoy traveling while you’re on the road. (Who would’ve thought?!)
2. Maintain your family relationships and friendships.
I Skyped with my mother within twenty-four hours of landing in China. I think I Skyped with her three or four times within my first week abroad. I also downloaded Whatsapp (which allows you to text message, picture message, and video message internationally for free) as soon as I purchased my Chinese phone. I was so happy to be able to text my mother and some of my friends. It helped me deal with the fact that I wasn’t home to see them. It’s also very important (but rather difficult in China due to their blocking of Facebook and Twitter) to stay connected with your family and friends through the Internet: email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
3. Eat familiar foods.
This tip is both for comfort and also for your health. Food varies so much from different states, but even more so between different countries. That’s why it’s so important to slowly introduce new foods into your diet. I feed my body American food for over twenty years. I don’t think it would’ve adjusted well to suddenly eating only Chinese food. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try new foods while you’re traveling, but you have to remember that your body may not respond well to the quick adjustment. (Read: traveller’s diarrhea is no fun!) Along with the health aspect, the familiar food will make your adjustment to a new country more manageable.
4. Decorate your new life.
When I first walked into my new apartment, I felt out of place. It wasn’t mine. It wasn’t me. Luckily, I brought a lot of reminders from home to decorate my apartment: pictures, artwork, candles, stuffed animals, etc. It helped make my apartment feel more homey. You cannot believe how much looking at a picture of yourself with someone familiar from home will help you to smile when you are feel lonely in a cold, dark apartment.
5. Stay busy.
I think it’s safe to assume that you didn’t move to a new country to avoid the outside world, so don’t. It’s easy to be lonely and sad if you’ve secluded yourself to an empty apartment, so stay busy. Even if you aren’t able to make friends within the first week, try keeping yourself busy by exploring the area, enjoying old hobbies, finding new hobbies, or writing about your travels. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to travel when you are busy and less likely to remember how much you miss home.
Other tips include: trying to make a smooth transition between time zones and closely budgeting your money.
How did you survive the first week abroad?
Do you think my tips for how to survive the first week abroad are accurate? What are your tips on how to survive the first week abroad?