A pagoda at sunset in Lianyungang, China

How to Survive the First Week Abroad

by Heather on 7 December, 2012

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?!)

This Chinese family took us to Suma Bay, even though they had never meet us, because Chris used to teach at his school.

This Chinese family took us to Suma Bay because Chris used to teach at his school, even though they had never meet us.

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.

After ten weeks in China, I still Skype with my mom every Wednesday morning.

After ten weeks in China, I still Skype with my mom every Wednesday morning.

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.

This definitely wasn't on my list of "familiar foods".

This definitely wasn’t on my list of “familiar foods”.

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.

This picture at my apartment makes me smile every time I'm missing home!

This picture at my apartment makes me smile every time I’m missing home!

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.

After a long day at the China Dinosaur Land, I decided to make a Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse window cling for my mom. I'm staying busy!

After a long day at China Dinosaur Land, I decided to make a Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse window cling for my mom.

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?


linda mortimer December 7, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Never been abroad, but I think u explained it very well, great job

Heather December 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Thank you! This is my first time living abroad, so I tried to capture everything that I thought was important.

Kathy December 8, 2012 at 5:42 am

Great first blog post, Heather! I know it’s hard at first, but you will grow so much as a person from this experience. When you get back to the US, you will look at our culture from a very different perspective, more enlightened.

Heather December 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Thank you, Kathy! It’s difficult being away from America, but I definitely think this experience will make me a better person. It’s helping me grow as a person and become more tolerant to being without the things to which I’m accustomed.

crazy sexy fun traveler December 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Really useful tips, Heather :) I hope you are doing fine :)

Heather December 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Thank you very much! I’m doing well in China. I’m trying to stay warm through the winter :)

Samuel Jeffery December 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm

Really useful tips here Heather. I’ve been abroad for so many years I have to think back quite a ways to remember how I felt when I first moved overseas. You’ll certainly adapt and and learn to thrive more as time passes.

Heather December 9, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Thank you Samuel! It’s all very new and exciting for me, so I’m trying to capture as much of it as possible.

Chris December 13, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I was saying the same thing. Reading this list made me remember the tougher times I had when I first got to SoKo.

Heather December 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

It makes sense that most people traveling and especially moving abroad probably experience the same kind of tough times. Hopefully my entry helps someone make the adjustment more easily!

Andy January 9, 2013 at 4:11 am

I definitely agree with these suggestions. I especially think that community is ESSENTIAL. If you do not get out and meet new people who you can regularly spend time with, you will be miserably lonely. Staying busy also distracts your mind well from home. Thanks for sharing!

Heather January 11, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I definitely think forming a community and staying busy are top priority. Without those things, you’ll be awfully lonely and bored.

Ally April 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for the tips, I’ll be moving to Guadalajara for 4 months to go on exchange so it’s good to hear from someone who’s moved overseas :) I have a feeling I may beat your crying record though ha ha as I’m feeling nervous already and it’s still three months away – not looking forward to leaving everyone I know behind!

Heather April 23, 2013 at 1:55 pm

You’re welcome! You’ll love living abroad. I was very emotional before I moved, mostly anxious and nervous. It’s completely normal. Enjoy :)

Kari May 14, 2013 at 5:44 am

Your blog is spot on for me so far. I just arrived in China yesterday and as soon as I found a note in my suitcase from my mom that said “I love you”, I started bawling. In fact, I’m still crying. I would like to keep a blog, but so far the one I had started in the states via blogger is being blocked.

Heather May 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Welcome to China! Did you move here to work or study? Where are you living in China? I’m glad my blog has been helpful for you. I’ve been living in China for seven months. It’s been really difficult adjusting to Chinese culture. This is my first time living abroad and it’s just so incredibly different than most western countries. I’m sorry that you’re upset right now. I do think it gets easier if you follow my tips on this post. As far as keeping a blog, I know that Blogger and Blogspot are blocked in China. They will work (along with Facebook and Twitter) if you buy a VPN. If not, you can buy your own website to blog, like I have. I hope every day gets a little easier for you! :)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: