I’m just going to come out and say it. Life can be hard living in a foreign country, especially when there’s a language barrier. You then add in different norms for social behavior, different traditions and overall different customs, and it can be exhausting. I’m finishing up my 8th month in Spain and while this year overall has been amazing, there have been frustrating moments. I’ve realized more than anything that you have to take care of yourself first. My days and weekends are so much better when I’ve just taken the time for me. Here is what I’ve found works for me. I hope this can help any of you who are living the expat life.
My 6-tips for self-care living overseas
1. Take time for yourself
Now I want to start this by saying that I am about as extroverted as they come. And yet living overseas, I’ve never needed more alone time in my entire life. Each day there’s a lot going on. You’re communicating and thinking in your second language. Confusing situations arise. Situations that anger you arise. You just tend to feel … overwhelmed sometimes. It’s in these times that I just lay on my bed alone with my thoughts. Maybe I do nothing or maybe I watch videos on youtube. Other days I may go for a walk alone in one of my favorite parks or I’ll have a coffee alone. Overall, you need to give your brain time to think and process. A lot is going on and you’re changing as well. Do not forget to give yourself space to breathe and just be.
2. Physical activity
Sometimes the expat life can just downright anger me. Like there are situations where someone is rude or seems to do something in a careless way. Or things are different than back home and not in a way I like (example: people think it’s okay to go to carnaval in black face here … easily the thing that angers me the most). If I’m not careful, that anger and frustration could be taken out on the wrong person. And no one likes that to happen.
These feelings are likely inevitable and you need a place to just get it out. Go for runs, join a soccer team or join a gym. Maybe get a punching bag. Channel all that anger and frustration to a good place.
3. Don’t travel every weekend
I know I know … it can be hard with all the places that you want to see! And that could have been me if I had had more money to travel all the time last fall. But I’m glad that I didn’t. As much as I love weekends where I get on an airplane and fly off to London, Lisbon or Prague, I really love weekends where I stay in Granada. I sleep in, meet my friends for tapas and go out dancing. The weekends where I stay are the weekends where I feel more connected to where I live. Connecting to your city helps you to feel a sense of belonging, which simply makes you feel like less of a foreigner. I’m staying in Granada this weekend and already I’m looking forward to every minute of it.
Also the other big reason against traveling every weekend is for your health. You will simply get exhausted and/or sick if you’re gone all the time. And no one wants that. At the end of the day, the expat experience is just as much about traveling as it is about becoming a part of your new community.
In Granada … and happy!
4. Make fellow expat friends
Popular to contrary belief, I think full-immersion can be bad. Now don’t get me wrong … I’m the girl who only looked at flats with Spanish roommates and is always actively hanging out with Spaniards. I’m in Spain to learn from the people and practice the language, after all.
However I’ve also made a handful of fellow expat friends and it’s just nice. In the fall, I had connected with several girls who were also teaching English in my city. I had also connected with some expat friends living in the region. They were coming to Granada one weekend and so I made a Whatsapp group for all of us so we could stay better connected. After the trip ended, we continued chatting amongst ourselves within the group. We chat about funny things that happen in our days, we chat about things we find odd and in general, we are there to support each other.
Fellow expat friends are the best. Your friends back home will not fully understand your experience here because they are not living it. Your friends from the culture you’re in also won’t understand because to them, this is all normal. That’s why fellow expat friends are perfect. I recommend finding 3-6 solid expat friends either where you’re living or who live closeby.
5. Strike the right balance with friends from home
This one can be tricky. First, there likely is a time difference to consider when trying to keep in touch. At the end of the day, you’ll likely stay in touch with some friends better than others. Try to carve out a weekly time where you catch up with them. I also find that I regularly text some of my closest friends. And if one of us sends a message when the other is sleeping, then we just respond when we are awake next.
At the same time, if you spend too much time talking to friends and family from back home, you will not assimilate to the culture. So striking that balance is key.
6. Make friends in your community
This one is also very important. As much as I’ve loved making my expat friends, I’ve almost loved making Spanish friends more. I really enjoy weekends where I stay in Granada because I can catch up with them. We go get tapas or go out for drinks. It also helps you become a part of your community.
If these seems daunting, there are several ways I suggest to do this:
- Language exchange! If you’re still learning and becoming comfortable with the language, this is a great option. In Granada lots of people my age want to practice their English. So I’ve actually met a lot of people through this language exchange Facebook group. There are also weekly intercambios that happen at bars all over town. You can find people to meet up with and practice. This is how I befriended two girls near my age.
- Sports! I’m not super athletic, but this is great for those of you who are! My old Spanish tutor Daniel with CoffeeShop Spanish is how I came to live in Spain. When he was living here, he joined a soccer team with other guys near his age and made all of his Spanish friends that way.
- Get involved and get out! How do we make friends back home? Honestly, it’s not too different overseas. Get involved in your community and find things that interest you. You will for sure meet people.