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The Glamour versus Reality of Living Abroad

Cuenca 7

Moving to another country – terrifying or a dream come true? Personally, moving abroad didn’t seem to be too stressful initially. To be fair, the preparatory work is a job in itself. I had an advantage given my hyper-organized and planner personality. After numerous executed checklists and timelines, however, I was ready to go. After the visa had been acquired, medical needs addressed, bags packed, and many goodbyes shared, I was ready to hit the road and begin the next chapter.

Essentially I had the dream life lined up. I was living in a new beautiful country with an incredible partner, a roof over my head, and enough money to last me for the year without work. Cue anxiety. That’s right. I had the world at my fingertips and every day for nearly three weeks I had so much anxiety-induced chest pain that I nearly considered turning around and taking it all back. What drove me even crazier was that I could not identify what was making me feel this way. Was I homesick? Settling down too quickly? Was I running away from something? Did I make a big mess?

Nope, none of it. Even though I moved abroad excited about the freedom and the adventure, the freedom also terrified me. I had minimal levels of responsibility, expectations from no one, and lacked clarity about what I wanted in a professional career. It took me a few weeks, but I was able to snap out of it and establish some normalcy. Reading this you may very well believe that I’m nuts. But as a girl that worked 2-3 jobs, commuted to grad school, and volunteered, the blank slate was culture shock for me. Moving abroad without a job or a plan takes bravery, but it also takes patience and a budget.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned of the glamour and reality of moving abroad:

Creating a daily routine will save your sanity.

Wanderlust is real and amazing, but if you’re looking to live abroad, that involves an ounce of settling down. I would love to bounce around country to country, but that is not the life that I went searching for. Creating a daily routine has given me some normalcy and some goals to work towards. Personally, French press coffee + yoga + training for a race are enough to give me that productivity crunch. Additionally, I’ve set some goals to apply for two jobs per week and write two blog posts per week. It may not seem like much, but its enough for me to enjoy the day and focus on personal growth.

Lesson learned: I’m not as much of a free spirit as I had thought, but I’m cool with that.

New experiences are awesome. Getting sick in a new country is not one of them.

For those of you who know me, I’ve always had a sensitive stomach. For the most part, living in Ecuador is a dream because I can afford a fresh diet (my boyfriend says he’s never eaten so many vegetables in his life). But when I’m at a market with fresh pig (ornado), potatoes, local corn (mote), and coconut juice (jugo de coco), I cannot help but to indulge. Everyone else was fine, but my body was like a volcano waiting to erupt. Getting sick in a new place (one that speaks another language nonetheless) made me feel more vulnerable than I could have imagined. Thankfully, the pharmacists can give you a prescription without a doctors note or insurance, and there are plenty of cultural natural alternatives that are there to help (for me it was Sal de vichy, a salt that acts as an antacid when dissolved in hot tea).

Lesson learned: know your body and come prepared accordingly.

Everything is cheaper, but it still adds up fast. Financial planning (yawn, I know) could save you in the long run.

$1 beer? 2 for $5 mojitos? Sweet! Somehow still spending $20 everyday? Not so much. I knew my relationship was getting serious when I asked Eduardo if we could start a monthly budget excel sheet. We calculated rent, utilities, and cash-spending (lunches, drinks, markets, grocery shopping, etc) and set a goal for the month. Granted we are only on month one, but we know that if we spend more than $10 between the two of us everyday we will be over budget. Tracking purchases in Google sheets is kind of nerdy but it gives me a piece of mind.

Lesson learned: the smarter you are about money, the longer you can play.

Just because the cost of living is low, doesn’t mean traveling always is.

I had imagined traveling South America as part of my move abroad. No job, check. Money saved, check. Numerous places to go, check. Little did I realize, however, that while traveling South America is ridiculously cheap, getting to your destination is not. Busses are the way of South America, and so are the Andes mountains. As a female traveling solo, I’m not ready to do the buses by myself. Flying to other countries from Ecuador costs more than flights from the US.

Lesson learned: pick a few destinations to work towards and make them count. Next stop, Macchu Pichhu!

In reality, living abroad can be lonely sometimes.

Living in another country feels glamorous a good majority of the time. I get to pass the day as I please, drink fresh juices, meet new people, and continue to learn another language. Sometimes, still, it can feel lonely. Making new friends is wonderful, but your family and closest friends can and never will be replaced. I know I will make true friends in time, but I also know that you can’t force a deep friendship. And I know that as much as I cherish my boyfriend, he can’t cuddle me 24/7. Someone once told me that feeling lonely means that there’s a part of you waiting to come to fruition. There are parts of me that I have yet to discover. While that is amazing to think about, it still doesn’t take away the feeling that a little something is missing.

Lesson learned: be patient, be kind, be active, be yourself. Find the things that make you whole and run with them. For me its been trying something new everyday, whether it’s a food, a café, a class, or some extreme sport.

I have been living in Ecuador now for nearly one month. Of course I am no expert on living abroad, but the first month did pose personal challenges that I definitely did not expect to encounter so soon. New year, new country, same me (growing stronger everyday).

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10 comments
  • Tea
    Tea | January 29, 2016

    Nicely done! 🙂 looking forward to (two a week, is it? 😉 new blog posts!

    • admin_kelly
      admin_kelly | February 2, 2016

      That’s the goal! 🙂

  • Evan Sheldon
    Evan Sheldon | January 29, 2016

    Had to check this…so you learned lessons in a month that took me 1 year (now at 2.5 in Rome). “BRAVA!”

    • admin_kelly
      admin_kelly | February 2, 2016

      I am sure there is still much more to learn! I hope you are enjoying your international adventure!

  • Brent Swope
    Brent Swope | January 31, 2016

    Makes for captivating reading.

    • admin_kelly
      admin_kelly | February 2, 2016

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed!

  • Dezirae
    Dezirae | February 1, 2016

    We miss you back home. So glad to see you are doing well.

    • admin_kelly
      admin_kelly | February 2, 2016

      I miss you guys bunches – I hope the crew is taking good care of y’all!

  • Cindy
    Cindy | February 5, 2016

    Saw your Mom at the Coffee Shop this morning – so cool what you are doing. Miss seeing you on the Hotline on the weekends. Enjoy.

  • 18 Months In, I Still Choose Ecuador – Wonder My Way | March 29, 2019

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