‘Abroad’, when attached to a job position, is a small yet daunting word that invokes a little fear or excitement within you that can be felt in the pit of your stomach. We all get that feeling when we are faced with something new. After completing a 10-month work placement in Barcelona, Spain, I can tell you from personal experience that overcoming those initial hesitations or fears about living and working abroad will be incredibly worthwhile. Travelling and working abroad is not for everyone. Not everyone can leave their responsibilities, family or friends behind for an international work placement. So, cheers to you for taking the first step by researching others experiences and evaluating if it’s right for you. It was not long ago when I was in your shoes and I was deciding if going abroad was right for me. I was filled with questions and curiosities about life and work in a new country. So, I’m writing this article in hopes of inspiring or motivating you to pursue this international opportunity. I’m sure you have heard many clichés about traveling abroad being “a once in a lifetime experience”, but these are clichés a reason! If you ask me I would say: take the risk, overcome your fears, fuel that curiosity and go!
While working as an assistant English teacher in Barcelona, Spain, I was able to gain valuable work experience, travel, and develop as a person.
1. Valuable Work Experience
University helps you gain valuable skills such as, how to be organized, time management and perseverance, which are all valuable for attaining your career. However, University has a downfall: it cannot teach you what a real work environment is like. My 10-month work term in Barcelona showed me how a Monday to Friday workweek feels. I worked 8am to 3pm daily, not including the one hour commute to and from work. I was exhausted by the time Friday arrived, and discovered that being able to customize your course schedule at University had always been a luxury. I learned that work does not accommodate around your needs, but you must accommodate your time around its requirements. Prior to becoming an assistant English teacher, I was confused about what I was going to do after completing my degree. Now, after having worked in the educational system for a year, I realized that I could become a great teacher and that I was good at it. However, I discovered that my heart still lay in the business world, and I went home confident with my career decision. Work experience allows you to discover new skill-sets, highlights your strengths, and allows you to identify and strengthen your weaknesses.
2. Ability to Travel
Working as an assistant English teacher gets all the benefits of a regular teacher and one of them was the vacation time. Fortunately, like in Canada, teachers in Spain receive Christmas, Spring and Summer vacations. This provided me with the opportunity to travel. I went to Turkey over Christmas, Morocco over Spring and Portugal in the summer. Just imagine what you could do and where you could go!
3. Personal Development
Furthermore, living abroad forces you to solely depend on yourself, and teaches you how to independently live without the security of friends and family around. Nobody can prepare you for the independence that you will feel when you live abroad. If you have never lived alone, you will be surprised at what you are capable of achieving alone. In short, you will be ‘wow’d’ by yourself.
How-To Combat Homesickness:
If you’re worried about getting homesick, don’t. Homesickness does not last forever. It usually creeps up a few months into your work contract, once the excitement of having a new job and living in a new country subsides. Nonetheless, there are solutions for homesickness, and below are a few tips that can help you prevent or eliminate these feelings.
1. Get Connected
Before your departure, have all your friends and family download the same communication applications or programs so that you will be able to stay in contact with ease. I frequently used Fongo and Skype when I lived abroad. I highly recommend Fongo because it provides you with a local Vancouver number, where you can call and receive calls for free when you have access to wifi. Line and Viber are comparable to Fongo and are also viable communication applications.
2. Get Involved
It is really important to get involved in an activity or become part of a like-minded group when you are living abroad. When I moved to Barcelona I immediately joined a local gym, and this made me feel more like I was a part of the community and kept me in a positive state of mind. Additionally, I signed up with “Meetup”, which is a website where locals or expatriates form groups online with strangers and plan activities such as coffee dates or group hikes. Meetup is a perfect way to meet new like-minded friends within the local community.
3. Get a Plan
Having something to look forward to helps boost your happiness level and gets your mind off of missing home. While I was away for 10 months, I always had a short weekend vacation or a Skype date with my best friend planned. If you are living somewhere in Europe or Asia, I would suggest that you get out there and take advantage of the cheap travel deals, and visit as many countries as you can because traveling is more expensive when you return to Canada.
4. Get a Diary
Sometimes when living abroad the time difference makes it difficult to speak to your best friends or family. There will come a time when you desperately need to talk to someone familiar, however, chances are it will be four in the morning for them. Having a diary helps to control your emotions and gives you something to do until one of your friends become available to talk.
There is so much to gain when you work and live abroad. Take it from me, you will return home only wanting to go back. Although there are challenges to living abroad, like homesickness, there are far too many benefits to let that hold you back from going abroad. So please, take that chance, overcome your fears and GO!
Beyond the Blog
To learn more about opportunities like Candice's, visit the International Co-op Page.