The Emotional Roller-Coaster of Living Abroad

So I took a little (long) break from blogging. Here’s why: as my time wrapped up in Madrid, I set out to spend less time behind my computer, and more time enjoying my friends and reaping the benefits of living in such a spectacular city.

I must admit that while the entire year definitely whizzed by, my last month in Europe felt like it must have been playing on 3x Fast Forward mode. Out of nowhere I was suddenly sending my bags home, and packing my Osprey backpack for the next adventure. While I’ll write a separate post to share a bit about my month in Asia, the purpose of this post is to share some retrospective insights into my general psychological state while abroad.

Before my “Expatriate Year” commenced, I took a course which served to mentally prepare me for the emotional roller coaster that living in a new culture would inevitably strap me into. I learned about The Cultural Adaptation Curve and its 4 stages:

To be honest, I didn’t think this graph was going to apply to me. I’ve traveled enough in my time to not be affected by culture shock… Anddd you guessed it, I was wrong.

I experienced a very high Honeymoon phase, followed by a very low, albeit brief Crisis, which was followed by a steady Recovery; and finally, a very high level of Adjustment (though sprinkled with some periodic lows). 

This goes to say that even I, being someone who prides herself on her positivity and optimism, fell victim to the psychological patterns of living in a different culture. And it’s okay! 

For every serious pang of homesickness I felt when I FaceTimed my family, I felt three pangs of euphoria upon taking in new breathtaking sights. For every tear I shed whilst dealing with annoyingly slow Spanish bureaucracy, I experienced five bursts of laughter with new friends over several rounds of tapas. For every frustrated text I sent to my best friends from home, I uploaded 10 photos to Instagram sharing moments of sheer happiness. 

As I sit here from the comfort of my home in Austin, TX, I reflect upon these moments of highs and lows. I sit here, with no impending homework or tasks, and am happy to calmly be able to think back specifically to that last month in Madrid. Between wrapping up duties at my internship; squeezing in trips to Pamplona, Segovia, and even Paris; and hosting friends for almost a week…July of 2017 might as well have been a dream! That last month had me so constantly stimulated, up until my very last night; that when I look at The Cultural Adaptation Curve, I think the only change I’d make to it is seriously spiking up the slope on the Adjustment part. 

Living abroad is not all fun and games. Even if you go into it with the brightest of attitudes (which you should!) it will be hard to escape the occasional moment of nostalgia. But keep your chin up! Every single one of those lows is well worth the countless pictures you’ll take, the tremendous cultural awareness you’ll gain, and the priceless memories and friendships that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.



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