Only a short time ago I was sitting in a bustling airport excitedly awaiting my departure to France for a Conversation Coach program through InterExchange Working Abroad. Everything I was taking in at that moment brought waves of inspiration and promise of adventures to come. My enthusiasm was at a high point.
During the first few weeks of my trip, however, there were moments when I became disillusioned and questioned why I had been so eager to set out on this journey. As the novelty of everything began to wear off, I started having some unexpected realizations. While I knew that the members of my host family would be regular human beings with the same basic needs, wants and priorities as the average person back home, I was caught off guard by just how normal they actually were. Perhaps I was relying on the challenge of cultural differences to be a sort of distraction that would carry me through the duration of my teaching program. It began to feel rather ordinary, as if I were just a guy staying in a welcoming family's home for a while. Though this was far from being a real problem, it led me to question why I had gone to all the trouble of traveling halfway around the world to have such an experience.
Whatever the issue might be, whether similar to the above or not, some kind of mental block is bound to come up during a trip of any real duration. For those with little or no travel experience, or as a reminder to more seasoned travelers, here are some ideas that have been helpful to me when working through obstacles while traveling or integrating into a host family:
1. Stay Focused
One of the best things you can do when feeling disillusioned is to think back on what motivated you to embark upon your trip in the first place. Whether you can muster up a clear picture in your mind or you need to write it down, develop a mission statement of sorts that you can rely on when things get rough. Whatever this motivation may be for you personally, it helps to have a clear focus that will reinforce your time abroad with meaning.
2. Talk Yourself Through It
It can be helpful to take a deep breathe and remind yourself of the facts, however obvious they may be. Your time abroad will end, after all. In the whole scheme of things, the duration of your trip is just a drop in the bucket. Essentially, you have before you a wonderfully rare opportunity with an expiration date. It helps to keep in mind that you will emerge from this experience sooner than you think, most likely a little wiser and enriched as a person.
3. Keep Your Lines of Communication Open
Another thing to remember is the importance of keeping communication lines open. In other words, do not isolate yourself if you are having a difficult time psychologically. It's OK to let your host family know that you are feeling a little homesick, for example. Don't feel that you need to disconnect and withdraw, as this will only make the problem worse. You can also talk with friends and family back home if that is encouraging to you. Of course, it's best not to go overboard by complaining and spilling your innermost thoughts to your host family, but the point is that you should avoid keeping everything locked up inside and retreating into isolation.
4. Don't Count the Minutes
When you are in the midst of frustration during your trip, it's tempting to obsessively count down the days until the end. However, this not only prevents you from living in the moment, but it will probably have the opposite effect as the one intended, making the passing of time feel even slower. Again, remember that your time abroad will end soon enough. Try your best to embrace the moment and make the most of each day. The great experience you were hoping to have in the first place is still possible but it's important to take the initiative and address the obstacles as they pop up and threaten to get in the way.
No matter how much we prepare for an adventure abroad, there are bound to be some challenges along the way. Of course, each person is unique and will have his or her own way of coping. So, find an approach that works for you. The above tips are just a place to start. Regardless of how you work through each struggle, the important thing is that you do in fact work through them. Keep moving forward and make the most of the rich but temporary opportunity before you!