I have lived abroad in two different countries. In September 2014, I moved to Cartagena, Colombia. By Christmas I was back home. In 2017, I relocated to Zaragoza, Spain. I’ve learned a lot from my first experience. Here are some things I’ve done differently since my first 4 months abroad.
- No Snap Decisions – In the Summer of 2014, I was on this fantastically epic European backpacking trip with my friend Liz. It was the preceder of my planned move to Thailand. In Dubrovnik, Croatia I got news that my program, WorldTeach, had to cancel the Thailand program due to immediate security concerns. The military coop there had unexpectedly affected some of the volunteers. They offered some alternatives. One was moving to Cartagena, Colombia. Another was to not participate in the program at all. As I had already ended my lease and quit my job – I decided to move to Colombia without adequate information. For this move, I had months to mull my options before getting the official letters of acceptance. Although I wasn’t crazy about Zaragoza, I was extremely pleased by my stipend amount. This extra time for research proved to be extremely useful. I talked to people completing a variety of programs in Spain. My decision was informed and complete.
- Semper Paratus – When I got into Colombia, I received about a week of training which focused mainly on teaching. The other volunteers had been briefed in Bogota for a month on safety, teaching, and culture shock. There just wasn’t enough time for me to cover everything. On the other hand, I came to Spain armed with tons of information. I had visited Spain a number of times as a tourist. I had spoken with many people. I’m not saying I was prepared for everything but I was decidedly more comfortable.
- Ready to teach – I have been a teacher since 2011. However, I did not have any formal training when I first started. My school hired me under the gun as they were in desperate need of a Latin teacher. I had a number of excellent role models to emulate due to my 10 years of Latin education with exceptional professors and teachers. When I moved to Colombia, I had no training on ESL. I also didn’t have internet access there. It was extremely difficult to come up with lessons and ideas in a vacuum. Immediately when I got home from Cartagena, I started grad school to get my Masters in ESL education. Cut to 2017, I’ve graduated with my Masters. I know how to scaffold and differentiate. I know how to teach. I am more thoughtful. Also working with internet certainly helps.
- Connected to family and friends – 2014 was not the smartest time for me to move abroad. I wasn’t in a great place with several members of my family. I had a core group of friends but many were at a turning point in their lives – about to get married or have children. I spent the three years since Colombia really working on myself personally and as a friend. I am so happy to say that I left the states in the happiest place I’ve been in my life. Sometimes I’m bummed to have left in the midst of such incredible relationships. Having the support of my friends and family as well as easy access to them has been the most important change since living in Colombia.
- Cultural Familiarity – Since I’ve visited Spain a number of times, there was a lot that I already knew. For example, I knew what the food was like. I knew what I could find in grocery stores. I knew some of the most important cultural values. I knew the infrastructure and how to get around. While I have learned so much since being here, having a modicum of a head start was so helpful.
All of that being said: I would love to live in Cartagena, Colombia again. As a city, it’s dynamic and challenging and hot and wonderful. I have visited once with two of my best friends. I don’t blame Cartagena or the amazing country of Colombia for me needing to move home. I just wasn’t in the greatest emotional state at the time. I highly recommend that literally everyone visit this fantastic city. Overall, I’m just a lot happier now completely independent of the fact that I’m living abroad. I hope you enjoy some of the Colombian travel porn I’ve sprinkled in here! Where is somewhere you would never expect to live? Tell me below!