Being Anxious Abroad

Living abroad comes with a bunch of expectations and pressures which some people cope with better than others. There are plenty of travel blogs aimed at confident, extroverted people listing all of the things they must do when in whatever country. They can be very useful and I certainly consult them when I want to try something new, but sometimes it can be overwhelming. It can feel as though you don’t match up to these care free travelers.

We, like many others, have to deal with anxiety. If you’re in the same boat, whether it’s something you live with or something new brought on by culture shock, I wanted to give a few examples of the expectations that can sometimes crop up, and that you don’t need to live up to. When I first lived abroad by myself, I let a lot of these expectations get to me. They can make you feel like you don’t deserve to be wherever you are. But, unless you’ve actually committed some sort of awful crime to get there, you probably do!

  1. You don’t have to be super ‘adventurous’ to live abroad.

You’ll meet people who have backpacked across ten countries and almost died and skydived and fought a bear. You don’t have to measure yourself by what they want out of their time abroad. It’s hard if you find yourself in a group of friends who want to do things that you don’t feel comfortable doing, but don’t be scared of saying no sometimes. “Say yes to everything” is great advice for some people, but it’s a recipe for an emotional breakdown for others.  If you get invited camping, but you know camping makes you very anxious and trying again isn’t going to magically cure you, turn them down. Find something you’re comfortable doing the next weekend and invite them to that instead. Or, find compromises. Go along on a trip, but be clear from the start that you’re not going to take part in a specific activity. If it’s an anxiety issue, be honest about that. Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand that they’re not helping you by trying to persuade you to do something. Try your best to be firm and direct.

  1. You don’t have to love everything about the country.

I don’t love everything about Scotland, and I don’t love everything about Korea. I would never tell an immigrant in my native country to ‘go home’ just because they disagree with certain things about the culture. For some reason, there are people within the foreigner community who will act like you don’t deserve to be here unless you only eat the local food, speak the language fluently, have loads of native friends, etc. It’s a toxic attitude to have in your own country; it’s a toxic attitude to have abroad. Avoid these types.

  1. You don’t have to be having the best time all the time.

Chances are you have a full time job. Sometimes you just need to chill. It goes without saying that people’s online personas tend to make their lives look way more amazing than they are, and making a bunch of international friends only seems to amplify that. Half of them seem to be professional photographers or vloggers who have a life changing experience every weekend. Trying new things is great no matter where you live, but it isn’t a competition. Just because someone you know just uploaded a bungee jump video, doesn’t mean you should feel guilty for having a lazy weekend playing Resident Evil 7. It’s much harder than falling off a cliff with a springy rope attached to you anyway.

  1. Don’t underestimate the cultural differences with other foreigners.

This one is a bit different, but I think it still has a lot to do with social expectations. Hanging out with a group of people from another culture, even if it’s a similar culture and you all speak the same language, can cause weird misunderstandings to arise. The background I come from uses informality as a sign of friendliness, so when people from other countries seem to be quite cordial, I find it difficult to bond with them. If you’re an insecure person, it’s easy to jump to “they don’t like me” or “they’re being cold towards me”, but keep in mind that there could be subtle cultural differences at play.

  1. Advice: maybe don’t go on the waygook forum.

This one is Korea specific. Waygook has some good lesson plans, but wowzers some of the people are the worst. It’s impressive just how the worst they are. Waygook is where I see the most extreme examples of the unreasonable expectations I’ve mentioned.  Don’t get sucked in to the arguments thinking you’ll be able to keep your cool and reason with people. That’s how they get you.

Living abroad can be fun. Feeling guilty that you’re not having all the fun that everyone assumes you must be having is not fun. You don’t have to be that person jumping off a waterfall with their gopro to live abroad, you just have to live abroad to live abroad.

 Please feel free to comment and let us know if you have your own experiences of dealing with anxiety abroad!

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