5 Phases of My First Twelve Months Abroad

Somehow, I’ve already spend twelve full months living abroad. These months were undoubtedly the fastest of my life. This is partially due to the fact that, in my mind, I see my time here as divided into distinct phases punctuated by big events. Here I’ll describe those six phases and in another post I’ll talk about some of the big events and highlights because I think they deserve their own space.

Phase One: Arrival

Living with my uncle (and being extremely well-fed), excited to be here but scared, lonely, and missing home. Completely unsure if I can really do this and wondering how long I’ll actually last. Pretty afraid to leave the apartment in case anyone tries to speak to me in German, or I get lost, or I can’t figure out the ubahn (metro) on my own. Spending a lot of days in my pajamas while working from home and trying to get my work visa in order.

Phase Two: Independence

Moving into my own apartment, learning the ubahn for myself, living alone for the first time in my life. Sure, I still need lots of help from friends. I can’t speak German and still need help ordering from a menu, I need friends to take me to the immigration office to speak on my behalf since I cannot speak for myself, and I certainly can’t carry my refrigerator up several flights of stairs alone. However, I’d still characterize this phase by my newly acquired independence.

Having my very own space that belongs to no one but me (and my landlord) is completely new and exciting. Being newly single is both sad and a relief. I’m starting to feel more comfortable and confident living here and realize that now, instead of counting down to when I’ll go home, I can count up. There’s no end in sight.

Phase Three: Travel

During the first two phases, I felt pretty overwhelmed and my self-confidence was unreliable. Then, in phase three, I remembered that I am a badass boss and can do whatever I feel like! Hello, Florence. I credit my solo, weekend trip to Florence with the return of my belief in myself. It was the first time I’d traveled alone in Europe and once I’d arrived I remembered how easy and exciting solo travel can be.

I had a great time, made tons of friends, navigated the city using my brain, a map, and the sun, ate and drank everything I could find, and just generally was reminded that I’m perfectly capable of going wherever and doing whatever I set my mind to. After Florence, I’d visit Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Scotland, France, Switzerland, and several German cities during this phase. This phase was the worst for my bank account but best for my spirit. Of course, I traveled during all of the phases but this was the most travel-filled of all.

Phase Four: Work

Because I need to bank roll this fancy lifestyle somehow. This is the phase during which I started teaching. I’d been working remotely for my American company this whole time, but here I was finally able to go through the several week training class to start teaching English.

Training for any job is nerve-wracking because the whole time I suffer from a serious case of imposter syndrome and wonder if I really deserve to be there. And, after training, will I really be able to do the job? Turns out, yes, I will. Although my first real class was absolutely terrifying, since then my confidence has grown and turns out I’m a great teacher. My students tell me so all the time!

As the daughter of two teachers, I grew up thinking I’d love teaching because students give you gifts all the time. Starbucks and Barnes and Noble gift cards galore! What could be better? Turns out, teaching adults is way better. No gift cards (yet) but sometimes they do bring me alcohol. Hell. Yes. Plus, when you teach adults they usually want to be there and you don’t have to deal with annoying parents. It’s glorious. This phase is mostly characterized by working a lot and learning that I love to teach.

Phase Five: Home

Yes, even though it was less than two weeks, an entire phase of my year in Germany would have to be my visit home. It was glorious. I didn’t even realize just how badly I’d needed it until I committed to booking the flight. I’d never planned on going home for Thanksgiving, but when I saw an ad while getting off the ubahn for cheap flights to the states, the wheels started turning. I cannot describe how good it felt to be surrounded by so many people I love.

Also, I ate everything possible because Grand Rapids has the best food in the world. I’m willing to fight you on this. Ten days is certainly not long enough, but spending them with my friends and family in familiar places was everything I needed.

Phase Six: Winter

Bah humbug. I’ve never been into winter sports and I hate being cold, so winter is my least favorite time of year. Thank god for the holidays or I’d go crazy. The winter phase has included a lot of staying home and staying warm, working, developing side projects, etc. It was also characterized by a few moments of panic when I couldn’t get my heat to work properly.

Fortunately for me, winter in Germany is a magical fairytale filled with hot wine, Christmas markets, three days of actual Christmas, and on the rare occasion that we do get some snow it only makes everything that much more beautiful. Unlike some of you, we haven’t had any crazy apocalyptic blizzards. We’ve just experienced some light flakes that make everything look like an antique snow globe.

Originally published at www.elsewhereandeverywhere.com on January 24, 2016.