How to: Balance Two Worlds
Moving abroad (even if just for a short-term stay) is a beautiful opportunity to discover a new world and perhaps escape from the life you left behind in your home country. However, this means that things can get a little tricky. Despite living in Spain, you will sometimes feel like your world is back home. At other times, it may seem like friends or family just do not understand that your world is unfolding in Spain. As always, the solution lies in striking the right balance!
The first thing you need to realize is that now you live in two worlds. You will often feel disconnected from friends and family back home. At the same time, you will also often feel at a loss when it comes to including them in your world abroad. This is sadly the normal reality for expats and there’s not much you can do about it. The best that you can do is to accept it and work on the balance from there.
Finding Balance Between Your Worlds
If you are someone who has really close relationships with your family and/or tends to be the person that all of your friends turn to in their times of need, you may struggle to be fully ‘present’ here in Spain. Nevertheless, we advise you to remember that you are having a short-lived abroad experience OR that you are trying to establish a long-term home here. Either way, while it is important to ‘be there’ for your loved ones, you also have to remember to put yourself first.
At the same time, if you are someone who easily gets swept up and lost in the moment, we need to warn you of the opposite. Remember that it IS important you don’t turn down your friends or family back home each time they reach out. Don’t forget that they miss you and are excited to hear about what you are up to! When you do have to say no or reschedule, do your best not to make them feel unappreciated.
Likely, you agree with what we’re saying but you might not feel confident about how to execute it. Here are some ideas of how you can be there for loved ones back home without losing yourself in that world completely:
Make a plan to videochat with your parents and/or other close friends or family at the same and on the same day each week.
Insofar as you can manage, don’t break this promise to talk at your scheduled time. In order to avoid constantly needing to reschedule, try to find a day/time of the week that you’re likely to always be home (i.e. planning to chat every Wednesday afternoon might be easier for you to maintain than every Friday night).
Manage expectations by blocking out a certain amount of time for these calls. Whether you have just twenty minutes to chat or two hours, it can be helpful to share that with the person you are calling so you can each manage the time and your expectations accordingly.
Print out or have a time zone converter handy to ensure you’re scheduling for the right time. You’d think it’d be pretty easy to just count out the hours but with DST changes at different times on different continents, things can sometimes get confusing. Double-checking never hurts and there’s nothing worse than waiting around for an hour or standing someone up without realizing it.
Ask your friends and family to download Whatsapp to communicate with you (probably not as essential if you all have iPhones). It may sound silly, but with Whatsapp as the main form of communication in the Spanish world, this app will quickly become your go-to for communication and Facebook, Instagram, email, etc will feel like more effort. If you have mom, dad, and your besties right there in your Whatsapp inbox you’re more likely to reach out to them and keep them in the loop.
Send letters and postcards. We really believe this small gesture can go a long way. Check out the article we wrote on why you should send them, as well as this article on sending mail through the Spanish postal system.
Ensure that Balance is in Alignment with your needs
With the above advice, we hope you feel more prepared in terms of balancing your two worlds. However, we must also acknowledge that what you need may not always be what your worlds are asking of you. Your parents may want you to call every night. Your overseas girlfriend may want you to stay in on a Saturday night to Skype with her. Your best friend may break up with her partner and expect you to be on console-patrol for days on end.
It is up to you to decide how many of these needs you can fulfill. Be as fair as possible with your world across the ocean, but remember that they ARE across the ocean (or otherwise far away). You don’t always have to―and literally can’t―bend yourself out of shape to be there for someone who, in reality, might be better off talking to someone in person.
On the flipside, be sure to listen to your internal compass when it comes to cancelling on friends or family back home because of plans that come up in Spain. If it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something awesome, by all means explain to your “back-home world” and reschedule. But if it’s merely another tapas and cañas outing that’s not so important, don’t let your new Spanish world friends talk you out of necessary time “in your back-home world.”
IT’S OKAY if you want to talk to your parents or best friends more than once a week. You know yourself better than anyone else and perhaps those short reminders of home are what keep you grounded and give you the energy to keep going and live your time in Spain to its fullest. There’s nothing wrong with that.
IT’S ALSO OKAY if you prefer not to schedule one-on-one time with every friend back home and instead choose to do just one group video hang-out in your entire stint abroad. If you are upfront with your back-home world, they will understand that you are trying to immerse in your abroad experience as much as possible and are therefore limiting your time spent on-screen or in English.
Whatever YOU need is the correct balance for you! At the end of the day, this post merely aims to acknowledge that living abroad creates a lot of back and forth when it comes to juggling two worlds. In our experience, it’s common to feel like you’re never doing it ‘just right.’ In these cases, the ‘right’ thing to do is to take a minute to step away from the circumstances, clear your mind, and think “What do I truly want and need to get out of today?”
Sometimes the answer will be to immerse yourself into your Spanish world and other times it will be to retreat into your back-home world for a while. Sometimes it may feel like you’re doing a lot more of one than the other but, usually, with time things even themselves out. Either way, if you manage to switch off between the two worlds in a way that keeps your mind and heart happy then you’re doing a great job of balancing!