By Nicole Farrell, SWAP Intern
Nicole on Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge – a very rickety and high example of conquering fears!
“Traveling is awesome, but I think I’d miss home too much after a few months.”
“Living abroad sounds cool, but it seems like such a crazy idea. I don’t know anyone who has done it!”
“I wish traveling wasn’t so expensive, it seems like a waste of money.”
Do any of these sound like something you’d say? Fear not, travel-minded worrier! Choosing to work and live abroad can be a daunting decision to make, with commitments of both time and money at stake. If you are considering SWAP, read on to put your fears at rest for all of the “what if’s?” that arise before applying.
1. What if I get homesick, or I hate/can’t get used to the cultural differences?
Experiencing a new culture is usually considered to be the best part of traveling, but moving and living in a new country is very different to just visiting. A year (or two, depending which program you choose) is a long time, and it may be off-putting to think about adapting to a whole new way of life. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to work around this to ensure that you feel right at home in your new country. To combat homesickness, keep in mind that technology is your friend! Skype offers extremely affordable and even free video calling internationally, so you can see and talk to your family and friends back home. Facebook and other social media sites allow for instant communication, and consider blogging your stories and travel pictures to make your friends at home jealous. One extremely effective way of combating homesickness is to establish familiar habits. In daily life, people tend to fall into routines; they have their favourite cafe, they walk the same way to work each day, they get ready for bed in the same way. Once you’re in your new country, establish a routine right away. It may be tempting to go out and explore, but you’ll have the whole year to do that. It’ll help you feel more at home if you find some creature comforts in your new city, like locating your regular grocery store, getting to know the clerks at a new pharmacy, and walking around your new neighbourhood to get to know the shortcuts. Let’s say you’re SWAPPING to Ireland- go to a pub (you have 800+ to choose from!), order a pint and befriend the bartender. Go there a few days in a row and get familiar. It will put your mind at ease to have someone to talk to, and once you become a regular you feel as though you ‘belong’ there. If you swap to France, find a cafe and go there each day for a coffee and people-watch. Find a park where you can walk or jog each morning. Once you become familiar with your new country, you’ll feel more like a citizen than a tourist. Having a routine gives you control in what can be a new and scary place. As they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Live like the locals live, they call your new city home, after all!
2. What if I miss out on job opportunities at home while I’m away? What if I wasted all that time/money for nothing?
In Canada, gap years are hardly discussed, let alone encouraged, unlike in other countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand. After high school, the next step that is pressured onto students is either college/university or finding a job. Traveling and working abroad is seen as wasteful; time taken away from what could be used to focus on school or finding work. This is a travesty, as travel can be the best way to find out exactly what you want to do before you commit! It’s rare to graduate university and immediately jump into your dream job, or a job anywhere close to being a stepping stone to a career. It doesn’t help that sometimes what you think you want to do turns out to be something you have no interest in later on! Spending a year traveling and working can give you time to think about your life, and you may even discover on your travels something you wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Let’s say you’ve graduated in English and want to become a teacher. Rather than jumping right into teacher’s college, it would make sense to try the SWAP Teach Thailand program to get a taste of what you’ll be in for! Once you’re there, maybe you discover that while Thailand is beautiful, teaching just isn’t for you. Your time abroad has just saved you tuition at teacher’s college and years of an unfulfilling career. It works the opposite way too, maybe you’ll love teaching so much that you know for sure it’s what you want to do. Travel will help you make up your mind through real world experience, so it’s always worthwhile.
Spending money on travel may seem frivolous to some unadventurous souls because it’s not a tangible thing like a laptop or new tv. However, it is much more enriching to spend money on an experience than it is to spend it on material goods. Pretend someone just handed you a $50.00 bill and gave you the option to either go see your favourite band live, or buy a new gadget/game/pair of shoes you’ve had your eye on. If you choose the concert, you’ll get to hear your favourite music live, be surrounded be people who love the same music you do, maybe meet some new friends, perhaps get to meet the band after, and generally have an awesome story you’ll never forget. If you go with the new gadget or pair of shoes, you’ll get limited use out of it and eventually will go out of style, or you’ll grow bored and want the next new thing. See now which option gets you way more bang for your buck?
3. What if I forget something important/don’t have enough information before I go?
You can attempt to plan every single detail of your trip before you go, but guaranteed you will overlook something. SWAP exists to help with all of the small details, like filling out your visa applications, and their partners abroad help with taxes, bank accounts, SIN-equivalents and other headaches. So while there is no need to worry about any of that stuff, it’s hard to take a leap of faith without first making sure you’re prepared. Luckily, the internet has made it easy to learn about different cities without having to travel there first. Use the plethora of sources to get a general idea about available housing, what kind of jobs are open, what the weather will be, and other lifestyle information. It’s hard not knowing the specifics, but that’s what SWAP’s partners are for when you get there. Use your time before your trip to research neighbourhoods you might like to live in and other personal preferences that will help them help you. Here’s a great exercise you can do before you leave for your trip that helps a lot with packing and preparing. Starting tomorrow, make a note of everything you do or use in your daily life. Write down things you use that you normally don’t pay any attention to; these are the things you may forget to pack! Write down how much you spend, so it’s easier to make a budget in your new country. If you know how much you usually spend on your morning coffee or at the bar on a Friday night, you’ll have a better idea of how to recreate your lifestyle once you move. Of course, things may be more expensive and you’ll have to adjust, but it’s easier to adjust to life when you do not have to completely overhaul your preferred way of living.
All of these fears are very common and very understandable. However, it’s very important to keep in mind that no matter how prepared you are, you WILL at some point get a bit overwhelmed or start thinking you’ve made a huge mistake. It’s part of taking a leap of faith! But remember: Be Prepared to Be Scared. Once you’ve accepted the fact that you may freak out, suddenly you will feel less scared. Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s because you take control of your emotions. Yes, you’ve landed in a strange country, alone, feeling vulnerable. But you knew you’d feel this way beforehand, so you know it’s completely normal, and eventually the feeling will start to pass. The more you accept this before you leave, the more in-control you’ll feel once you get there, and you will be able to get over the hurdle and adjust to your new life. Time goes by fast, and once you’re settled in it will fly by. Keep reminding yourself of this if you start to get overwhelmed, and remember, SWAP will be there for you every step of the way!
For all the destinations available to you check out: http://www.swap.ca/out_eng/destinations.aspx
To talk to other people who have gone for it join: http://www.facebook.com/groups/swapworktravel/