“Do you miss your parents and friends?” Year abroad taboos: coping with loneliness, distance, and unfamiliarity

Last week Mia* in my Class 7 asked me if I’m living in Germany. For how long? Where? Why? She then asked if I’m living in Germany “all alone“. Her friend then chipped in, asking if I miss my friends and family. “When will you next see them?” They were really putting themselves in my position – their intent to understand me meant a lot.

Long distance friendships, relationships, and the often crippling feeling of being alone are huge challenges that everyone faces when on a year abroad. Leaving your family, friends and boyfriend or girlfriend behind intensifies the overwhelm you feel as you attempt to settle into a new place. In my experience hidden conditions like dyspraxia can exasperate emotions even more, causing some pretty erratic mood-swings. Loneliness is something I know a lot of people are going through, so why shouldn’t we talk about it, I thought.

I’m working in a school located in a town, near a city, but I’m living in a rural area (really a village). I only work in the mornings and in the afternoons it is easy to let myself feel a bit lost. I have to put more effort into going places and finding things to do that appeal to me.

Whilst it’s important to get involved in the workplace, it takes time to gain this sort of confidence. It’s equally important in the meantime to check-in with people from home – I always feel better after having talked with family and friends. It’s a sensible suggestion to try to join clubs and get involved in the local area, but this isn’t always practical if there isn’t a support network established where you are working. On the Erasmus scheme – and on summer courses like at Heidelberg – things are usually well organised, including the social aspect.

As an alternative to having friends my age, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my lovely landlady. She appreciates the company too. She often bakes delicious cakes, and is happy to talk to me about the history of the region, and tell me what’s going on in the community. She’s also helped me find out about a local choir – I’m looking forward to going along this week and singing again.

In the staffroom at school it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation or involve myself in one, as everyone talks too fast for me to process. Last week, however, I was invited on a teachers’ trip to Munster (will tell you more about the trip in my next post) and found that really helped me mix with more teachers. A teacher also invited me to go out for lunch with her, which I enjoyed – just knowing a few people makes a difference.

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Dusseldorf University Botanic Gardens

In October I will also be starting a part-time course in Germanistik (German Studies) at Düsseldorf University. I enrolled a couple of weeks ago (was rather impressed at how quickly I managed to find the Uni campus! It’s really nice – very modern and green)  After a language test at the end of the month, I should be able to attend seminars, and that will be another good way to fill up my afternoons.

 

It isn’t shameful to feel lonely sometimes


The important message I want to convey in another rambling blog post (sorry) is that it shouldn’t be considered shameful to feel lonely. It isn’t a personal failing to have experienced any of the above, because it’s very common, and a sign of strength to be trying your best to fit into a new place.

Don’t give up! I haven’t.

If anyone has a similar experience to share or has any more ideas for filling time, then please comment on this post – I always like hearing from people.

misspraxic

*I changed the names of all pupils to maintain confidentiality.