Uncertainty Abroad: Having Second Thoughts

Caroline on a coffee farm in Salento, Colombia. Caroline Cassard

Written by  August 23, 2016

When doubt settles in, here’s how to maintain perspective.

About two months into my move to Medellin, I felt uncertain about my decision.

"Un año, mas o menos," had become my automatic response whenever someone asked how long I'd planned to stay ("a year, more or less"). But in reality, I was in an unbinding contract. I had turned down an opportunity that would have restricted me from returning to the States for a wedding later the same year; and no one—no family, no boyfriend, no kids—was holding me in Colombia except for myself.

Like most uncertainties, this hesitation disappeared once I waited it out for a few weeks. A brief illness, a bad day at work, or simply finding that my roommate's dog had (once again) mistaken my bedroom floor for the outdoors, has the ability to leave me feeling a little less than content.

Several conversations with a good friend from home helped me to keep perspective.

“Are you totally in love with Medellin?” she asked me.

My answer was no. The public’s competitive, forceful behaviour on the Metro drives me crazy. Institutes pay their teachers poorly. And sometimes I feel that the concrete and brick city is missing some green space.

But on the other hand, I’ve met wonderful, fun-loving people, and gained valuable teaching experience. By travelling all over the city to meet students for private lessons, I’ve learned to navigate parts Medellin that many locals don’t know. And I’ve connected with fascinating, motivated humans who are always eager to serve me food. I arrive for a class and homemade soups and fresh juices miraculously appear. Colombians are known to be giving and hospitable—and I won’t take this for granted, ever.

“Can you find a similar experience elsewhere,” asked my friend, “but with better pay or better hours?”

The answer is likely yes. With few serious responsibilities besides providing myself with food and housing, my options are pretty open. I could up-and-move to another city or country should I choose. Where will it be next? Puerto Rico, where as a U.S. citizen, I won’t have to worry about obtaining a work visa? Panama, Colombia’s neighbouring nation that I have yet to explore? Or will I apply to jobs in Southeast Asia next year, where I won’t speak the native language, but could open my eyes to an entirely new continent?

Living abroad, I try to remind myself everyday why I’m here. I want new cultural experiences, to practice my second language and to teach in a way that feels rewarding.

I decided to conclude my first contract with a private institute, keeping my word to bring students through their final exams. But ultimately, I won’t renew it. Living abroad, I try to remind myself everyday why I’m here. I want new cultural experiences, to practice my second language, to spend time with my new friends and to teach in a way that feels rewarding.

In teaching, clases particulares give me exactly that. I quickly learned that kids’ classes weren’t for me. My personality lacks the drive to control a crazy classroom, and authority over children has never been my forte. However, I realize that I enjoy working with teenage and adult students who are motivated and focused, with specific language goals. Should they need English to advance their careers or pursue their future travel plans—preparing for a long vacation abroad or a more permanent move, or hoping to connect with their North American in-laws—I find gratification in designing lessons for individuals and connecting with students one-on-one.

Through these tutoring sessions, I’ve established a weekly schedule. But once things start to get comfortable, familiar, and too routine, uncertainty settles in and I typically want a change of pace. (Talk about commitment issues.)

So in your move abroad—especially when navigating it solo—try to remind yourself why you’re there. What do you find rewarding, exciting, and satisfying in your everyday life in another country? Maintain perspective. If you start to wake up with indifference directed toward your daily routine, make a change.

I’m not necessarily trying to build an impressive resume by teaching here and there, nor establishing a long relationship with one institution or business. Instead, I’m much more interested in a cultural exchange, and making these human connections that last longer than a contract. We’re all responsible for our own satisfaction.

I’ve decided to make the short trip from Medellin to Panama for a volunteer-teaching opportunity. When will I come back? I’m not sure. How long will I stay? No sé. My automatic response to these questions has become a resounding “I don’t have plans,” and nothing feels more liberating—more exciting—than saying just that.


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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Caroline Cassard

Caroline Cassard is a travel and food-enthused English language teacher from the U.S. Excited to explore Latin America and beyond, she scavenges for vegetarian meals and attempts to pick up the local language between classes.

Website: carocrunch.com

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