How to: Balance Two Worlds
Studying abroad is a beautiful opportunity to discover a new world and perhaps escape from your old life for a while. 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 someone and as though someone else will never fully be able to understand your most precious moments or the places where you lived them. This is sadly the truth 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 Personal Balance
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, I’m going to advise you to consistently remind yourself that you are having a short-lived abroad experience. While it is important to ‘be there’ for your loved ones, you also have to remember to put yourself first.
Pro-Tip (Coming from a pro-in-training): Despite struggling with this myself, I have found that it is best to set a strict time-limit for video calls. This has nothing to do with not wanting to talk to those friends. On the contrary, it allows me to enjoy my time with them and not regret spending the whole day in front of my computer. People understand. Simply tell your buddy or parent what time you need to go by and I’m sure they will happily accommodate your schedule.
At the same time, if you are someone who easily gets swept up and lost in the moment, I need to warn you of the opposite. Remember that it IS important you don’t turn down your friends or family 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.
Pro-Tip: For your parents, significant other, or closest friend it might be a good idea to choose a set day and time that you will speak each week. Depending on how your schedules match up, try to choose a time you are most likely to always want to be home (like Monday night) and that way you can stay consistent. Having a plan ahead of time tends to keep everyone accountable and happy.
Aligning that Balance with Others
Keeping the above thoughts in mind, you should be able to manage your own mental balance between your two worlds. However, you 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. 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 in the US 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 American 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 American 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.
What I hope you take away from my advice is this: there is a lot of back and forth when it comes to juggling two worlds and you may never feel like you are 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 American world for a while. If you manage to switch off between the two in a way that keeps your mind and heart happy then I think you’re doing a great job of balancing!