4th November: I’m Home

Good afternoon, or morning, or evening, from Toledo!

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Not the best pic, but my balcony view!

So…it’s been two months since I wrote anything on this blog. Yikes. I think any “travel blogger” (or in my case, wannabe-travel-blogger) commits to writing a certain amount of posts before they take any big trip. But then, we actually get to our destination, and the adventure just takes over. Whether you’re cruising the Mediterranean, hiking the jungles of Brasil, or building a¬†life in a completely new country, it can be hard to remember to post. No worries to the few people who actually read this blog, because I am back, and pledge to write more every week!
In which case, you’ll likely hear from me again in two more months. ūüėõ

The main reason I haven’t posted on this blog is because I am super busy! Welcome to Spain as an¬†auxiliar de conversaci√≥n¬†or “language assistant.” I will post more about my school and a breakdown of the types of things I do in a different post, for anyone interested in doing a similar program in Spain and what to truly expect. But as a quick breakdown, I have been:

1. Teaching/Assisting
I work 24 hours per week (the maximum number of hours assigned at random by the BEDA program) at a¬†concertado, which is a school that is half-public, half private. Some things are paid for by the local authority while some are paid for the families who attend. I have 24 different classes of students ranging from 7 years of age to 18, from 2nd Primary to 2nd Bachillerato. In the Canadian education system, this translates to kids from Grade 2-12. It’s sometimes difficult to manage activities and games for such a diverse age range, but I love to prep for my classes and discuss ideas with my fellow teachers. They are all very sweet and eager to practice their English, but are also gracious in allowing me to practice my Spanish with them too! Every day we have a “coffee break” in the staff room which makes me feel super professional, haha. I am able to chat with the teachers there and we also have lunch together. I may work more hours than some of my other friends in different programs, and work Monday to Friday, with only weekends off, but I am really enjoying it and feel that teaching is, in some form at least, my true calling.

2. Private classes
Compared to Canadian cities of the same size, the cost of living in Toledo is fairly cheap, and the monthly stipend provided by my school is definitely enough to cover basic expenses like food and rent. I have leftover cash to go out with friends and grudgingly pay my student loan back at home since I wasn’t able to defer it. However, most people come to Spain with the plan to travel around Europe, which is half the fun! While I did save money before I came, I also took up the practice of doing¬†clases privadas here in Spain, all gained solely by word of mouth from my fellow teachers. Basically, I spend around an hour with each person (mostly children aged 8-15) providing English conversation practice. Education here in Spain is great when it comes to grammar and such, but like any language, English is best learned by speaking out loud! Parents know their kids can be shy in a class of 25+ and so they often get native speakers to provide this conversation time and pay a fee. I have 10-11 clients (depending on their schedule sometimes) that I do this with every week from Mon-Fri. Some of my friends also do lessons at English academies in their free time. It’s a necessary thing to do here if you want to save some money, but I really enjoy it!

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Just some prep!

3. Making friends
Lame, I know, but I’ve met a tonne of great people already here in Toledo! Besides my fellow staff members, I’ve made friends with many other¬†auxiliares¬†through connections like regional Facebook groups. We love to go out to explore the city, and I’ll admit that it’s really nice to speak in my own language in a non-academic/teaching kind of way. I’m so happy I’ve met so many people, although I’ve yet to meet any fellow Canadians ūüė¶
I also spend a lot of time with my roommates, who are all Spanish and don’t speak too much English. But I don’t mind, because my Spanish has improved immensely, even in just two months! We watch TV together and hit the gym, which has been an interesting experience on its own, without the foreign language thrown in! The families of my private-class kids have also been super welcoming, often making me a meal or snack while in their home.

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My roommates and I at the bar!

4. Trying to make the most of my down-time
Between teaching, private lessons, prepping for lessons, hanging with my friends, hitting the gym, and doing normal person things like, ya know, eating and sleeping… I’ve been trying to maximize what little down time I have by improving my Spanish! I got a library card to take books out in the target language instead of buying them, and that proved to be a big help, because the first book I checked out (a young adult novel) was written at a much higher level than I can comprehend. I have around a B1-B2 level in Spanish, which is to say, fairly conversation and can discuss a wide variety of topics with ease, but still not fluent and lacks significant vocabulary or grammar poignancy to be considered fluent. In order to learn more vocab, I borrowed some primary level books from my school, notably¬†The Adventures of Geronimo Stilton. I comprehend about 90% of the books, and although they’re a bit infantile, I love using the context of the words I know to learn new ones. Another favourite tactic of mine to learn is to watch TV with Spanish audio and Spanish subtitles. I’m at a good enough level to understand most of it, but if I have the Spanish subs on, it forces me to read it and think, not just see the translation in English. I find it helps to watch shows I’m familiar with already, like The Big Bang Theory, Spongebob, or The Simpsons.

But down-time with a lazy brain is also important. I finally watched¬†Stranger Things and loved it, I watch Vine compilations¬†a lot (RIP VINE), especially when I’m feeling down. I read books in English, write poems, research travel destinations, and make pros and cons lists of options for teaching/living abroad in the next few years. A big thing among expat friends here is that we feel we always have to be¬†doing something because, duh, we’re in SPAIN and should be maximizing every moment! But we’re also in Spain for seven more months. There is time. If you’re in a similar situation, just breathe, and take time for yourself.

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A cable car in Porto

This is getting pretty lengthy, so without going into detail, I have also: traveled to Portugal (my fourteenth country!), gotten a really terrible cough¬†AND food poisoning, navigated the Spanish red tape of getting my ID cards in order, been to the hospital (for the terrible cough, I didn’t know how to make a doc appointment), been to a Maluma concert in Madrid, went to a few Spanish National Day events, cooked a lot more for myself, embarrassed myself countless times at the supermarket, and stayed awake until 5am partying Spanish-style.

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National day celebrations (Guardia Civil)

I love it here, and encourage anyone who has a similar dream to go for it!

xoxo Cady

 

I’m Going Back to SPAIN!

Hi everyone! I’m a bit delayed in writing this post, but I’ve been so excited, I’ve barely had the time to think! Look what came into my email the other day:

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That’s right, your girl got a spot in the BEDA program to teach English in Toledo, Spain from September 2017 to June 2018! Why would I want to do this, you ask? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but over here in Canada, most of our college applications require some¬†experience. And I have none! So I figured why not gain some valuable teaching practice in a lovely place like Spain? That’s reason number two: I fell in love with Spain years ago and have been itching to go back ever since. Almost exactly three years later, here I’ll go! ūüôā

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I’ll be teaching here! Image from:¬†https://nationaltokens.com/7-new-locations-toledo-spain/

Wow, was this ever an agonizing wait! I joined Facebook groups for both the¬†BEDA and¬†Auxiliar programs, and I’ve been anxiously watching others post their acceptances since I returned from Varadero in early May. I even racked up some pretty hefty roaming charges while in Cuba, because I was constantly checking my email for word! The year before, I heard pretty quickly from BEDA, but this year seemed to take more time. Finally, on May 17th, I had my answer!

The letter I got details my assignment (primary and high school students) and the amount of hours I’ll work each week. 24 may not seem like a lot, but in fact it’s the maximum you could be working with BEDA! Positions are assigned from 18-24 hours and are given at random. It’s a lighter work load because we’ll also be taking classes about teaching theory through the University of Comillas. I’m not sure what to expect from those, but I’m sure they’ll look great on a resume.

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Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1328388/Spain-weekend-breaks-Toledo-steel-heart.html

I’ll be living in a city with roughly 83,000 people, but it’s only 45 minutes from the Spanish capital of Madrid. Heart eyes! I have to confess, even though I spent nearly five months in and around Spain in 2014 during my exchange, I’ve never been to Madrid or most other parts of Spain (broke student life). I’m excited to discover the castles and cobblestones of Toledo, head to Madrid for easy flight-hopping and¬†El Clasico¬†(I’m getting tickets ASAP, baby!), take a train down to Malaga, Cordoba, or Cadiz, and explore the rest of Don Quixote’s province. I also can’t wait to visit the friends I made while living in Bilbao!

The process of applying for a student visa, which we’re technically under since we’ll be studying at Comillas, is a long one, so I promise to detail the steps that lead up to my BEDA experience as I go along! I’ve already put in an application for my national background check to be able to work with children, and I’ve made a massive list splitting up my tasks in nice “To Do” checklists for June, July, and August. Classes start on September 18th, but I’ll be in Spain long before then to apartment hunt and settle in! Oh, and I’m going to Varadero again in two weeks, for possibly the last time for a year! ūüė¶ I’m very sad about being even further from my boyfriend for 9+ long months, but we’ve spoken about this at length, and on a sort of positive note, we’re already used to distance. I’m excited to explore Spain and the rest of Europe, and to be back in one of my favourite countries once again!

Did anyone else apply to BEDA, UCETAM, MEDDEAS or the Auxiliares program in Spain? Anyone in the Madrid/Castilla La Mancha area? I’d love to connect!

xoxo Cady

Go For Spain 2017: BEDA and Auxiliares

Wow, it sure has been a long time since I posted on my blog! This stems from the fact that I declined my BEDA offer last year and instead opted to stay here in Ontario to make some money. Did it turn out to be a good decision? Honestly, I’m on the fence about it. I really do like my job (and its benefits), I’ve met a lot of great friends through work, and I’ve been able to save some money this year which can hopefully go towards a job in Spain in September/more travels. But in contrast, I’ve also been shivering away during yet¬†another Ontario winter, wishing I was eating churros and watching futbol in a tiny bar in Galicia (the place I was supposed to go to with BEDA!). But as they say in El Sal, #socks: eso si que es. I’m back with news though: I’ve applied to both BEDA and Auxiliares de Conversacion for the 2017/2018 school year! I never really planned to stay long here, but I did want to earn some money so that I’d be more comfortable if I did move abroad soon. Here’s hoping I get a job with either one, and here’s an update on both!

BEDA:¬†I applied to BEDA as soon as applications opened in early December, and I received a notification for my ¬†Skype interview several weeks later. I’ll be having it in a week from tomorrow (!), and I’m not too nervous, except for the fact that I did defer my position last year. I hope this won’t affect my chances! I wrote a bit about my experiences with the application process here, and getting the job with BEDA last year¬†here. The interview last year was pleasant, straight-forward, and completely in English. Applications are still open although it does say until January 2017, so I’m not sure when exactly they will close. If you’re interested, apply now through this link!¬†ūüôā

Auxiliares de Conversacion:¬†Last year I ran into a few problems with my application for the known-to-be-disorganized ADC program, which I wrote about here and here. Today I finished my application for the 2017-2018 year, and I’m inscrita (application number) 715. I wanted to be earlier, but I forgot that the applications opened on January 9th at midnight SPAIN time, and not Ontario time. Still, I submitted it, and 715th is not too shabby. I’ve heard that generally return applicants get their first choices and then it all trickles down through the ranks from there. Surprisingly, this year’s application offered not only a choice between your top 3 Spanish autonomous regions, but an option to select Andorra as a first or second choice over Spain. As far as I know, this is the first year that Andorra has been open on the program. I picked it as my second choice, because I really do love Spain, but if I got placed in Andorra I wouldn’t be disappointed. Applications officially opened today and go until 18th April 2017, but placements are on a first come, first serve basis, so apply now if you want one here!

Both programs start giving placements around the end of April/beginning of May, so you may not hear anything for awhile about that, but if I have any updates I’ll be sure to post them. I’ll also soon be writing about a recent trip to Cuba that I took, which was my first big trip since my 2015 China disaster. I have trips planned in 2017 for Cuba (again) and possibly Mexico or the Dominican Republic too. Hopefully September will also be bringing me to Spain or Andorra!

Glad to be back in the travel game ūüôā

xoxo Cady

Where to? Not there… The reality of traveling with Anxiety Disorder

It’s taken me a while to come to terms with this and even longer to be able to write about it, but simply put, there are places in the world I may never be able to travel to as long as I have anxiety disorder.

Travel anxiety is a real thing. It has to do with the worry one experiences when going away for an extended period: How will my friends and family be? What if something happens to them? What if something happens to¬†me? What if my credit cards get stolen or my luggage lost? From some of the travel horror stories we’ve all surely heard, it’s not difficult to see why travel anxiety can take over even the most experienced travelers at times. The anxiety I have, however, is a bit different.

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Posing with a common sight in El Salvador: the armed guards

Generalized anxiety disorder can manifest itself in different ways, but for me it can go from vague unease to full blown panic attacks, especially in situations that trigger my biggest fears (which are personally airplanes, and anything to do with my health being compromised i.e. heart attacks). For these, I take a daily sedative that helps to control my anxiety. For more intense situations, I rely on Ativan (Lorazepam), which I take a low dose of before hopping on a plane. Yoga works for some, exercise works for some, and these meds work for me. I’ve been on them for about three years now, and dealt with all of the stigma associated with. I didn’t want to be that person who “relied” on pills, but you know what? They’ve helped me a lot, and I’m no longer ashamed to have them for daily life.

I’m talking ¬†daily life in Canada though. When I travel, my fears still run wild, and it can start before I’ve even left my country. I’m constantly thinking:

  • If I have to go to a hospital/clinic/emergency room, do I speak the language?
  • Are ambulance services reliable (or do they even exist)?
  • Are they at the same standard as my home country?
  • Would they be able to help me if I had *insert medical condition I am very unlikely to contract here*?
  • Are buildings up to code? What if there’s a fire? What if it collapses?
  • What about smog? Will I develop some kind of respiratory infection or lung cancer?

Some people might read that list and find it kind of funny, but mostly nonsensical and irrational. Surprise! It is, because that’s what anxiety does. It makes me worry about things that aren’t occurring and are not likely to occur at all.¬†These worries don’t tend to come when I’m in a place I’m well aware of the health care standards (USA, UK, etc) or I speak the language (Spain, El Salvador), but if you read my previous post regarding a very short trip to China that was cut short by my anxiety (note that during that trip I was not on anxiety meds), you can see why my list of worries grew. I know everyone experiences culture shock, and I know countries around the world have great health care even if they’re not in North America or Europe. For me, it’s more about the unknown, and how culture shock maximizes with already-present anxiety that I can’t control completely.

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Paris’ catacombs — not for the claustrophobic

In addition, you might think that hopping a plane to Japan or Dubai–two modern, developed countries–would be less of a concern for health-worried me. Unfortunately, travel to certain countries is and will continue to be restricted for me because of one very important thing: drug import laws. Every country has them, and some are a lot stricter than Canada or the USA. Sure, most countries would frown upon you bringing in cocaine or meth, but what about prescription medications, especially those considered narcotics? Even with a prescription, doctor’s explanation, and original packaging, many countries don’t allow certain types of drugs in. My long term anxiety medication is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which I’ve seen on the restricted¬†drug list for Japan and Dubai, unless you contact their embassies weeks before you travel and even then, you could be in trouble (even jailed! for bringing in certain amounts of these medications. Forget about the meds I take for planes; they’re in a whole other category of even stronger drugs sure to be off the “possible” list for a lot of places. Even if I did get them in, what would happen if I was teaching English in Japan for a year? A year’s worth of medication is rarely prescribed, and since it’s on the hard-to-get list, I highly doubt I’d be able to grab it at the local pharmacy for a refill. There goes one of my potential TEFL dream spots…

This is just a personal post detailing my own experiences, of course. Some friends I have are completely fearless. Some of them have other conditions that require medications that have nothing to do with anxiety or being afraid. Others have fears of things I don’t consider “rational,” like snakes or spiders, but they shrug at the idea of taking a plane, while I shake. Sometimes we just need to get used to things to be more comfortable. I know other people deal with their anxieties in different ways. I’m not a doctor, and who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to forgo my anxiety medications and have an easier time traveling. That would certainly be the dream. That being said, has anyone ever gone to a place where it was difficult to get the medication you needed? What did you do?

xoxo Cady

Teaching in Spain Update: BEDA & Auxiliares

As of January 12th, the applications for the Auxiliar de Conversacion program have opened, and I’ve already run into my first problem: a recommendation letter that I requested a couple of months ago isn’t done yet. I’m still waiting and so, I haven’t been able to submit my application yet. Given that some blogs I’ve read said that they were in the hundreds (for application number) just two hours after it opened, and I’m currently 9 days past the opening date, I’m a little worried about my chances for the program. I mean yes, I’d teach ANYWHERE in Spain, but the Auxiliar program runs on a first come, first serve basis for top location choices, so chances of getting one of mine are getting slimmer every day ūüė¶ . So basically, there’s nothing to report for my Auxiliar application for now.

In contrast, I received a notification for an interview with¬†BEDA , which is another teach-in-Spain program that mainly operates out of Madrid. I did a simple application for them a few months ago (without needing a recommendation letter, at least at this point) and forgot about it, to be honest. I did some research on the BEDA program and, like any program, there are different opinions… but, BEDA is generally thought to be more helpful than the Auxiliar program when it comes to setting up a bank account, finding an apartment, and paying teaching assistants on time. One of the downsides, however, is that you have to take mandatory classes about teaching theory at a university in Madrid. The thought of that made me not want to do it, but some people say they’re helpful, and you do get a certificate at the end…

My interview with BEDA is tomorrow, and then I’ll probably find out about a placement sometime in April. It operates on the same 9 month grounds as the Auxiliar program, only this time on an extended student visa, so you can attend those classes. Meanwhile, I’ll still be submitting an Auxiliar application once I get my recommendation letter, so we’ll see where I stand in competition there!

Is anyone else applying to teach in Spain in Fall 2016??

xoxo Cady

*Featured image from the BEDA main website

Becoming an Auxiliar de Conversaci√≥n Part 1: CV and Profex

Hey everyone! I’m currently working on my application to the Auxiliares de Conversaci√≥n program, which is a program run by the Spanish government that allows recent grads from Canada or the USA¬†to live and work in Spain for a year while¬†teaching English (or French)¬†in public schools across the country. From my readings of others’ blogs, there’s a lot of confusion, frustration, and questions associated with the application process and the program itself, so I thought I’d “liveblog” my experiences as I go through them! I’ve never applied to this program before, and heard about it because I was looking at a similar one in France, but my French is sub par and I like Spain better. Read on for my info and impressions!

Who Can Apply?

Any Canadian or American between 18-60 (or 35 if you’re in Madrid), native English or French speaker,¬†with a Bachelor’s degree in any subject, basic Spanish skills (not required I don’t think, but certainly helpful) and willingness to try something new! The program goes for around 10 months (Sept/Oct until May/June) so make sure you’re free.

How Do I Apply?

The application for the 2016-2017 school year opens January 12th, 2016¬†and is available until the end of April, but you can make up your CV and add required documents to the application portal (PROFEX) now. I can be forgetful, so I decided to do it now. I’ve filled out my details and uploaded a copy of my degree and my passport, but I still need to write a letter of motivation (in English or French) and get my recommendation letter.* This should be solicited sooner rather than later, because the applications are a first come, first serve thing, and you’ll want to apply early for your top choices! Here is the website, with all of the information, guides, questions, and translations.
*The recommendation letter is supposed to be from any current or former professor, but if you’ve been out of school for 3+ years, you can use your boss. There’s a more detailed letter guide on the application website. However, even though I just graduated 6 months ago, I decided to use my boss at the library where I voluntarily taught English while I studied in Spain, because I thought it might sound better coming from a place where I taught already. I’m hoping I won’t run into any issues using her instead of my prof (who doesn’t even work at my uni anymore), but if I do, I’ll give a heads up to you guys!

Cady Applies
So my first impression with the website was that there is a LOT of information, and the application guidelines definitely seem confusing. There are some documents that need to be mailed to consulate offices, some that need to be uploaded online, and a lot of them have specifics that need to be followed, or they won’t be considered. I can see why people say it’s a little intimidating, but my advice is to read through the guidelines a few times, and keep the PDF open when you’re doing your application. It’s all in Spanish, but the guidelines are in English and have arrows to point to the parts you need to fill out.

I filled out my PROFEX details just to have it done for now, even though the application opens in 2ish weeks. The info you need is basic (personal details like date of birth, passport, etc). It seems like you need to already have a passport when you apply, since it’s one of the required fields, so if you don’t have one… get one! Mine expires in January of 2017, so I’ll probably have to renew it.¬†I uploaded a few documents too, but I’m going to set aside some time to write my motivation letter later.

Another thing I did was take a look at the map of Spain (at the bottom of the Application Guidelines PDF) to see which regions I’d like to work in when the application opens up. You can pick 3 regions as your top choices, but nothing is guaranteed, especially if you send in a later application. They’re also organized by group, and you can only pick one from each group i.e. Group A is Asturias, Extremadura, La Rioja, or Pais Vasco.¬†Some regions like Catalunya don’t participate in the program. ūüė¶ Also, you can only choose regions, not cities, and from what I’ve read, you could¬†be placed in a big city like Madrid, or in a tiny village in the middle of the countryside!¬†¬†Madrid teachers get 1000 euros a month for 16 hours per week of work, while anyone else gets 700 euros for 12 hours per week, probably because of cost of living.

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Printscreened from the application, with my edit. **Apparently Castilla La Mancha has also pulled from program.

I might be over-preparing a little bit, but in my experience, it never hurts, and I reaaaaaally want to go back to Spain–one of my fave countries–to¬†teach, one of my¬†fave things!¬†Stay tuned for more of my application adventures as the year goes on, and buena suerte to anyone else applying to be an auxiliar!

xoxo Cady

Have you ever taught abroad, or even better, been an auxiliar? Tell me!

For anyone interested, here is the France program website, but the deadline is January 15th or February for Canadians, so hurry hurry! https://www.tapif.org/

**Flag header image from Wikipedia

 

“Safe” Travel & Anxiety: What It Means

What does it mean to call oneself a “traveler”?

I suppose you could say that it means, simply, one who travels. But I also know that there’s often pressure (even from ourselves), as travelers, to push our own limits when it comes to where we go. My friend and I joked about how we had come to China after already taking the “Europe exchange” step, while our other friends hadn’t been much outside Canada, except for a couple of shorter vacations. But did our “Europe exchange” step really make a huge difference in our preparation for what was supposed to be a year in China? I can’t speak for my friend (you can instead follow her blog over¬†here), but I can tell you that it didn’t for me, because in my opinion, Europe is a “safe” place to go. I’m learning more and more about myself, especially since I’ve come back from my very short stint in China, and that it may take a while for me to step outside my bubble of “safe” travel.

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What is “safe” travel? When I say this, I don’t necessarily mean “safe” as in “you will never be hurt here.” I can’t exactly define this, but I’ll try to explain what it means to me in this short list:
1. Language ease — When I lived in Spain, I knew two things; the first was that I could speak good enough Spanish to help myself and others if they needed it, and the second was that if I didn’t know something, I at least had the basics. I didn’t consider how hard it was going to be to start out in China without knowing the local language. I can’t stress this enough… learn some basic phrases at least.¬†Call it my English superiority, I will admit that, but I thought more people would speak at least a bit of English. This is where my anxiety really kicked in. If I needed help, how would I call 911? Who would understand me? What would I say to a doctor? Could I trust that my Chinese friend was translating accurately? This doesn’t mean I haven’t gone to places where I knew nothing of the language (Germany… yikes), but Europe tends to have a higher concentration of English speakers, which put me at ease when I was traveling through there.
2.¬†Safety regulations — Are there unsafe drivers everywhere in the world? Definitely. Could you get in a terrible car accident upon arrival back in Canada, without ever having a scratch on you in China? Of course. This isn’t a knock at the way other countries do things, but simply another form of culture shock: having to watch what you eat, drink, how you cross the street to avoid cars, traveling in seatbelt-less taxis. Now, you might be thinking, “But you’ve traveled in El Salvador!” And it’s true. But I did travel with Habitat for Humanity, who we could trust to make sure that all of our meals were prepared safely, with clean drinking water, and that our drivers were reputable. Now, you can just as easily get food poisoning by eating at a McDonald’s in Canada or the USA. But in China I had no knowledge about anything and, as #1 states, I had no way to ask. I almost exclusively had wrapped bread and bottled water for my meals, because I was scared of getting some kind of stomach trouble or something.
3. Rules of a country — All countries do things differently. Even in the USA, I was terrified to get sick without health insurance (did that actually, would not recommend), because of the way their government system is, while in Canada our basic health care needs and hospital visits are generally¬†free. In China, I was afraid of the government. This sounds silly and irrational (which is what anxiety does to you, of course), but I was afraid I might find myself trapped in the country if I tried to leave my teaching placement early. I couldn’t shake the thought from my mind, and even as others told me it wasn’t possible, I didn’t feel convinced until my plane leaving China landed in South Korea.

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4.¬†Familiarity — Let’s be real, studying abroad in Spain or Sweden might be a minor culture shock, but it’s still pretty easy to find the shops, restaurants, brands, etc. in Europe that you enjoy in Canada or the USA, to a certain extent. There’s also a¬†very good chance that you’ll encounter other English speakers somewhere, especially if you’re doing the backpacker trail and¬†definitely if you’re studying abroad with others on Erasmus. In China, I had a small amount of English speaking people in my school bubble, but outside of it, there were none. The city I was in was not a tourist city, not a big city, and definitely not close enough to somewhere like Beijing or Shanghai to make foreigners want to stop in. I felt isolated, and very lost. I had such struggles even finding something as simple as shampoo, which really stressed me out.

This isn’t meant to make you say “Poor foreigner in big China, we should pity her,” because what I actually want is the opposite. I was not ready to go to China, in any way, shape, or form, and I was clueless to think that my anxiety about health issues and safety had just gone away. I will admit, I became xenophobic in China, and I was very disappointed in myself for it. I didn’t start to dislike Chinese people, but I was terrified of China itself, and longed to be back in my home country where people could understand me in a hospital and I could receive assistance whenever I needed it. Anxiety doesn’t excuse this behavior, but it’s forced me to ask myself: Will I ever really be able to travel somewhere that isn’t Europe, or English speaking? Will I be so afraid of getting mauled by a lion in Tanzania or misunderstood in Brazil, that I’ll never let myself go to anywhere not thought of as a “safer” place to travel? And what will this mean for someone who wants to consider herself a traveler, but is afraid at every turn?

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I have been honest in this, and I also hope that my anxiety about my health doesn’t hinder me in future adventures. I’d love to return to China and experience its cultural sights, delicious food, and warm people without worrying about anything. I’d love to go to countries that aren’t in Europe or the Australia area… remote islands and jungles and safaris and villages. I want to see it all, I want to do it all, and maybe I’ll even decide to give teaching abroad another shot someday. But until then, I’ve been forced to really think about how I can deal with my anxieties and where I can go (or stay) for now.

P.S. Did you ever get anxious going to a country for the first time? Why? How did you prepare, or handle it when you got there? Tell me!

xoxo Cady