El Inmigrante

Living abroad / Vivir en el extranjero

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Otoño / Autumn

(see English version below)

Solo para decir que…

Detesto el verano en Holanda…uy, creo que soné bastante negativa, pero no importa, porque cuando llega el otoño cualquier desilusión veraniega se desvanece y me vuelvo a enamorar del viejo continente.

Este es mi séptimo año en Europa y antes de esta aventura, jamás había experimentado estos colores. Cada árbol tiene una combinación única. Hasta hace algunos años solo había visto tal paleta de colores en postales, tarjetas y películas. Hoy me enamoré otra vez y me siento como en casa. Otoño, me tienes a tus pies.

IMG_20131017_133101 IMG_20131020_152459 IMG_20131022_162344


I just want to say that…

I hate summers in the Netherlands…ouch!, I think I sounded a bit harsh right there, but it’s O.K., because when autumn arrives, any summer disillusion fades away, and I fall in love with the old continent all over again.

This is my seventh year in Europe and before this adventure, I had never experienced these colors. Each tree has a unique combination. Before, I had only seen such a palette of colors in postcards, greeting cards and movies. Today, I fell in love again and it feels like home. Autumn, I am all yours. 


The ‘making of’ friends

(La versión en español estará disponible pronto. Gracias por tu paciencia.)

Making friends abroad: another challenge in our to-do list

Sometimes you wonder when it is going to get easy, pfff…another thing I need to do in order to start my new life…Yes, I know, the list can be quite long, and even endless, but it will get better… eventually.

What do you mean with 'there is more to do' ?? - CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

What do you mean with ‘there is more to do’? – CC Image courtesy of Kemal Y.

For newcomers, living abroad can be a very lonely experience at the beginning. You are the new kid at school and nobody is really interested in you, unless you make an effort to be noticed. For some outgoing expats/immigrants, this part of living abroad can be a piece of cake; they can strike up a conversation with someone at a park or propose a night out with their new colleagues, and from there, they start new friendships. On the other hand, we have the shy ones, who struggle to break the ice during their new language course or at work. All in all, no matter which type of person you are, making friends abroad requires effort, patience and lots of try-outs.

Lately, I have been reading other expats’ tips on how to make friends. I have found all sorts of opinions; the one that trashes the country’s friendliness, the ultra-optimistic post that advices you to go out and talk to any stranger on the streets and the sarcastic and hilarious one, like this, that suggests lots of patience and acceptance of the culture. From all these opinions, I agree more with the last one.

I have to confess that for many years I was part of the group that trashes the country’s friendliness. I live in a country that is considered to be very friendly and open to all nationalities and cultures. Therefore, I came to the Netherlands expecting the best. So, what happened after I felt left out and with almost no friends? – I created a big monster in my head and I refused to make friends with this country. And that was when everything went wrong.

When I told people I was moving to the Netherlands, I could only hear great things about Dutch people. Everybody told me that they were very laid-back, spoke English fluently and were very liberal and open to almost everything. With all these references, I felt very confident about starting my new adventure; not once, I had a single doubt about my decision to come here. In the first few months in the Netherlands, I confirmed that people were very friendly, and always curious about me. Strangers would smile at me or greet me very courteously, I felt welcomed. At some point, I even dared to think that my experience in the Netherlands would be greater than the one I had in England. But as you probably know by now, it was just another honeymoon stage.

After this stage was over, I had some acquaintances, but no friends, I wasn’t worried…yet. I sat on my chair, looked at the clock, and waited for good friends to appear. Of course, I sat there for a really long time. Nothing was really happening; people kept smiling at me, but I wasn’t making any close friends. People kept asking me what I was doing in their country and if I had ever been to Machu Picchu, but nobody was inviting me to their homes. ‘What was going on?’, I wondered.

The fact is that I had the wrong assumptions about making friends. I learned later that you don’t make friends abroad the same way you do in your country; it’s very important to know your host country’s culture and customs in order to know the locals and how their social rules work, don’t expect them to adopt your rules. In addition to my ignorance, I had never learnt to make friends in my own country, and I didn’t realize that until I lived here. My first best friend in Peru was the one who made the first move. On my first day at primary school, she was the one who invited me to sit next to her; if she wouldn’t have, I would probably have no friends now. I am very grateful to her for that move!. However, expecting that others do the move won’t take you very far, you need to start from scratch and work on your friendships.

Making friends is important, making friends abroad is even more important, because everybody needs a support system. You no longer have your family and friends around you, so having someone to count on would make living abroad a bit easier and more pleasant, too. Then, what is the secret? what is the formula? – I don’t think anybody really has the answer. I don’t believe there are 5 miraculous tips to make friends abroad; we are all different individuals, and what it may work for me, it doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. I can only provide my experience and advice, which would hopefully help you a little bit.

There are many ways to find people and make friends abroad, that doesn’t mean you need to do all of them, but it won’t hurt if you try at least one:

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

CC Image courtesy of AJ Cann

– Use Facebook or any other social media as your starting point. In my times (2006), Facebook was not the great monster that is now, so there were no Meetup groups, Expats in Amsterdam, etc. The task of making friends was a bigger challenge. These days, it is much easier. Through social media you can look for expats in your area or for people who share similar interests, but don’t just join the group, participate!. You can introduce yourself and explain that you are new in town and looking for friends, social gatherings, etc. People will definitely reply to it.

Check lists will only narrow your experience - CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

Check lists will only narrow your experience – CC Image courtesy of e3Learning

– Don’t recreate your past at your new home. At some point in my experience as an immigrant, I found myself looking for people who would resemble my friends from Peru, not physically but in terms of personality. I did this unconsciously. Only now is that I realize why it was so hard for me to find people I liked. It is necessary, and even mandatory, to be open to all kinds of people. Don’t judge anybody until you have spent some quality time with that new acquaintance, give them a chance to show you what type of people they are. I had a check list in mind about the qualities that my new friends should have, and this narrowed my chances to meet people. I missed the opportunity to learn from others.

Get together with you connationals - CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

Get together with your connationals – CC Image courtesy of Juanky Alvarez

– Look for people from your own country as well. This could be easier and very comfortable; no need to learn a new language and it provides you with a sense of home. In my opinion, this is not a bad option, but it shouldn’t be the only one. When you only hang out with your ‘people’, it could isolate you from the culture you are living in and you may end up in a vicious circle, where you only gather to complain about your host country. So proceed with caution!.

Create your own expat/immigrant group - CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

Create your own expat/immigrant group – CC Image courtesy of Alan Levine

– ‘I live in a small town and there isn’t an expat group for me. What can I do?’ – Start one yourself!. I know this sounds very frightening, but if what you are looking for doesn’t exist, you should create it. Promote the group that you want to have, there is at least one person out there sitting at home and waiting for that group to be created. Search, search, search, and you will find what you are looking for. You can use Facebook or Meetup, or any other social media you like.

There is always something going on at your public library - Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

There is always something going on at your public library – Image courtesy of Amanda Hamilton

– Not a big fan of social media? Well, get out of the house, take some fresh air!. At public libraries, there are usually different activities that you can take part of. These activities could be the perfect moment to meet other people. Also, if you are attending a language course or any other type of class, invite a classmate for a cup of coffee. Don’t think too much about it, just ask. What’s the worst it could happen? – Rejection. Nobody likes to be rejected, but at least you will stop wondering if that person would have that coffee with you. Remember: the process of making friends abroad is like try-outs: if you fail once, you keep going until you succeed!.

You never know where you will find your next best friend - Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

You never know where you will find your next best friend – Image courtesy of HOBY NYE

– Do you have a big heart? – Volunteer. You can go to your neighborhood center/city hall or search on the Internet to find information about places that need your help. This would not only make you feel good but you may find a great new friend.

Local newspapers are a good source of information - CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

Local newspapers are a good source of information – CC Image courtesy of Matt Callow

-Local newspapers can also keep you updated about what it is going on around you. They list the main social activities; if you attend at least one, I am sure you will be surprised to know the great people that live around you.

Oh the Dutchies... - CC Image courtesy of through a pin-holeOh the Dutchies… – CC Image courtesy of through a pin-hole

– ‘But what about the locals?. I also want to make friends with them’- In my own experience, I have seen that Dutch people can be a tough crowd (but then I wonder if I would behave like them in my own country). The first times I attempted to have a real connection with them, it was disappointing and I felt they were not interested in making friends with me. I was left with the feeling of ‘Sorry, but my social circle is already full. Thank you for applying. We wish you all the best’. Yes, that hurt and I gave up immediately, which was a very bad decision. After these attempts, I decided to put all the Dutchies in the same category: ‘not friendly at all’. With the time, my image of Dutch people got worse and worse, and I only made friends with other immigrants. The result was that my only Dutch friends were my partner’s friends and family, who are great but not mine. It is a shame, because I know there are amazing Dutch people out there who would be more than happy to be my friends. ‘But where to find them?’ – Do not waste your time on thoughts about where to find them or how to make friends with them, or on any negative opinion about how unfriendly they can be, just keep an open mind, be friends with the people that are already there for you, no matter where they come from. And most important: cultivate patience and tolerance!.

All these tips are based on my own experience and what I have seen during these years abroad. Newcomers can apply them, but the old ones as well; it is never too late to start new friendships. Learn from my mistakes!. I didn’t do any of these things until recent years, and now that I have done them, I realize how much energy I would have saved if I would have followed at least one of them. I can also see now that my path was full of frustrations and disappointments, and if I would have been more open and less critical, I would have been happier. Nevertheless, here I am, I have started following all these tips myself and the results are good!. I put my negativity aside and I have started a new chapter in my life.

If you have more tips about making friends abroad, I would be very happy to hear them. Let’s share stories!


Integration in your partner’s country

Today I have a special guest: career and personal coach Lola Hernández, who lives in Munich. She provides support to expats and their family members during their integration process. In addition, she gives workshops and lectures about Emotional Intelligence, Time Management and a variety of topics related to Personal Development. Lola was very kind to share her post in my blog, and for that I am very grateful: ¡Muchas gracias!.

In her post, she wrote about the challenges of integrating in your partner’s country/culture. I found this post very interesting and positive, and I hope you find it useful and share your opinions and experiences (how were your first encounters in the new country?, what challenges/difficulties did you find at the beginning of the integration process?, how did you overcome them?, what positive results/experiences did you get from all this?, etc.).

For more information about Lola Hernandez, please visit her blog at http://www.lolahernandezcoaching.wordpress.com (only available in Spanish).


Integration in your partner’s country

By Lola Hernandez

Translated by El Inmigrante 

Many of us live in another country because of our partner. When you land in a country that is not yours, there is a long list of challenges waiting for you, like learning another language (not an easy job!), making friends from scratch and finding a job, which is something hard to do if you already have to deal with the first two challenges. To add more to the list, you also have to look for a place to live, a school for your children, social activities, etc…and let’s face it, time is not always your friend. Therefore, things can get complicated and it is very easy to feel overwhelmed.

In this transition, we also have to consider that when the social, economical and emotional conditions of living with your partner change, your self-esteem very often weakens and you experience a kind of “inferiority complex”, and suddenly you feel less than others.

The good news is that when you go through an experience like this, and you try your best and work very hard, you have a wonderful opportunity to experience real personal growth. You put your skills to test, discover hidden talents and recover forgotten resources that you had in you.

In your new country, you have the chance to put aside some aspects of you that were not working anymore and you can start a new life with new habits, new ways to do things and a new history. For example, if you were about to settle in your country, now you have the option to get out of your comfort zone and expand your possibilities of action. Maybe in your country, you had a job that didn’t satisfy you anymore, now you have a range of possibilities and options, that you might have not even considered while living in your own country.

In a recent workshop, Katia Pinal talked about bicultural couples. She said that when you leave your culture and you enter a different one, you can see both cultures as an outsider and choose the aspects of each culture that would fit you better. It takes time to practice this outsider’s view and it is a luxury; people who have never left their country don’t have this opportunity. So, you are a very lucky person!

You also need to see that you have a good situation waiting for you; you will develop your capacity to receive support and to delegate things that you used to, and do things you have never done before. All this is great, because you can put your skills, your competences and your employability into practice; you never know when you would use these tools in this very unpredictable life. So, if you were not used to ask for help or you found it difficult, now it is the time to polish this skill.

Warning: don’t rest on your laurels!…enjoy the support from others but don’t lose sight of your goals: prepare yourself and work on getting your autonomy and independence back in every aspect of your life.

If you would like to work on any aspect of your integration, you can always call me.

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr

Successful integration – CC Image Courtesy of Daniela Hartmann in Flickr


Birthday away

(Haz click aquí para la versión en español)

Today is my birthday. I turn 32 years old. I live abroad.

In 32 years, I have celebrated my birthday 26 times, usually with a big party or a great night out. I love to celebrate my birthday or at least I used to, I haven’t decided yet which one. These last years have been a bit hard for me to celebrate one more year on this planet earth. No, it is not a 30s’ syndrome, it is definitely not the thought that I am getting older and my sweet young days are over, but I do feel I have lost the excitement to throw a party or make a big deal out of it. However, something very deep inside of me still feels like celebrating this day, I just can’t figure out how.

Happy birthday to me - CC Image courtesy of jo marshall on Flickr

Happy birthday to me! – CC Image courtesy of jo marshall on Flickr

When living abroad, many of your old traditions/habits will go through a transformation. In my case, if I want to have a big party for my birthday, it is not going to be the same as the parties in Peru. The ‘key’ people who usually went to my parties don’t live here; I have new friends, but they come from other countries and their views on celebrating a birthday can be very different from mine. In addition, my host country has another philosophy about birthdays. Dutch people don’t really care much about their birthdays, and if they do, they are very practical about it. At work, they would bring some cake or sweets to share with their colleagues at lunch break, which is something that surprised me a lot the first time I saw that, because it is your birthday and I think your colleagues should be the ones spoiling you, right?. They also like to keep it simple at home, they would hang some decorations, offer a piece of cake and tons of coffee, invite a couple of their close friends and say goodbye once the cake is over. This makes me wonder: Is that good enough, is that great or is that boring? – I will leave that up to you.

A faraway place

A faraway place

After many attempts to recreate my Peruvian birthday parties, I gave up. I decided to let go and accepted that living abroad had changed some of my traditions. As a result, last year, I decided that I wasn’t going to spend all of my energy and money on a party, instead I had an amazing trip to a land that is far, far away. I was in a ‘hippie’ mood and I assumed that being away would bring me some new energy and positive vibes. Did it? – For now, I would say that it brought some changes in my life, like the start of this blog.

My birthday cheesecake

My birthday cheesecake

This year, things are very different. At the moment, I cannot really afford a faraway trip nor a party, which takes me to stay at home and enjoy the company of my love one and a delicious cheesecake he made for me. I cannot complain. I am glad that this birthday will be remembered as the one that made me reflect on my past birthdays and the long way I have come. And that is not too shabby for a birthday.

I know celebrating your birthday shouldn’t be such a big deal, it is just a day and just another year. What really matters is how you feel inside and that the important people in your life remember it. No need to have thousands of Facebook messages to feel special, only a few are the ones that really count.

Things abroad are not the same as they used to be at home, and that is O.K., but the question remains: How do you celebrate your birthday while living abroad?.

(Do you adopt the host country’s traditions? Do you pretend it is just another day? Do you throw a party? Do you wish to be back home? or Do you not really give a crap and you wish you would have clicked on another post instead?).

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Homesickness: 6 things I miss the most

(Para la versión en español, haz click aquí.)

Homesickness is a well-known feeling to me. I often find myself daydreaming about my country and my life in Peru, but then I wake up and realize that I am surrounded by other people, who don’t seem very familiar and speak a language that is only noise to me; all I do is show a big smile and nod (who knows what I am agreeing to!).

It is not that I have not accepted my life here, but sometimes I just wonder about what my family might be doing at this exact moment, how big my friends’ kids should be by now or if that bar I used to go remains open. Wherever you go and whatever you do, it is impossible to leave behind important moments and people who took part of your life for so long. All immigrants/expats go through this, it is normal to feel homesick once in a while.

I made a personal list about the 6 things I miss the most about my home country. I am sure you will identify with some of them and I hope you share your list as well. This list is not in order of importance, I just wrote things as they came up.

Note: In this post, you won’t find food as one of the things I miss the most. It is not that I don’t miss the magnificent food from my country, but products to prepare Peruvian food are becoming more and more available in Europe. (Why Peruvian food is the next big thing?. For the foodies, you can check this article/video about Peruvian food.)

1. Family events and special occasions 

This year has been like a baby boom among my friends and family members; it might be the 30s. Almost everybody decided that 2013 was a great year to make babies and I am very happy for them. What makes me sad is that I couldn’t be with them to enjoy such an incredible moment in their lives.

CC Image courtesy of Paula on Flickr

Today, one of my best friends is giving birth to a baby boy (his name will be Benjamin). I wish I could be at the clinic waiting with her family for the ‘It’s a healthy boy!’ and cheer together. I know that if I would be there, I would have a big balloon that says ‘Welcome home’ (I would have preferred one with ‘Welcome to the World’, but I don’t think they sell those).

However, there are other occasions less cheerful, like my grandma’s funeral. I am not a big believer of this kind of ceremonies, but I think it would have been good to be present, not only to say goodbye to my grandma (my second mother) but to show my support to my family. I would write about it later, because it is still too soon for me. My point here is that living abroad gives you many moments and experiences that will make you a better person, and at the same time, you miss so many things back home. I wish I could be there and here.

2. Starry sky

When I was around 9 years old, I used to tell my parents I was going to bed and turned off the lights in my bedroom. Once I was sure they also went to bed, I opened my window and looked at the sky and tried to count the stars. Since then, I have not seen a sky so starry as the one I used to contemplate during my summer nights in Peru. Sometimes I thought I saw UFOs but I didn’t tell anybody, because I knew my friends would laugh at me, and I am happy now I didn’t. That would have cost me some friends in primary school.

Starry Sky – CC Image courtesy of Jason Barnette Photography on Flickr

As I became older, starry skies were my companion when I had bonfires at the beach, I went on camping trips and I walked through my city’s Old Town. I really miss all of that!!.

This summer has been particularly good in the Netherlands, but it has not yet provided those dreamy summer nights I enjoyed from my window in Peru (sigh…).

3. Friends knocking on your door

When it comes to social rules, Peru can surprise you or shock you. One example is knocking on your friends’ door; our social awareness doesn’t tell us that maybe it is too late, that perhaps your friend doesn’t want to be disturbed, that your friend is holding a small family gathering or that your friend simply doesn’t want to talk to you. No, in Peru, you just knock on the door without previous notice.

Who’s at the door? – CC Image courtesy of Mark Wyatt on Flickr

I understand how difficult this is to assimilate for any person who is not from Latin America, specially for Dutch people, who like to plan their days. Most of them carry an agenda everywhere they go (how I dislike the agenda!).

Sometimes I have the idea that things in Peru are way simpler than in Europe, but maybe it is just my homesickness. After 7 years abroad, I have come to miss a friend’s visit out of the blue, which will lead to an invitation to the movies or a nice chat after a long day at work. Spontaneity is so much better than planning something weeks ahead. How do you know how you would feel in 2 weeks? How do you know if you are going to be alive?!!.

4. That ‘touchy’ feeling

O.K., let me explain. As a Latin American, I was born with the ‘ability’ to express my emotions and feelings with my hands and arms, which creates the need for some space around me when I am talking as well as the need to touch people during my conversations. In Peru, family members, friends or co-workers are constantly touching each other in the head or arms and giving hugs for no apparent reason. Emotions need an outlet, so we become loud talkers, hand talkers and very ‘touchy’.

Free hugs is what we need! - CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Free hugs is what we need! – CC Image courtesy of M Hooper on Flickr

Physical contact is a basic need, and for those skeptics, here is a good article about it.

I miss laughing really hard and leaning on my friend’s shoulder, I miss greeting people with a kiss on the cheek (not total strangers, but friends or co-workers) and I miss spontaneous hugs. I personally don’t think that Europeans are cold and distance, they are just shy while Latin Americans are more extrovert and social.

5. The summer

I know what you are all thinking: ‘Who doesn’t miss that?’, but first let me tell you that I come from the North Coast of Peru and my parents’ house is only 10 minutes’ drive from the beach. Yes, I was a lucky girl while growing up. The beach and the GOOD summers were part of my life for 25 years, and I regret I didn’t appreciate them more while I was there.

View of Huanchaco-Peru

View of Huanchaco-Peru, my beach.

Summers in the Netherlands are very different from the ones in Peru. The weather doesn’t give its best and the country feels like a desert, I mean, a lot of people go on holiday to Spain, France or Italy, the ones with the good summers. It is the complete opposite to what happens in Peru, because there people don’t really go to other countries when they have holidays (although the economy is increasing a lot and there are more possibilities now). Peruvians enjoy what they have around; it could be a day at the beach, camping in the valley or a small city trip, but not for a long period of time.

Summers in Peru can be very hot and provide you with immense energy and happy thoughts. Besides, there are a lot of events and parties to go to, you feel that the streets are alive. And that is what I miss, streets full of people and the sun shinning on my back.

It also happens that summer begins in December, so when New Year’s Eve comes, it really marks a new beginning in your life. Everybody starts the new year with good weather, and that is already a good omen.

6. Taking taxis

This one has to do with how lazy I used to be in Peru. I took taxis to go everywhere, and not because I was rich. Taxis in Peru are very cheap, and I had the tendency to run late very often. Now that I live in a country that has more bikes than people, I had no other choice but to cycle to run errands, to work, to a party, etc.

Ian Glover

Taking a taxi in Peru is never a problem – CC Image courtesy of Ian Glover on Flickr

Taking a taxi in Amsterdam is not as easy as it used to be in Peru; first, you are lucky if you find one and second, I need to win the lottery first to allow myself such a luxury.

I am happy that I am not so lazy anymore and I am very grateful for the better legs I got from biking; it is excellent exercise and your heart will be pumping for many years. Nonetheless, I miss the glamour of taking a taxi, specially if it rains, it snows, it is cold or it is windy. Hmmm…I think I miss it more than I thought.

So, there you go, these are the things I miss the most from my home country. What about you?


The ‘honeymoon’ stage

Culture shock has many faces and the talent to disguise its mean ways with the so-called ‘honeymoon’ stage. According to the general definition of culture shock, there are four stages: the excitement (or honeymoon), the withdrawal, the adjustment and the enthusiasm. Since I have already gone through the first stage but I am still going back and forth among the other stages, I would like to share my experience during my ‘honeymoon’ stage.

Once I was settled in my new English home, things were looking pretty good to me. I had already met my new co-workers at the school where I was going to work, I had learnt which bus to take to go to work and the city, I had found out how to use a dishwasher (which I had only seen in movies), and I had observed how I should wash my clothes in a laundry machine –  don’t get me wrong, laundry machines exist in Peru for a long time, but my mother had refused to buy one until recent years…did she wait for her kids to leave home?.

During the first months in England, I was in a state of euphoria and ecstasy. Everything looked marvelous, yes! marvelous!. There was no single negative thought in my mind. Every person and situation that I came across would take me to an exceeding state of mind.

I remember one Sunday afternoon that I was upstairs, organizing my new room, when I heard my landlord’s daughter and her friends playing a Juanes‘ song on their computer. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could and asked them with surprise: ‘How do you know this song?!’. They told me that it was all over the radio and they really liked it. I was touched by the fact that those 12-year-old kids were listening to Latin music, my music. It was a bonding moment between two cultures. They wanted to know the meaning of the song and how to dance to it. Later that day, they made sure I also learnt something, like what ‘chav‘ means and how to use the word ‘wicked’ for almost every sentence. We were a big happy family.

The months that followed my arrival to England, I started to discover a lot of things, all at the same time. My awakening to the ‘old’ continent included sounds, face expressions, rain (a lot of rain!), food, smells, etc. Some of the things I learnt at the very beginning of my stay was that I shouldn’t scream every time I was in a car and saw another one coming on the wrong side of the road (In the UK, people drive on the wrong…I mean…on the left side of the road). I also had to get used to the idea that I couldn’t jump to people’s faces to give them a kiss on the cheek every time I greeted them, as we usually do in Latin America. That was tough, I had all the predisposition to do so but a gentle handshake would always bring me back to reality.

My favorite part of the ‘honeymoon’ stage was traveling. My stay in England was supposed to be a short one (8 months), therefore, I took advantage of all the free time I had to travel around. In the first three months in the UK, I had the luck to visit Oxford, Scotland and London.



Big Ben

My first impression of the Big Ben

My first hostel..ever! - Oxford

My first hostel..ever! – Oxford

The first impression I had of these places is magical; my memory has preserved every moment in a very special place, in that innocent stage of my life. And this is what the ‘honeymoon’ does to you, it makes you see things through a kaleidoscope, full of colorful patterns, with beauty.

WARNING: the first months or years you spent abroad are always the best; our blurry memory can trick us and make us believe that everything back then was perfect.

Nevertheless, the ‘honeymoon’ stage gives us courage; the desire of discovering a new country makes us curious and hungrier for more. It is the best stage of culture shock (at least something good had to come out of it!) because getting lost on our way home creates the opportunity to know your new neighbourhood, meeting new people can lead us to find a good/best friend, trying new food can make our mouths explode with flavors we didn’t even know they existed and seeing things for the first time can make us wonder: ‘Where the hell have I been all this time?!’.

Enjoy your ‘honeymoon’ stage to the fullest and if you already did, guard those precious moments forever!

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The first time you leave

There is a first time for everything. Right this moment, a rush of first times crosses my mind and if I choose one of those memories, all the feelings of that exact moment will come back to me almost immediately. But today, I would like to write about one in particular, which is the first time I left my country to embark on my adventure through the old continent.

The day I left Peru to live somewhere else was not the first time I was going to another country, but it was the first time I left for longer than 2 weeks and my first time on an intercontinental flight. I was going to live in England for 8 months.

Flight duration: 15 hours and 3 stop overs! 

For all first timers, going on a long flight can be an odyssey. It starts from the moment you get to the airport and it finishes when you finally see that bed where you will be sleeping during your stay, that unfamiliar place where you will be living or that hotel room where you will be spending your first nights.

But first let’s set the mood. As I clearly recall, the days before getting on that plane were crazy. It was not only packing the suitcases that was stressing me out and making my trip so real, but it was also saying goodbye to my old good friends and colleagues, having one last dinner with my best friend, visiting my grandmother for one more sweater to pack (since I was going to the cold England, I needed as much warmth as possible), leaving all things in order at my work, signing documents to get a loan, getting a medical check-up, preparing my 25th birthday/farewell party, etc. There were so many emotions and goodbye moments that I could not process at that time, but now, looking back, I can see how overwhelming all that was. I was only leaving for 8 months but for some reason, I felt I was leaving for longer than that.

A good proof of that was my 2 big suitcases (23 kg. each), a 10 kg hand luggage without  wheels (the dumbest decision ever), a purse full with CDs and to top it all my electric guitar. I won’t even mention how many seaters and coats I was wearing. So as you can see, easy traveling was not in my vocabulary… yet.

Once I was at the airport, and after saying a long (teary) goodbye to my family, I was on my way to my next dream, my next destination. Since I was still in my country, with my connationals and my language, it all went really fast and without any obstacles. A stamp on my passport, a cordial smile and there I went to my first gate. It was not until the plane took off that I realized I was leaving my country, my home, my friends, my family and me! The ‘me‘ I knew until that moment, the ‘me‘ that had been with me for 25 years, the ‘me‘ who thought knew it all. That moment was my last memory of ‘me‘ as a 100% Peruvian.

After 3 agonizing stop overs, which included waiting for hours at different gates, getting lost at Madrid-Barajas airport, running through moving walkways with my guitar and my no-wheels-at-all hand luggage and being asked a thousand questions, I finally arrived to Heathrow airport, not my final destination yet but close enough. I only had to take a bus to this town, and soon I would be in bed, oh sweet bed!.

I have to mention that going to England was my dream (ok, my obsession) since I was 15 years old. I used to decorate my school books with pictures of London and British bands (it was the 90’s and the British invasion was ‘in’, so I was a victim of it). Every time I said I was going to England, people laughed at me or said: ‘Yeah, right! How are you going to afford that?’. I never had an answer to that, but I had hopes and willpower, so there you go.

London Eye

At Heathrow, I was welcomed to England with a big smile. This was just refreshing and needed after my long trip. My next step was to get a bus ticket to the town where I was going to live for the next 8 months. Once I got the ticket, I went straight to the waiting area. When the bus came, the driver opened the luggage compartment and I stood there with all luggage ready for him to put it in the compartment, as accustomed in Peru. The driver gave me an angry look that I did not understand. Then, he looked at me again and asked: ‘Are you coming or what?’. I was so confused, after a warm welcome at the airport, I was not expecting this at all. Soon, I realized I had to put my 56 kg luggage in that compartment all by myself. Culture shock began that very first day!

After that first cultural/learning experience, I gave him my ticket and got on the bus. Again, another moment was coming my way. I was trying to figure out which seat number I had when I heard someone shouting: ‘Sit wherever you want, there are no seat numbers here!’. Ouch, and so my soul started to crash.

I think we are all susceptible to certain things, events or words. At that moment, I felt I was fragile, alone and way too sensitive to everything, even the air.

I took a seat by the window and put on my headphones and let The Cure give me their own welcome to England. I used to watch a lot of documentaries and TV programs about England, mostly London, so I was so surprised to see so many green areas and thatch-roofed cottages and houses along the way. I was expecting big tall buildings and modern houses. And then, it hit me, I was not prepared nor even well-informed about the country I was going to live. I felt ashamed.

I finally arrived to my destination, a small town of 200,000 inhabitants (so the welcome sign indicated). ‘What?’ I said to myself, ‘my hometown has more than 800,000!!’. My dream of leaving my boring town and living in Europe was just a total irony.

As I got off the bus, I saw a dark, old and desolated bus station. It was around 10:30 pm, everybody was already sleeping. After all the passengers left, the bus driver asked me if somebody was going to pick me up and I said yes. I was expecting my hostess to be there by then but she was not. The bus driver took pity on me and decided to wait a bit longer. He ended up being a nice man and he was very curious about me and all my luggage. ‘Are going to stay in England for a long time?’ he asked and I said: ‘For 8 months’. He looked at my luggage and smiled.

My hostess arrived 20 minutes later, she was waiting for me at the other side of the station. She and her daughter welcomed me with hugs and flowers. I felt relieved! We went to my new (temporary) home. After a long chat, I took a shower and went to bed. I put on my headphones and cried myself to sleep. I was extremely tired from the jet lag, my arms hurt from all the luggage I carried and I regretted to have left home. It might all sound too dramatic but those were my feeling at that exhausting moment.

My first room abroad

Crying helped me to release every emotionfrom the pastweeks and it helped me to start a new life the next day.

Everybody experiences emigration in different ways but I think we all share the same feelings when it comes to that first time on that plane, the first time you arrived to a new country and the first night you spent abroad. It is worth to take a look back, see where we are now and reflect on it. Maybe even ask ourselves if we are still the same person.

So…how was your first time leaving your country?