“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Bill Bryson

I think it’s safe to say that your frugal friend is a tad bit crazy. In August 2015, I hit an all-time insane and quit my job, packed my bags, and moved to Nicaragua to teach English. Long story short, I survived 21 days before I lost my mind (again) and hopped on the first plane back to the United States. I’m a firm believer that when you lose, don’t lose the lesson. Here’s what I learned on my adventure abroad:

Lesson #1: I don’t know nearly as much Spanish as I thought I did

My face 95% of the time in Nicaragua

Ya girl was doing Duolingo, listening to Spanish podcasts, using FluentU, and took three years of Spanish in high school. In my mind, I thought I was an intermediate Spanish speaker… until I went to a Spanish speaking country. Most of that went out the window when I moved to Nicaragua. Everything was so fast, I understood two words out of twenty. I just said “si” to everything, which worked until I went to a fruit stand and ended up with sal (salt) on my naranja (orange).

Lesson #2: The world isn’t this big scary place with rapists and murders around every corner.

As a solo female traveler, people think traveling alone is absurd. They always ask if someone is going with me, and insinuate that I should take a male with me. In 2015, Nicaragua was one of the safest countries in Central America. Unfortunately, there’s political unrest in their country, and those statistics have changed. I can honestly say that I felt safe in Nicaragua. The locals were so friendly and helpful. We didn’t speak the same language, but they did their best to make sure I got to my destination safely. I also used my street smarts and didn’t walk down any alleys, made sure I was inside before sundown and used the buddy system when I went out at night. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t get raped or murdered in Nicaragua (There was a crapload of roaches though).

Lesson #3: Living abroad is not as glamorous as it seems

Don’t be fooled by those epic pictures you see on Instagram of these backpackers living their best lives abroad. I’m guilty of showcasing my highlights, but I was far from living lavishly. In Nicaragua, air conditioning is a luxury. A fan is your air conditioning. Hot water is also a luxury. So is clean water. Also, the water and my skin did not mix. It felt like I’d been dipped in acid every time I took a shower. Did I mention that there were roaches everywhere?

Lesson #4: Culture Shock is REAL

Culture shock is defined as, “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes”. Google couldn’t have said it any better. Culture shock comes in four phases:
1. Honeymoon: you love everything about the country.
2. Frustration: you become flustered with your new surroundings.
3. Adjustment: overcoming frustrations and becoming acclimated.
4. Acceptance: fitting in and living like a local.

I didn’t make it past phase two. I let culture shock and the roaches get the best of me and paid $500 to get on the first flight back home. One-way tickets usually cost $120. That’s how badly I wanted to leave.

Lesson #5: Friendships formed abroad contain a special bond.

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.

Tim Cahill
How hot is Nicaragua? Hot enough to stick cards and spoons to your face 🙂

Being thousands of miles away from your loved ones puts a huge strain on your heart. Friends help fill that bond. I shared a house with about ten people. Each of us had our own room with a shared bathroom, kitchen, and common space. Most of us were current or future TEFL teachers. We were all far away from home, dealing with culture shock, and all trying to make our dreams come true. I found solace in sharing my feelings with complete strangers that quickly became friends. My friends Lisa, Cara, and JP are truly a blessing. I jokingly called Lisa & JP “mom & dad” because they would come home from class and we would all sit at the table, talk about our day, do homework, and have dinner together. Lisa also made amazing meals out of practically anything. Cara was like a sister that took me on Nicaraguan adventures with her and was a ray of sunshine. I am truly grateful for the angels God placed around me. They helped me when I needed it most. Not all angels have wings.

Lesson #6: Financial stress is intensified abroad if you don’t have your house in order.

Before I became debt-free, I was still paying bills and student loans on the home front. My debt hovered over me like a bad omen. It’s also not as easy to call your bank or go to the ATM when your card isn’t working. My financial house was all over the place and I thought that moving abroad would make things better. Spoiler Alert: It made things worse. Not having access to your money is nerve-racking AF.

Lesson #7: Working 9 to 5 is a blessing

Y’all know how much I DESPISE working 9 to 5, it is the bane of my existence. I hated all 25 of my jobs, but I gained a much greater respect post-Nicaragua. Here we are (Americans) complaining that working 9 to 5 drains our soul when at least we have guaranteed work with steady pay. People in Nicaragua would KILL to have a guaranteed 40-hour work week with insurance and paid time off. Most locals are running their own stands, selling water on the side of the road, driving taxis, and doing whatever they can to make ends meet. They’ll be grateful if they make $20 a day.

Lesson #8: The United States has ENDLESS opportunities.

I completely empathize and respect anyone that sacrifices everything to migrate to the United States. You can’t even count the number of opportunities that this country has to offer. You can do anything you put your mind to. Resources, education, and opportunity are available to almost everyone. America’s minimum wage is $7.25/hour. People in other countries don’t even make that in a day.

Let me put this in perspective: I was walking around in Nicaragua looking for schools to teach at. I found this AMAZING school with phenomenal administration and kind-hearted students…

Me in the middle of Nicaraguan students I met 30 minutes ago 🙂

I conducted an on-spot interview and immediately felt at home. The school loved me and I loved the school. Everything went south once we discussed pay. I asked for $500 A MONTH to teach. They told me that they couldn’t afford that. Asking for $500 a month is the equivalent of asking for $100,000 a year in the States.
The students in Nicaragua didn’t know about retirement. They never learned about working for 30 years, saving money for the future, and enjoying the fruits of your labor once you turn 65. In their country, they work until they’re physically unable, or deceased.

Lesson #9: You can always find another job.

The beauty of the United States is a relatively strong economy and access to jobs. Do not be afraid of quitting your job, because you can always find another one. It may take a month or two, but that’s what a savings account is for. If all else fails, McDonald’s is ALWAYS hiring. (Ain’t no shame in my burger-flipping game. Been there, done that. I’d do it all over again if it keeps me from being homeless.)

Lesson #10: Failure is the best teacher.

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford

I cried and cried and cried when I returned from Nicaragua. Living abroad was a dream I worked toward for YEARS. The expectation I had of living abroad was the complete opposite of reality. I took this huge leap and fell flat on my face. My pride was what kept me there for 21 days otherwise I would’ve left in four.
Hindsight is 20/20, and I know EXACTLY where I went wrong:

  • Mentally, I wasn’t prepared to move abroad. I had just gone through a breakup and used Nicaragua as an escape to a better life.
  • My finances were not in order. I still had over $5,000 in student loan debt.
  • I needed to learn WAY MORE SPANISH. Not speaking the language made me feel secluded and made it harder to connect with the locals.
  • A developed country may have been more suitable for my first time abroad. I went from working two blocks from the White House to one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Mixing that with everything else I had going on was a recipe for disaster.

Even the biggest failure beats the hell out of never trying. I’m proud of myself because I learned more about myself in 21 days than I did in 21 years. It really put things into perspective and lit a fire inside of me to turn my setback into a comeback. I came back home and started overdosing on finance books. I set a goal to get my financial house in order and become debt-free. I did something that most people don’t have the balls to do: quit my job, packed my bags, and moved to a foreign country. I am forever grateful for the blessings, the lessons, and the friendships I made in Nicaragua.

Anyone else brave/crazy enough to pack their bags move abroad? Ever visited Nicaragua? Please share in the comments below 🙂