As a teacher living abroad, I think it is imperative to get to know the area around you first. While you figure out where you live, knowing what is right around the corner or down the block is a nice way to feel at home. At my second school overseas, I arrived two weeks later than everyone else. Everyone had a flat and they already knew good restaurants or bars and gave directions as if they had lived there for years as opposed to weeks.
The first weekend I was in Albania, many teachers took the buses into the capital city, Tirana, to explore and spend the weekend away. I decided to stay in our small town, Durres, which is a major sea port and summer destination spot for Albania. In the winter, it is quiet and, in my opinion, the best time to feel at home and get to know the locals around you. I roamed the side streets and surrounding area around my flat to find the grocery store and nearest coffee shop. I ate out for every meal that first weekend to try different restaurants around my flat so I knew where I could grab a quick bite or where I could get a great salad and glass of wine.
I then decided to walk around the town itself and found the bazaar where the locals shop. There I found busy coffee shops with local prices, electronic stores and the nearest exchange office. After my first weekend walking around my neighborhood, I caught myself saying “where I live” or “near my house” and I realised that I was home for the next few years, and it truly felt like home.
Now, I have breakfast waiting for me every morning from my local bakery, even before they technically open. I was lucky to catch them opening early one morning. Having moved into my flat the night before, I had no food. They were very welcoming and knew I was a foreigner and new to the area. I had a hard time deciding what to buy because everything looked so delicious. Soon after that, I noticed that a bag with a chocolate croissant was warm and always ready for me to grab and continue walking to school around the corner. The couple tries to teach me new Albanian words almost every day. Now other teachers stop at the bakery daily along their walking routes, providing a nice business for the couple and a free breakfast on Fridays for me.
What helped you begin to feel “at home” in your new culture? Do you now have friendships with the strangers that you met during your first weeks in country? Be sure to share in the comments section!
Photo credit: Lindsey LeCroy