How To Turn A Bad Day Around While Working Abroad

by Christine Williams

You did it! You found a company or organization in an industry that you love in a country that you have always dreamed of going to. You’ve applied and been accepted as a full-fledged employee! Working abroad means new adventures, strengthening your sense of independence, and enjoying expat life. Even menial activities, like making copies, in a foreign country can be new and exciting. 

Eventually though, even at the best jobs abroad, you’re bound to have a bad day. The copy machine is jammed again and someone keeps yelling at you over the phone in Portuguese. Bad days are not a sign that you’re not cut out for working abroad or that you should hightail it back home. They are a totally normal part of living overseas and getting through the bad days is another reminder that you can take care of yourself even in a foreign country.

Red Cliff, USA

Here's how to turn a bad day around while working abroad:

1. Take a walk.

The best thing about having a bad day while on the job abroad is that you can turn it around so quickly. When you’re back home, chances are your most promising remedy to a bad day is curling up in bed with a Netflix marathon and a king size chocolate bar, but when you’re overseas, there’s always a new adventure right around the corner. When you have an opportune moment, ask for a short break. Stretch your legs and head off into a neighborhood you haven’t walked through before (safety permitted, of course!).

In any workplace, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day frustrations of your job. Remind yourself that you could be at home stuck at that same retail job you’ve been working since high school, but instead you’re taking the risk of experiencing life and work in a foreign country. Take in the new sights and smells that you discover on even a short walk through the neighborhood and marvel at the way life is conducted in the streets of whatever country you’re in. Maybe it’s the laundry hung in balconies in the crowded alleys of Cuba or the Filipino man pushing a cart down the cobblestone street yelling “balut!”, selling his daily stash of fertilized duck eggs.

Stay curious, stay excited, and enjoy the little things.

2. Plan a trip.

One of the best parts about working abroad is being able to explore the surrounding areas of the city you’re based in. If you’re working in Europe this could mean weekend trips to London, or if you land a job in South America it could be a camping trip in the jungle. You’ll be reminded why you were so excited to work abroad in the first place. Remember how exhilarating it was to meticulously plan each part of your journey? For travelers, there are few things as thrilling as planning out a new trip. 

So bust out that Lonely Planet book you’ve stuffed at the bottom of your bag and pull up the travel blogs that you bookmarked. Invite your co-workers to come with you, because chances are if you’re stressed at work, so are they. Plus, a group trip is a great way to form bonds that make you an even more productive and successful team! 

3. Count your blessings.

The best way to get over a bad day, whether at home or abroad, is to be grateful for what’s going right in your life. And if you’re able to work abroad, you have a lot to be grateful for! It’s easy to get bogged down by the tedious tasks of your job, but take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You haven’t moved to another country just to work; you’ve moved overseas to experience a new way of life.

If all else fails, imagine the alternative: being stuck in a cubicle at home where your only form of travel is staring at the tropical island screensaver on your laptop. Starting to feel a bit better about your day? 

Florence, Italy

4. Think of everything as a learning experience.

Even if you land your dream job working in your dream country, you may be stuck doing some tasks that are less than desirable. Working abroad means you have to be flexible. Even if you’re an experienced teacher back home, teaching English abroad may be challenging when you’re facing different cultural customs.

Remember that you’re the outsider, and will need to adapt to the local way of life.

Your employer may end up placing you on projects that you don’t have much experience in, which can be particularly frustrating if you would rather be working on other assignments. If this seems to be an ongoing problem, it’s definitely worth sitting down with your employer and voicing your concerns. Continued frustration with your position will only lead to resentment and eventually sour your experience of working abroad.

But, if you’re mixing it up with tasks you love and tasks you’re less stoked about, try to have an open mind. Trust your employer; they may see a talent in you that you’ve never discovered yourself. Whatever you end up doing, work as hard as you can in your position. Your organization may even need you to pitch in with manual labor. Maybe you didn’t expect to end up with callouses on your hands, but everything is a learning experience, so roll up those sleeves and dig in!

5. Phone home.

If you’re having a really bad day working abroad you may want to throw in the towel and fly back home. Don’t panic! If you’re feeling really homesick it may seem logical to cut off all communication with home at the risk of missing your friends and family even more, but keeping in touch with your loved ones can actually be uplifting during bouts of homesickness. With Skype/Whatsapp/Facebook, and all the other social media channels, you really have no excuse not to stay in communication. Having a digital detox? No problem! Kick it old school by sending a letter or postcard back home!

If your friends and family are supportive of your decision to work abroad, connecting with those cheerleaders can be empowering. Tell them about your incredible experiences finding your way around a new country and the amazing work you’re doing. They will be in awe that you had the guts to move to another country, find a job, and create a life for yourself, even if only for a few months. Chances are, they’re probably super jealous as well. Take advantage of the opportunity to humblebrag about how cheap you can get your laundry done or about the delicious little gelato shop on the corner. You’ll walk away from your Skype call feeling more excited than ever about your life. 

6. Talk to your co-workers.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed at work, but add to that the extra stress of navigating through a new country and foreign language. Yikes! Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone who has ever worked abroad has one of those confusing, frustrating days where they want to give up. Maybe the project that you’re leading isn’t going as smoothly as planned or you’re having trouble communicating with your clients because of cultural differences. Take a breath and talk to your co-workers or superiors about it. Chances are they’ve gone through many of the same obstacles that you’re experiencing. Your superiors can give you advice and possibly lighten your workload if it’s too overwhelming. Don’t be embarrassed to chat with your co-workers about your bad day.

It’s important to build a support network while you’re away from friends and family back home. 
Eating waffles in Brussels, Belgium

7. Eat something delicious (and indulgent).

If all of the above fail, treat yourself to a little food therapy! A major highlight of moving to a new country is learning about the culture through their cuisine. Food and drink can tell you a lot about the local traditions and history. If you’re having a bad day, treat yourself to a big lunch and try a few different things on the menu. Or better yet, do a lunch crawl and taste different specialties of several restaurants on your street. The best part? You can justify it as “cultural research.”

Bad days at work are bound to happen regardless of where you are in the world. A bad day while working abroad may be intensified by the stress and challenges of working overseas, but if you look at the alternative, you could be having a terrible day stuck in a monotonous 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job back home. Instead you’re in a foreign country, where a bad day has the potential to turn into a fabulous adventure! Afterall, the challenging days are the ones you’ll look back on and remember that you’re a bada$$ that can take on the world!

If you haven’t got up the courage just yet, buck up and find a job abroad now!