A Whole New World for Expats Arriving During Pandemic


Photo Courtesy of J. Mendez

J. Mendez in Dubai before flying to Medellín.

Imagine, it is the middle of 11th grade. Due to the pandemic, you have been going to virtual classes for 6 months. Then, your parents spring the news that you are leaving home, and traveling to the other side of the world to begin from zero at a new place, and have to leave your old life and begin a new one.

For 11th grader Jacobo Mendez and several other TCS students, this scenario played out in real life. Mendez moved from Dubai to Medellín on October 16 and came to TCS. He is not alone, there are several new students and teachers who came to TCS during the pandemic. What they all have in common is that all of them come from abroad. With the pandemic it has been more complicated to adapt academically, socially, making new friends, and accommodating to a new school.

“The biggest lesson is that change is good. Don’t be afraid of change, it can be challenging but in the end, it’s worth it,” Mendez said.

Mendez came to Colombia for the first time in his life. He is Colombian but he never lived here before. Dubai has a different culture from the Colombian one, this made it complicated for him to adapt and to fit in the society.

“One of the most difficult things about beginning in a new school in a new country is meeting people, getting used to the culture, getting used to the slang, especially at this age,” Mendez said.

The pandemic made it harder for Mendez because anyone was allowed to go to school or to go out. That made it more difficult to make friends and meeting new people.

“The pandemic has really affected the transition. At the beginning of the year, it was really difficult to make new friends and meeting new people, because we were not allowed to go to school, we were not allowed to go out of our houses to meet people. It’s been lonely and difficult because online people can be very different,” Mendez said.

According to Mendez, one of the hardest parts of moving was leaving old friends behind back in Dubai. He is a guitar player in a band and spent a lot of time with other musicians.

“The hardest thing I passed through definitely was leaving my friends at home back in Dubai,” Mendez said.

Either the tough times he passed at the beginning, for Mendez this is one of the best experiences he has ever lived. According to him, this experience made him grow in several aspects of his life, he improved in socializing, and also in adapting to difficult situations.

“For me, the best thing that has happened to me has been the change and meeting new friends, being in a new city, and expanding your comfort bubble; At first it can be a little intimidating, but it’s worth it,” Mendez said.

David Murphy is a new teacher in TCS coming to Medellín from the United States around five years ago. That made the transition to another school wasn’t so difficult. This is because he already lived in Colombia so he wasn’t moving, and also he knew how the culture and the country worked.

Moving during the pandemic is complicated, more than in normal cases. But learning to communicate effectively makes the transition easier. A language is a tool that reflects the way the culture views the world. People often make the mistake of focusing on words when they really need to learn, not how the culture communicates. For example, in a country like Colombia, the culture is similar to Spain, because they have the same language and similar thing, but if you don’t know how to communicate in the different cultures it will be more complicated to adapt.

“The biggest lesson is adapting to different cultures that are not mine,” Murphy said.

According to www.expat.com familiarizing yourself with the culture and the lifestyle, will make you more comfortable in your new home, and that will help you to be more successful in your transition.

“Colombia is awesome, I love the weather, being outside. Colombia has so much to explore, so much biodiversity,” Murphy said.

Dealing with culture shock can be disorientating and scary. Not everybody will go through the exact same process and the stages can vary in many ways. When you are learning how to start a new life in a new country, this is important.

Murphy is not the only teacher, Jill Koehler is a new science teacher in TCS. She came new to Medellín from the United States at the beginning of the school year.

According to Murphy there is a big lack of connection between the student and the teacher. Not getting to know students the same way as if it was presential it’s a very big handicap.

“This year it was really weird starting in a new school and not knowing anybody, not having that connection with your students, with teachers, it was difficult for sure,” Murphy said

According to Koehler, one of the most difficult things of her transition was coming to Medellín and refraining from visiting the city and the country. She had very big expectations about Colombia, but the pandemic made her stay at home.

“The most difficult part of being in a new country is just to don’t have the opportunity to explore the country as you will like, not been able to explore has been the worst, the restrictions made I haven’t got to know the city as I wanted,” Koehler said.

But not everything is bad, since Koehler got locked up, she improved in several aspects of her life, such as patience or being organized. Also she had more free time for her and that made her spend time with family and to get a pet. And dedicate time with her new pet.

“Moving teaches you patience, it keeps you organized, moving to a different country in general helps me keeping open perspective and told me about other cultures,” Koehler said.

Works Cited:

  1. Living Abroad: 5 Keys to a Successful International Journey <https://www.expat.com/en/expat-mag/646-living-abroad-5-keys-to-a-successful-international-journey.html>
  2. How to start a new life in a new country: the steps you need to follow <https://mindfulfeet.com/how-to-start-a-new-life-in-a-new-country/#t-1620146233954>