When you first arrive in a new place – it’s really easy to be in tourist mode. You want to check out “the top 10 places to go” in the city, whether that includes museums and statues, parks and beaches, or restaurants and bars. It’s all well and good until you start to get a bit bored. There are only so many cathedrals and exhibits you can see, or so many late nights drinking at the club before you realize that this is not a sustainable lifestyle for an extended period of time. After a few weeks, whether it’s on purpose or not, you’re probably going to develop a routine to help schedule your days. I think that actively planning this routine can lead to healthier, happier choices that make it easier to integrate into a community and be satisfied with your life.
Sometimes just “going with the flow” and leaving free time in your schedule, allows you to make time for friends and go on fun adventures in your city. Left: Steve at a BBQ with our friends in Sucre. Right: Me, after buying some groceries at a local tienda (and practicing our Spanish with the shop-keeper).
Now that I’ve been here for more than a month (crazy!), I have started to develop my routine. Here’s how I did it:
- Find a home base. If you’re only here for a month, this might be a hostel, but you can still consider it your home in the bigger city. For me, settling into our actual apartment and no longer living out of a suitcase made the move feel a little bit more real.
- If you’re working, that’s obviously the base of your routine. Instead of working normal 7-8 hour days with 1-2 hours of breaks, I work 6 hours a day and get to go home early. This clears up lots of time for other activities, but it does mean I need to get up early. I normally get up at 6:30, get to work by 7:30 am, and then I’m finished by 1:30 pm. After this, I have my lunch and follow some of my other routines. Others in Sucre have a split day (due to a 2 hour siesta over lunch). People often work 8-12 and then 2-6 and have time in between to go home for lunch. I’d recommend using this time for routine activities like the gym, taking a class, etc. if you can manage it.
- If you’re not working, I suggest finding a reason to get up in the morning anyway. Volunteer, find a job, join a sports team, take a class – anything to keep you feeling motivated.
Steve, at our house in Sucre. It was really important for use to have our own space, including a full kitchen so we could make our own meals any time we wanted.
- Before I even arrived in Bolivia, I knew that learning to speak Spanish was my number one priority. This would allow me to make friends, work with colleagues, and understand other people around the city. I talked to some Spanish schools who recommended at least 4 hours a day (which I knew would be way too draining on top of work) and some volunteers who recommended 2-3 hours per week (which I wasn’t sure was enough). In the end, Steve and I decided to take group classes (because it’s cheaper), but the group is only 2 of us, and we have class with the same nice lady (Veronica) every day for 2 hours. She also gives us about an hour of homework per day to complete on our own. We found a school with good reviews that’s very close to our house (Sucre Spanish school) and made the arrangements. I’m not amazing yet, but I’m working on it. I also realize that after a few months I won’t need such intensive classes and I may be able to fill in my afternoon time-slot with a different routine.
My gym in Sucre is super fancy and boasts amazing views of the city – but it’s located right next to my work, which makes it much easier to fit into my routine.
- The next thing I knew I needed was some physical exercise. I’m not the type of person who enjoys getting up at dawn to go running or doing my own classes on YouTube in my living room (though I’ve had to do that at certain periods in my life when no other options were available). Instead, I wanted to find a yoga class. An internet search didn’t show anything for Sucre, and I felt a bit defeated. Eventually, I met another girl who I had reached out to on Internations and she mentioned a gym that also has classes. Unfortunately, It was quite expensive. Fortunately, it has WiFi, hot showers, yoga classes, and was right next door to my work. I decided that the money was worth it for my sanity, and got a year-long membership a few days later. I even changed my Spanish classes on Tuesday and Thursday to a bit later in the afternoon so that I could make lunch in the morning, eat it at work, go straight to the gym from work, change, workout, shower, and then head to my Spanish class. I know it seems like I’m complicating my day by jamming everything together, but I know myself really well. I need to make things like going to the gym easy, or I’ll never do them. If I had a long, relaxing lunch break, then Spanish, and then it was 6pm, and I was cold and snuggled in my bed watching Netflix, I would never get back up and walk across the city to the gym. By creating this routine, I force myself to actually accomplish the things I want to get done.
- Figure out where to shop (especially for food). Actually, on our first day here, a volunteer who had been here for 6 months showed us around. It was a great tour. We went to the grocery store (right by my work and 15 minutes walk from my house), the central market, the plaza, a major park, and he pointed out a few restaurants. Afterwards we were able to explore on our own, but if you don’t know where to get food you like, then life can be pretty hard (and expensive) since you have to find restaurants for every meal. Sometimes it’s good to cook at home when you first arrive, because not all stomachs are created equal and it’s easy to get sick when constantly trying new foods. You have to ease you way into it.
I’m probably not done completing my routine, because these things change and evolve over time. I’d like to find a library where I can rent books to practice my Spanish. I’d like to find a regular group of friends to hang out with on nights and weekends. I want to start exploring the area outside of the city on short day/weekend trips – maybe about 1 per month. But I’m getting there. It’s a start and it’s starting to feel like home.
When you first arrive, it makes sense to do all the touristy things! So check out a museum (like the Casa de Libertad – left), and try all the local restaurants with your friends (see my co-worker, Leo, trying delicious, greasy artisanal pizza – right).
For people who work in development, regularly move for work, or know that they are moving somewhere new for an extended period of time, I would recommend thinking about routines before you leave. I know it seems a bit silly, but it can help you realize what’s wrong when you arrive at a place and just don’t feel like yourself.
- Actively think about your current routine.
- How much sleep do you normally get? I know when I don’t get enough sleep I’m super grumpy, which can make me lazy at work and antisocial (avoiding activities I would usually enjoy)
- How often do you work out? What types of activities do you enjoy doing? Some activities are a lot easier to do in different countries.
- How much of your time do you spend socializing vs. doing solitary activities? We know that being introverted or extroverted can influence the way you feel energized and really change your mood levels if you’re not accustomed to your new lifestyle.
- Research online what your options/expectations will be in your new home. Are there gyms? Is it safe to go out alone at night? Is it considered rude if you turn down social invitations?
In your daily life what is your routine? Do you drink lots of alcohol or not very much? You might want to switch to Coca tea for the first few days while you adjust to the altitude (if you’re moving to Bolivia or Peru).
- Reach out to other people that live (or used to live) in your new country. You may be able to do this through online forums like Internations or through your new school or others from your company. This will help you figure out where to go and what to do. They can also usually point you to someone who is currently living locally who can hook you up with more information (and friends) once you arrive.
- Once you arrive, give yourself a break. Be a tourist for a few weeks. Let yourself explore and relax. Try to find new friends and party all night if you feel like it. Eventually you will realize that you may need a routine.
- Now it’s time to figure out your routine. Think back to your priorities in your previous country and use those as a starting point. Don’t try to do everything at once, but try to do one new thing a week. Eventually, I hope that it will start to feel like home. 🙂
Sucre is full of beautiful flowers, like our garden (left) or the plaza in front of my office (right). Always leave time in your schedule to stop and smell the roses.
So, in the end I think routines are necessary. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever differ from your routine or change it all together. When I have lots of work one week, I’ll probably skip the gym. When there’s protests in the street, I probably won’t have Spanish class. When friends call me up, I’ll probably skip the dinner I was going to cook and go out to a restaurant instead. Having a routine isn’t about being 100% strict all of the time. It’s about feeling comfortable and following certain habits 80% of that time. And after a few weeks you’ll know if it’s a good routine or not by whether or not you follow it. If you never follow your routine, you probably need to make some adjustments.
I wish you luck with your own routines – whatever they may be!
What are your thoughts on routines? I would love to hear how you all make routines and what your priorities are when trying to decide how much you can fit into a day!