How to Survive the First 30 Days

How to Survive the First 30 Days

Welcome to Part Seven of our Goer Essentials Series, where we’ve asked Goers to sound off on the essentials to thriving in life overseas. In today’s article, we cover how to survive the first 30 days of your placement.


For this Goer Essential series, we surveyed 25 Goers who are serving two-year global placements in 10 different countries on 4 continents.  These articles are your chance to hear directly from Goers as they share their triumphs, best practices, amusing gaffes, and deep experiences of learning to live, thrive, and make an impact while immersed in a new culture!

About the author:  David Gee served for two years in a GoCorps placement in North Africa serving refugees from across the middle east.  In this Goer Essential series, he shares his own experiences alongside the stories and lessons learned of Goers serving all over the world using their unique skillsets and training to fight injustice, serve the oppressed and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Part 7 - How to Survive the First 30 Days

I recently learned that it takes 3 days to journey from the Earth to the Moon. And while I'm sure Astronauts have plenty of things they’d need to do in order to get ready for a Moon landing, part of me also thinks those 3 days between launching and landing must be a bit strange.

The Astronauts know where they’re coming from, they know where they’re going, but in the in-between they’re left to float in the vacuum of space — untethered, unengaged, drifting towards their goal among the stars.

When you change your zip code and move overseas (or even across the country) to get involved in God’s global work, those first 30 days can feel like the space between the Moon and the Earth. You know you moved with a purpose, dream, and goal, but when your feet hit the ground in a new context where your role and place in society are a bit strange and ambiguous it can leave you feeling like an Astronaut, floating in the great beyond and a bit unsure about what to do with yourself.

It can leave you feeling like an Astronaut, floating in the great beyond and a bit unsure about what to do with yourself.

Personally, I had a ROUGH first 30 days. My laptop broke, I was detained by police, I got sick, and my language helper was about as reliable as ice cream in the desert. I was overwhelmed, confused, and even questioning my decision to move abroad. And while I eventually recovered and was able to survive on the field, I wish I would have had some of the advice that the Goers we reached out to gave to us about how to make it the first 30 days.

Here’s what a few of them had to say about the keys to adjusting and making the most of the first 30 days.

From Pasta to Separating from Family

Boxed pasta, a solid schedule, and a welcoming team!
- Seth, US

Grace and a sense of humor!
- Julie, Ecuador

You will need to figure out easy meals. Everything is harder when you're hungry, so make sure you know where to get some easy ingredients/food you can make or snack on while you're getting settled. I would also suggest going on walks (if your environment permits) around your neighborhood/city. This helps you get familiar with your surroundings but also gets you feeling more confident about where you are.
-Liz, NE Africa

I can definitely second, as Liz and Seth said, the importance of just nailing down new food and everyday life habits. It sounds simple, but when you land in a new place, food changes! Whether it’s the time of the meals, which ones are generally the focal meals of the day, or what ingredients are readily accessible and cookable, all these changes will take time and grace to get used to.

And while some of the adjustments will be small, others will be quite big and unintuitive. Samuel, a Goer in Southeast Asia, offered some good advice on not reverting to leaning on friends and family across the world when, really, what you’ll need to adjust well is to embrace the discomfort and start to depend on your team and the locals around you.

Rest and Checkpoints

Rest. Eat. And most importantly, drink enough water (especially if you have problems with the new foods). Walk to work (if it’s safe). And don't lean too much on friends and family back home. Don't be afraid to make dumb cultural or linguistic mistakes (most cultures--especially with young people—are extremely forgiving of foreigners). I’d even look for lots of opportunities to make said mistakes. You're going to make them anyway, so it’s best to get used to them quickly. Do listen to your teammates and take their advice to heart. And truly, the most important thing is to build and maintain your spiritual disciplines from Day 0.
-Samuel, Southeast Asia

The most important thing is to build and maintain your spiritual disciplines from Day 0.

In addition to getting some of these foundational practices in place that Samuel mentioned, it’s also important to remember that every day won’t feel the same. Some will be grand, others will be the absolute pits. But Elisa in Colombia offers perhaps the most insightful advice I’ve heard yet on how to gauge your adjustment in a way that will stave off the reflex to throw in the towel.

Give yourself checkpoints. Decide: I will evaluate my well-being at month 1, then month 6, and so on. Once I did this, I could decide that it was okay for day 8 to feel hard because I hadn't yet reached the 1-month mark. And it was okay if month 3 felt hard bc I hadn't yet reached month 6. By the 6th month, you have way more understanding of the language, your role, the layout of the city, your grocery stores, the currency, and familiar faces. If by month 6 you don't see a change from how you felt in month 1, then you have real grounds for evaluating if where you're at is or isn't the right fit. You'll question if you'll ever get better with the language development or making friends or understanding your job ALL the time. That’s ok. Having checkpoints will help you to remember that reflection is the key to feeling encouraged about where you're at. In my first 30 days, my checkpoints gave me realistic ways to measure what was hard because I was in a new place/transitioning, and what was hard because there needed to be intervention. Be kind to yourself, and celebrate the little victories!
-Elisa, Colombia

Be kind to yourself, and celebrate the little victories!


And finally, in the midst of the roller coaster of emotions and adjustments that is the first 30 days, it’s important to remember that it’s just a season, a small chunk of the two years you’ve set aside to grow, be humbled, and serve the nations that God has a heart for. It’s ok if there are some bad days because there will also be some good days. Regardless of which ones come first or stay longest, Hannah who is serving in Mexico closes us out with this sweet reminder to anchor you in the hard days:

Remember that you will not feel this way forever. It will get easier. God has you here for a reason. Everything will be ok.
-Hannah, Mexico

God has you here for a reason.

Want to take the next steps on your own adventure in serving God by changing zip codes? Reach out to us today to connect with one of our mission coaches. 

Key Takeaways

  • Prioritize adjusting to food and your neighborhood
  • Resist the urge to lean on family and friends
  • Embrace the opportunity to lean on your new team and locals
  • Give yourself specific checkpoints to evaluate adjustment
  • Let the bad days be bad, and remember it won’t be forever

Dive Deeper

Check out other blogs in this series here.

David Gee

David is fluent in both Texan and Arabic, and likes to write about everything he has learned from those two worlds colliding. He’s a Goer alum that spent two years in the Middle East learning Arabic and working with Yemeni refugees, and continues to minister to immigrants in his community today. Catch him drinking coffee, riding a skateboard, or doing both at the same time.