Let’s be honest, picking up your life to a new country or continent is next level crazy. Personally, I never thought I would live abroad. Traveling? Yes. But living? I just didn’t think it was for me. There is vast uncertainty and the push-pull of leaving or staying can have you conflicted. Well two years after living abroad for the first time, I can see how it changed me and my views of the world. It was not all smooth sailing, but it did help me face some truths about who I was and who I wanted to be.
Since 2018 was a year of minimal travel compared to 2016/2017, instead of reflecting on my travels this year I’ve had time to reflect on my experience abroad. I’ve come up with 7 reasons why you should live abroad at least once too. Maybe this will make 2019 your year of adventure!
The growth is unimaginable
Study abroad opened my eyes to the world and living abroad helped me find my place in it. During study abroad, your experience can be a romanticized taste of what life abroad has to offer. Living abroad provides more depth for you to grow, not only as a student learning from a new culture, but as you literally navigate a work-life balance in a foreign country. From grocery shopping to making friends to finding an apartment, moving abroad places you in situations that may seem familiar and present a new set of challenges to overcome.
You learn A LOT about interpersonal relationships
There’s something about placing complete strangers in an environment abroad that draws in a little bit of everybody…which can be both good and bad. You have to find your community and support amongst people you just met. You become fast friends because they can remind you of the familiar (i.e. your home country, family, or friends). You cling to each other as you book trips, eat, and go out together. Then just like any other group, conflict arises and you have to decide to save the friendship or let it fizzle as quickly as it began.
Understanding how to navigate being friends, co-workers, travel buddies, roommates, and pseudo-family dynamics with virtual strangers can energize and exhaust you. Since these relationships are all you’ve got when you’re abroad, you learn more about your dependency on others. Are you intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Are your program friends genuine or just convenient? If you rock the boat, will you lose your confidant and travel buddy? These are all good skills to understand how much space you take up, need to give back, or be more intentional about in the future.
To see what all the hype is about
It seems that everyone is “quitting their job to travel the world” these days. While some people have done it, and others prefer short-term vacations, the majority have not lived abroad because it just doesn’t work out that way. However, a sabbatical could be what you need to re-ignite the ambition in your life. To understand why so many people have left salaried jobs permanently or temporarily, or why I felt the need to write this post, take a chance and do it yourself. If you don’t, you’ll be distracted in your office daydreaming about why you haven’t tried it yet anyway.
Pursue the travel opportunities
You knew this one was coming. I couldn’t talk about living and moving abroad without mentioning travel! A huge plus of living abroad is traveling to places that seemed so out of reach before the move. I went to a work conference in Berlin. I spent Spring break in Greece. I spent Christmas in Prague and New Year’s in Barcelona. None of that would have been possible without the opportunity of living abroad. You learn about the importance of being flexible and adaptable, while visiting places you’ve always dreamed of seeing in person. Your access to and awareness of the world is heightened. Take advantage of its potential!
To create a global network
Building your network can build your personal and professional brand anywhere, and living abroad helps you do that internationally. Truthfully, this is not something I fully took advantage of while abroad and I want you to learn from my lessons. Based on your location, you can make business connections that you could not have living elsewhere. For example, if you use teaching abroad as a means to get started living abroad, you can network your way into a field your passionate about. Whether through volunteering or attending events, you can meet people who can help your stint abroad become a long-term solution. If that’s not your goal, at least you can have those global connections to leverage later. You never know when you could call on them.
For greater perspective and clarity
Now I’m not talking that “Eat, Pray, Love” mindest, or “finding yourself” off the beaten path or by colonizing someone else’s culture. I’m talking about separating yourself from a unmotivating environment to figure out what it is you really want. Living abroad can be good to clear your head and get creative (a marketable skill) with your future. I do warn you that no matter where you go there you are, so the perspective may be more about your behavior than you bargained for. However, it can be the experience you needed to recognize what needs to change inside and out to propel you forward and walk in your truth. You’ll stop waiting for things to happen and be proactive in shaping who you want to become.
Discover new friendships
Though interpersonal relationships abroad can be a rollercoaster, you can also meet some pretty incredible people. I’ve kept in contact with a handful of friends from abroad, and even went to visit them in their hometowns! Upon returning to your “normal life” surrounded by friends and family who have known you forever, those new friends from abroad may drift based on distance more than conflict. It takes extra effort, however I’ve found that the best friendships you make abroad never really go away.
All of this isn’t to say that living abroad is easy or accessible for everyone. It ain’t. However, if you have the opportunity to live abroad for a month or a year, take it. Don’t just listen to me! Go and find out for yourself. I would not be who I am and where I am today if I had not lived abroad. Now that I took the leap, I hope the opportunity, money, and ambition aligns to get you abroad too.