5 Lessons You Learn from Living Abroad for a Year

by Sojourner
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Well, well, well, look who wants to take that leap abroad! I am so proud of you for even considering it. I’m sure everyone who moves abroad tells you the fabulous parts of living abroad for a year (or more). From traveling to the food and meeting, new people, living abroad has its advantages. But that does not mean it is always smooth sailing.

When I moved abroad for the first time in 2016, there was a lot to consider. A mix of planning and packing, the mere shift from sitting still to becoming semi-nomadic required a complete mindset shift. It is wild to think about moving your whole life abroad. And honestly, it can be overwhelming…

What is necessary to pack to fit in one 50 pound suitcase and a backpack for a year? How will my friendships fare when there was an ocean between us and not just a college campus? Is something wrong with me because I don’t want a regular 9 to 5 right now? Am I crazy for wanting to move across the world?

So many questions, so many lessons a 22-year-old me had to learn. Living abroad can be an illuminating experience. You only get one life to live. If that life means you live abroad, here are some lessons to keep in mind on your journey. 

Learning the language is key to the experience

Knowing the language is a stepping stone to get that boyfriend you’ll have abroad, right? KIDDING. Well, unless that’s how and why you want to learn a language (no judgment here). But language learning is often a gateway into understanding your new home a bit better. You can, literally, understand what is going on around you, converse with locals, and make new friends too. It is also a great way to overcome a bit of culture shock. Signing up for a language school or even studying it before you go can help you integrate into your new community. Learning a new language may not be easy, but take the chance to do it.

Friendships are both fleeting and forever

Moving overseas redefines what the word “friend” can mean. A friend can be someone who visits you while you are living abroad. Your friend can be a next door neighbor or the mailman. And pre-moving abroad could have told a friend from childhood to adulthood or that person you bonded with during a biology class for a semester.

However, if you live overseas, “friend” grows to have new meanings. A friend can be that person you met on the bottom bunk in your 10-person hostel dorm. That person you sat next to in a colectivo going to Chichen Itza and may never see again after this trip? Yeah, that’s your new friend too. Or, if you move abroad through an international fellowship program, a friend can be that person you befriend during orientation. Just know, you will use the word “friend” loosely. Embrace that a friend can last months or years or from the beginning to the end of a walking tour. 

It will not be like the movies

Sorry to burst your Eat, Pray, Love bubble…but actually no. I’m not sorry. U.S movies and TV often get it wrong and romanticize living abroad. It is more than pretty dresses and traveling all day, every day. Can you find love? Absolutely. Can you get a camper van and explore the open road like the Wild Thornberrys? If you choose, yes. Will you find your doppelganger in Rome like Lizzie McGuire and become a pop star? I would say it is doubtful. Yes, that’s what dreams are made of (see what I did there), but your life is not a dream. It’s reality. 

Living abroad teaches you that movies and TV shows do not show you the complete picture. The parts they often omit include packing and selling your things. The move requires paperwork such as visas and making sure your passport is valid. Upon arrival, you have to open a bank account, find an apartment, and maybe even a gym too. 

You may meet a gorgeous local at the supermarket who whisks you away on their moped. But I would not bank on that. You will have to purchase a regular public transportation card/pass to get around, especially to get to and from work or school. And oh yes, unless you have a trust fund or saving up money,  you do have to work. While it is incredible to live abroad, so do not let the media mislead you!

You will regret it if you don’t go

Many people make plans to do things, but around here, we turn dreams into action. How will you know if something will be a great experience or not unless you try? It is so easy to get caught up in fear, doubt, and other people’s opinions. Traveling and living abroad changes how you move through the world. It changes how you approach new communities, cultures, and challenges. Moving overseas reveals that no matter where you go, there you are. How will you show up for yourself when all you have is yourself? Even though I did not stay in Spain longer than a year, I do not regret my time there. I would regret it more if I did not go for it. 

There is not a “one size fits all” experience

While these are my lessons learned from living abroad for a year, your experience can be much different. There is no one universal living abroad experience. Some people love their experience and never go back home. Some travelers do not like the country they moved to as much as they thought they would. Hate is a strong word, but it happens. Others are appreciative of the experience and decide that one year is enough. And yes, some people decide they want to be closer to loved ones and never go live abroad again. Know that there will be ups and downs. However, it’s what you make of it. 

So if you are considering the move abroad, remember this

If living abroad for a year was just as easy as picking up and going, everyone would do it. It takes time to prepare to go overseas. For most, living abroad for a year is positive and becomes a life-changing experience. Yes, everyone says that. I’m that person. I’m everyone. But I also mean it when I say that living abroad for a year changed my outlook on life. Five years later, I’m even considering another move myself. 

From traveling and language learning to understanding how other countries operate, moving overseas can teach you so much about the world. Who are you to deny yourself such an experience? If you are ready to do it, I say go for it! Live with no regrets and leap living abroad.

Looking for reasons to move abroad? Read this post here.

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