What We Learnt From Living Abroad

Living Abroad Cover

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel. I love to go on holiday and lie on a beach somewhere, I love to go backpacking on a shoestring budget and I love playing the tourist both at home and abroad. But, it’s all a whole other kettle of fish when you’re actually living abroad.

The lessons you learn about life, about the world and most significantly about yourself, are invaluable. You don’t just visit a place and learn about it; you become part of it. To better explain how living abroad changes and challenges you, I asked a couple of fellow travel bloggers what living abroad taught them:

Megan Roughley – Where My Travels Take Me

Living Abroad Megan Roughley
Living Abroad: Megan Roughley, Where My Travels Take Me

I am fortunate that my family instilled in me the passion for travel. It’s funny though, because my parents don’t share my love for travelling to new exotic places now. Instead, they exemplified how taking chances and always pursuing new adventures are fundamental parts of life.

I grew up moving around every few years with my father’s work. We moved all around North America until he was offered an opportunity to move to Europe. We packed up and followed him along to what would become one of the best years of my life.

Living abroad for my family brought us closer together.

My family arrived at our new home in Cascais, Portugal, in the summer of 2010. This year living abroad showed me the value and necessity of experiential learning. When you’re living abroad, everything is new.

If you get sick and have to go to the pharmacy, you better hope someone speaks your native language or you will be creating all new forms of sign language to explain that you have a sore throat!

These experiences challenge you and help you learn how to be a global member of society. You learn respect for people’s values and cultures. And you learn to be flexible when things don’t go how they normally would.

Living abroad means taking a chance at life.

Living abroad for my family brought us closer together because when we were out to dinner we each brought varied degrees of knowledge for ordering food in Portuguese. We would laugh at the way my mom ordered a “Coke zero” in an accent that did not resemble Portuguese at all! It was fun and it was new and it something I am always thankful for.

Living abroad means taking a chance at life and experiencing a new place for all that it has to offer. It is something I recommend to anyone who gets the opportunity!

Megan is a full-time adventurer with three passport and a mind that loves to drift. She blogs at www.wheremytravelstakeme.com.

Cepee Tabibian – Wanderlicious

Living Abroad - Cepee Tabibian
Living Abroad: Cepee Tabibian, Wanderlicious

I grew up in a suburb of Houston, Texas, only a few miles from NASA, in what I thought was a pretty typical existence. I come from a multicultural home; my dad was Iranian and my mom Colombian, an interesting mix but nothing out of the ordinary for Houston.

Most people are surprised to hear that Houston is the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the US. Step into any public place and you will encounter a sea of colors and languages. Houston is a city that blends friendships, families, and communities of all backgrounds, cultures, and religions; it’s our norm.

It’s so normal that you believe the rest of the world also looks like this. Until you find out that it doesn’t.

I learned that my city is a rare beauty.

I started traveling abroad in my teens and was exposed to a variety of places that were different from my world in Houston. Maybe I was so distracted by all these differences that I didn’t notice it during any of my travels.

After living abroad in Spain for an extended amount of time, I could see and feel it so clearly when I went back home to visit. It was diversity. With the experience of living abroad, I could now experience my city through a new lens and see what was missing in many other places.

You believe the rest of the world also looks like this. Until you find out that it doesn’t.

Living abroad in a homogenous country, I learned that my city is a rare beauty. I learned that my multicultural childhood, colorful friendships, and exposure to endless diversity in one big city is not the norm. I learned that our openness to immigrants makes my city great.

And most profoundly, I learned that there is nothing typical about where I come from, because where I come from is an extraordinary place.

Cepee is a vegetarian wanderluster with an expert food and travel blog. She blogs at wanderlicious.es.

Amy Poulton – Page Traveller

Living Abroad - Amy Poulton, Page Traveller
Living Abroad: Amy Poulton, Page Traveller

It wasn’t until I was boarding the plane to Hong Kong alone that it hit me. This wasn’t like going on holiday. I was going to the other side of the world to live in a city, a country and a continent that I had never been to before.

There are innumerable things that I learnt from living abroad, both in Hong Kong and Italy, but here are of the three major lessons my experience taught me:

1. One thing I learnt from living abroad, which stands out because it is both so obvious yet so unexpected, is that not everyone thinks like I do.

Before I arrived in HK, I imagined that immersing myself in a culture that was foreign to me would be all ‘Disney Pocahontas’. You know, ‘no matter how different we look, we’re all the same on the inside’ etc. Turns out, I was totally wrong.

Not everyone thinks like I do.

What I learnt was that there is no one way to think, there is no correct way to live and that different people uphold different values. Saving face in Asian cultures is a great example of this. I was in Hong Kong for five years, but it’s still something that I find difficult to explain, difficult to spot and difficult to know if I’m doing it right.

2. I also learnt that the world is as big as it is small.

I was once in a bar in Hong Kong, chatting to a friend of a friend. It turned out that we were both from Sutton Coldfield, the tiny suburb of Birmingham that is my hometown; we both attended the University of Sheffield at the same time; oh, and we both moved to Hong Kong the same year.

We had never met until that moment. How is that even possible???

The world is as big as it is small.

3. Finally, the third major lesson I learnt from living abroad is that there’s no big secret to it. People back home often say, ‘Wow, you’re so brave. How do you cope with living in Hong Kong?,’ or, even better, ‘I wish I could do something like that.’ The big secret is – you can!

Some people believe they will be too homesick, or will struggle with the language, or won’t be able to handle the food. But, like anything, you just deal with it. Living abroad is the best exercise in problem-solving and growing up because you have to learn to take care of yourself without a safety net.

Living abroad is the best exercise in problem-solving and growing up.

You’re forced to be independent and there’s a huge, exciting responsibility in that. It’s rewarding to look around and see the life you created without anyone else’s help.

Oh, and if it isn’t for you? You can just buy a plane ticket and be back home within a maximum 48 hours. No biggie!


8 thoughts on “What We Learnt From Living Abroad

  1. Living abroad made me more self-confident person and I learned more languages than I ever imagined I would. To mee it feels like the freedom to choose my life. I was born in a land lock country and was dreaming about living near the seaside since I saw the sea for the first time on a holiday (I was 4). Now I can see the sea every day and it still feels like a miracle. Thank you for this blog, you reminded me how happy I am here.

    1. Oh my god, Katerina, I totally agree! I’ve recently moved back to the UK and despite the country being surrounding by sea, I’m bang in the middle of the country! I miss the ocean so much!

  2. There’s really nothing like living abroad, everyone should do at some point in you life. It will change your perspectives unlike anything you can imagine. Its different to long term travel too, you have a different mindset making a place your home that feels foreign to you but its so worth it!

    1. I totally agree! It should be mandatory! And I love that complicated mixed feelings of home and away. Thanks for reading! Where did you live and where is your home country?

    1. Right? I feel exactly the same. I felt like I learnt more in my first year travelling and living abroad than I ever did at school. Thanks for reading!

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