What No One Tells You About The Reality Of Living Abroad

Toa Heftiba

I can tell you first hand that it is scary as hell to squeeze your life into suitcases and dive in to new countries, with new faces, different languages, and far away from your comfort zone…but that is just the beauty of it. You turn your life into a journey filled with uncertainty and excitement, but you grow in the most unexpected ways. You unlearn some of your old petty habits by embracing new lessons. You are challenged in ways you didn’t know existed. You evolve as a person.

Undoubtedly, if you are planning to take the leap, you can fully expect these life changing lessons as you embrace your new life:

1. You are never alone

When the comfort and value of your friends becomes apparent the longer you are away from home, you begin to realize the importance of developing new friendships. From the taxi driver on your ride home, to the family with the dirt floor shack (language barriers and all)…friendships can be made anywhere you go and you shape the memories made to stay with you forever.

2. The real struggles of “back home”

At some point, you WILL get home sick. Birthdays come and go. Marriages. Births. Deaths. Life doesn’t stop and wait for you. You’ll realize little moments and holidays you didn’t think mattered are the ones that make you the most homesick….and it can be tough. And though you have an extensive network of family and friends, you will likely have to rely on yourself to get you through the tough times. You will miss your family, your friends, your favorite place to go out….but when you go back to visit it strikes you how very little it has changed because your life has been changing constantly. You better believe that when someone asks you about your new life, you will have a hard time finding the right words to convey everything you have seen and experienced. There will come a time when you have to hold your tongue when something reminds you of “that time when” in the middle of a conversation to not come across as pretentious. But, in all your craziness, you learn to love and appreciate everyone back home far more than ever before.

3. You get used to (almost) anything

Just like in a relationship, you find yourself in the “honeymoon stage” of a new country within the first couple months…that is until your unfolded the little blemishes and “not so enjoyable” parts that have yet become so obvious. “I have to say, things like rats running across the sidewalk, or ants on your toast are definitely a test to your comfort zone”. Though we all have limits (and they can surely be reached), as you embrace all the country has to offer (unwanted critters and all) you develop comfort and it all becomes your “normal.”

4. Patience

You will undoubtedly find yourself chasing after places that you’ve seen in photos to find out they are much further away that you imagined or not quite as immaculate as you expected, but you’ll appreciate them none the less. You will wait in queues that feel like will last for hours, just to snap that photo you’ve been dying to get! You will get lost, things might not go as planned, but you’ll realize it’s no big deal and will eventually work itself out (As it just so happens, asking for help when you need it, is an extremely useful habit). But most importantly in all that patience, it lets you stop to breathe it all in and appreciate what is around you.

5. Confidence

I am willing to bet that you will discover that you can talk to nearly anyone, whether you are shy or not. Be the first to smile. Ask someone about their life. Strike a conversation with a local. Some of life’s best lessons can be learned from the person you least expect. When you live in a foreign country and don’t yet know all the local nuances of the place, you will find yourself doing lots of stupid things and making heaps of mistakes. And in these moments you will suddenly learn that it doesn’t matter! There can also be a lot of ego-boosting moments as you navigate the new and different successfully. Soon enough you’ll be out at events chatting to anyone and everyone, and you’ll know “the area” they are talking about.

6. Courage is slightly overrated

Time and time again, people will tell you that “you are so brave for moving abroad…I wish I had the courage to do it”. I myself have felt scared, but know that your courage makes up about 10% of life-changing experience, and 90% is wanting something with all your heart. If you want it, then do it. There comes a point where no matter how courageous you are, your heart is what fires your desire to accomplish something. Climbing that mountain, swimming with the sharks, and even moving to a foreign country is all accomplished because your heart wanted it. And can I just say, if there is a place you’re dying to travel to…pack your bags and go! There is no “right time.”

7. Open-mindedness

You will quickly learn that you have a bigger capacity to be open to new things than you imagined. You find happiness in a whole new light. I discovered that (in the right circumstances), I was open to trying new and unusual dishes that I probably would have turned away if they had been served back home. You will no doubt learn to be less judgmental about the people you meet, the religions they follow, the cultural traditions they practice, and in the same, you’ll be less concerned if they question your own habits and customs. You learn endless amounts of history about people and places that can never be read in a book. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

8. Happiness

Nothing will broaden your perspective until you see the way other people live. You will most definitely develop a new appreciation for the things you’ve always taken for granted back home. Drinking tap water. A proper bed and blankets instead of dirt floors and leaves. A door on your home. Sanitation. Electric. The list is endless. There are very few things in this world that will impact you as much as packing your bags and going. It’s hard to capture in words the moment when you’re standing on the Great Wall or when you finally can understand what someone is saying in another language. These moments take us out of our element and remind us of why we are here. Something miraculous happens to you when you board that plane and the feelings are unimaginable. TC mark

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