Living or traveling overseas won’t be all glam and glitz. You will be in a different world, out of your comfort zone. But at the same time, you are going to learn things that will later on be your guiding light through life. If you spend a couple of months living abroad and traveling to diverse corners of the world, like I did, you will gain a completely different perspective on many things, and some of them will surprise you. While the the following perspectives themselves may seem logical, surprises lie in the way you take them in and let them change you.
1. Nickels sometimes aren’t “just nickels”
When you walk down the street and see a nickel or a dime that someone has dropped, think about how many times you ignore it, kick it away, or just don’t pick it up because of all the germs it might be coated with. I spent a few months living in a little village in Mexico. One day, two teens were walking down the street I lived on and saw a 5 peso coin on the street. The one who noticed it first ran to it and claimed it, while the other was obviously disappointed that he didn’t see it first. This made me realize that with two of these coins that I would have just left there, you could buy a liter of milk, or a gallon of water.
2. Better communication doesn’t always entail talking
There is nothing more frustrating than needing to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language. You will try different techniques and force yourself to get your message across. You will learn that in some cultures, certain words, mannerisms and gestures you use don’t mean the same thing to the people in their country. When I trekked through a local village in China, I stopped in a store and asked for a small T-Shirt by pointing to the T-Shirt and placing my hands close together to mime “small.” They didn’t understand me. Shortly after, I realized that what I thought universal hand gestures for “big” and “small” are not used there. In fact, they don’t even measure clothing in terms of small, medium, large. Things like this will stick with you for life and may even save you during everyday situations. For example, you may need to present something for school or work to people who live in or come from different cities.
3. How to really be spontaneous and crazy
In some places, people embrace life and are not afraid to show that there are no limits to enjoying themselves. After work, they’ll play sports, street games, or party like there is no tomorrow. One night, I was in a little bar in Mexico when the power went out because it was raining hard. Rather than letting everyone go home, the staff told everyone in the bar to follow them. About 50 of us locals and tourists walked down a couple of blocks and invaded another bar. The staff spoke to the the other bar’s staff and started a drinking and dancing contest.
4. What it really means to date someone
In the little Mexican village that I lived in, I would see people on dates in the most unexpected places and hear people having real get-to-know-you conversations on sidewalks, and at the bus stops on the way to the city because they didn’t own a cell phone or laptop that we rely so much on for communication. Abroad, you will see guys pick flowers from the side of the road because they can’t afford to buy a $20 bouquet for their girlfriends. Maybe you’ll let a local take you out and learn about how they have different ways of expressing love. You will remember this if you ever date someone from a different culture. But above all, you’ll see that dating takes more effort than a right swipe.
5. Material stuff isn’t everything
I moved down south with one big suitcase and one small one filled with clothes, cosmetics and even a blanket. I never used more than half of it. Over there, cosmetics and makeup were useless. It was so hot that they would end up running and making my skin look horrible. I stopped using them, and got a nice natural tan instead. The locals kept complimenting me on my skin color! Same with the nice jeans and brand name tops – I would feel way overdressed when wearing them. When I left to return home, I gave a lot of things away to locals who didn’t own the items but would appreciate using them once in awhile. Not only was my luggage was getting heavy, but being around people who didn’t value these materialistic things made me realize that there are more important things to value.
6. Your country’s driving laws are actually decent
In some countries, lanes are useless as no one respects them. In Asia, I would often see a family of four or five people on a tiny scooter, and to see the occasional bike driving into oncoming traffic! I once got into in a five-passenger car with eight people. All I could think of that whole ride as I half-sat on one person and half-laid on another else was that we’d probably get stopped by the cops if we were in North America. Trust me, you will be thankful to be alive and miss the driving laws you had back home.
7. You can get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Things are different overseas. Sometimes, it only takes a slight change to make you realize that you aren’t at home anymore, and value everything you have back there. In some places, everyday necessities like Tylenol, toothbrushes and batteries aren’t always accessible because 24-hour drug stores don’t exist in many non-North American countries. During a solo trip in Italy, I unexpectedly got my period and didn’t have any pads. Of course, none of the drug stores or grocery stores in the area were open and I only found one two uncomfortable hours later. Then, like in many European countries, the closest public bathroom was one that required you to pay to get in.
8. Letting go of people is part of life
When I lived in Mexico, I used to drop by a little photo lab to empty my camera’s memory cards. The store clerk didn’t speak much English and would always ask me how to say certain things. He would give me discounts, expose me to local music and tell me about how he would love to go to college in North America. The last time I went into the store, he wasn’t there, and no one seemed to know where he went. When traveling, you will meet people everyday, and everywhere. They’ll stop you on the street because they have never seen you, or any other foreigner in their neighborhood before. You’ll start conversations in stores, asking about local things. They will tell you their stories and about who they are, and what their dreams are. Sometimes you only meet them once; sometimes they become local friends for a few months. Then, you never see or hear from them again. You learn that people come and go all the time and that this is just part of life.
9. You’ll become more empathetic
I was in cab in Mexico suddenly, the driver said he had to stop for gas…and asked if I could pay for it! I didn’t have any change, but I felt bad that he couldn’t afford to pay for it himself, so I gave him way more money than I should have. Being abroad can be frustrating, and at times, embarrassing. You may find yourself wishing that you were back on familiar grounds. But upon further reflexion, you’ll understand that difficult situations are simply an everyday aspect of many people’s lives. By being in their shoes, you’ll come to empathize with the marginalized population and see life from the other side of the lens.
10. You will experience thunderstorms, hurricanes, sunrises and sunsets and take in the views
I was walking through in a little run-down village in Brazil, trying to make sense of how anyone could live there. Then I looked up and saw the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen. Weather is beautiful. But you most likely don’t appreciate it when you’re in the comforts of your own home, staring at your cell phone. A rainstorm in Europe adds to the views and makes for dramatic photo-ops. Seeing frost in Africa is mind-blowing. And when you return home, you’ll realize that your journey isn’t over; rather, it is ongoing. Nature will call, and through a raindrop or a ray of light, you’ll be reminded that your journey is now part of who you are.