At the age of 24, I left everything I knew—a successful teaching job, friends, family and my beloved cat—to move to Aberdeen, Scotland to pursue my master’s degree. I knew I would be living there for a full year, among many international students at the University. (Don’t worry, a friend watched my cat for me, and when I moved back to the states, we were gloriously reunited). So, here are eight things you learn when you move abroad as a full-fledged adult.
1. How to be self-sufficient.
It was my responsibility to get my student visa, arrange my student loans, arrange transportation to the university from the airport. And that just involved arrival. I also had to open a bank account abroad, deal with foreign health insurance and mandatory checks of my student visa, which if I had avoided would have sent me packing.
2. How to make friends as an adult.
Luckily, I had the crutch of moving in with other students and meeting course mates. But, when we’re kids, we don’t realize how lucky we are to have classmates to spend every day with, who live in the same area, and who we can hang out with whenever we want. But as an adult (albeit, an adult student), I realized that people had their own lives, and unless I made an effort to get to know others, and share in their interests, then it would be a lonely year.
3. How to stay in touch.
I left behind a six-year-old niece and a newborn nephew, not to mention my three siblings, my parents, my cat, and all of my friends. I made every effort to stay in touch with my family, including forcing my mom to download snapchat so I could send her pictures of my everyday life. (My dad, on the other hand, is hopeless with technology.) My sister sent me pictures as my nephew grew, and I Skyped with my family at least once a week. But family is the easier part; they make more of an effort to check in with you because of the whole ‘blood-relation’ thing. At first many friends kept in touch, asking how I was adjusting to life abroad. But as the year wore on, unless I made an effort to reach out to them, our friendships fell by the wayside.
4. How not to be the ‘Ugly American.’
Luckily, I found after I moved to Scotland that its people were friendly, boisterous and accepting. But before I moved, I was insanely nervous about being seen as the ugly American, especially at a university that housed so many international students. I also learned that as soon as you worry about being the “Ugly American,” you are on the first step to avoiding becoming it. Basically, as long as I was respectful of others’ cultures and didn’t go around yelling ‘Murica and flaunting my guns and oversized McDonalds, I’d be okay.
5. How to avoid FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
When you move abroad, especially if you have to balance a job or classwork, you are constantly stuck asking the question, “should I blow off this homework and go see this amazing castle that is a four hour bus ride away?” The answer was simpler than I realized. Sometimes the answer was hell yes, and sometimes it was no. It’s about balancing what is important to you.
6. How to appreciate the beauty around me.
I was moving from Brooklyn, New York. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a New Yorker. I have passed the How I Met Your Mother ‘Are You a New Yorker’ test. (I’d cried on the subway and not cared who was watching. I’d upstreamed a cab from someone who probably needed it more than me. I’ve killed a cockroach. And I’ve seen a celebrity walking down my street. [What up Bill Hader??) But I definitely had also gained that whole ‘jaded’ thing for which we are all famous. When I moved into Old Aberdeen, I fawned over the cobblestone streets, I gushed when I saw a neighborhood cat perched on a stone wall that fenced off a garden, and I took an embarrassing number of pictures of the beautiful buildings sprinkled throughout campus. This is good. This is important to living life as a successful human.
7. How to trust my decisions.
When I first told people I was moving to Scotland, they responded with a sarcastic “yeah, sure.” When I started getting my student visa and arranging my loans, and my loved ones realized I was not kidding, I got a lot of “Why are you doing this?” and “You’re going to regret this one day.” (There were a few precious friends who were supportive, however.) No matter what I said to those haters, they didn’t understand. In the end, I brushed them off and got on the plane anyway. And I couldn’t be more happy with that decision.
8. What different cultures mean to me.
As I have said previously, the university was lush with international students. I did meet plenty of Scots, including one flatmate. But I also grew very close to people from all over the world. I met people from Norway, from Belgium, from France, from all over England, from Ireland, From China, from the Ukraine, from Africa. All walks of life. Despite our different backgrounds I learned that we are all people, pursuing our happiness and living from one day to the next. And as I grew close to these individuals and they taught me about their various upbringings, I kept a little piece of each in my heart. (Also the new foods were the greatest treats ever.)
A lot of these 8 things are things you may learn just by growing up. But I don’t believe these important lessons would have resonated with me so much if I hadn’t lived abroad. It is a large part of who I am, and now that I am back stateside, I think of the time every day. I encourage anyone I meet to try living abroad, or even just to travel to as many different places as they can. It will open up your eyes in ways you never thought possible. And it will help you grow as a person.