As I sat in the office, I stared at the walls which were pasted in posters advertising different schools in beautiful countries: Spain, France, Germany, and Holland… how was I to choose? The coordinator came in and asked where I wanted to go. Originally, I had planned on somewhere in Europe, so the transition would maybe be smoother and there wouldn’t be a language barrier. However, out of nowhere and without my knowledge, I found myself saying “Ecuador”.
It was terrifying, different, and completely out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t speak the language, didn’t know how to use any sort of public transport, and had no idea how to fend for myself. However, after five months of living abroad, I have finally concluded that studying in a developing country completely ruined my life, and here’s how:
1. You’ll realize that technology sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, having my family and friends constantly connected to me via Skype and iMessage was a saviour on many days. However, I never thought of how consumed I was with technology. What happens when you stick a bunch of young people in a room with no internet? Conversation. With no access to data, all we could do is talk *gasp*. Some of my best and realest friends are from this group, mostly because I didn’t half-ass pay attention to them while Snapchatting my entire night. Put down your phones. Look up. Appreciate the people sitting in your immediate surroundings.
2. You’ll realize that money really can’t buy happiness.
As related to above, not everything is about money. The happiest person I met was a little kid named Jeremy. He lived in a shanty on a beach with his family and every morning he got up and went swimming in the ocean (still in his pajamas). Then he’d sit in the sand and just smile and laugh. I don’t know if I’ve ever been that happy. The happiest people I had met in my time living there were the ones that had the absolute basics, but everything they needed was in front of them. Love, a sense of adventure, and a heart that thirsted for the wonder of each day.
3. You’ll come to accept that mistakes happen, and it’s okay.
Borderline O.C.D., that’s probably the best way to describe me. Everything has a proper place, things happen at a certain time, and there is just one way to do things. That’s how I thought and lived my life. However, after being tossed in a country where I didn’t know how to say anything, I learned that some of the biggest “mistakes” ended up being the best things in my life. The “grungy looking hostel” down the road ended up being the hostel that introduced me to some of the best people in the world. They inspired me to change my life and motivated me to chase after some of my biggest dreams.
4. You’ll realize which basics you’ve been taking for granted.
The next time you complain about how terrible the toilet paper at your work/school is… remember that some places don’t have toilet paper, or toilet seats, or toilets. We’re a society that’s quick to complain about subpar standards, but really, the fact that you’re reading this article on a laptop or phone is pretty amazing. Breathe. You have more than you think.
5. You’ll realize that home is a feeling, not a place.
There were many days I was desperately homesick. I longed for a morning coffee with my mom or a day spent running errands with my dad. I constantly tried to fill this gaping hole in my heart with more Facetiming, more texts, more anything from back home. However, it wasn’t until I sat a table with my new friends at the coolest hostel that I realized home is a feeling…not a place. I missed my family and friends dearly the whole time I was gone, but I also found that having people to connect with and a place where you feel safe is the best feeling in the world and this feeling is not something that can only be captured in one place and one place only.
So there you have it – living abroad in a developing country ruins you. It shows you that you can be happy without all those added first world luxuries. Happiness isn’t in someone or in an item. It’s the feeling that is evoked when you realize that there’s a lot more good in your day than there is bad. Find the good in every day and in every situation and I hope one day you let a country ruin your life too.