A lot of people dream about venturing out on their own and living abroad some day, at least for a short period of time. Maybe you have plans to study at the University of Sorbonne in Paris, or volunteer for an organization in sub-Saharan Africa, or perhaps get transferred to your company’s office in Beijing for a couple of years.
Packing everything up and moving to another country is a tough choice to make, but living overseas can be one of the best and most exciting experiences of your life.
Now there are obvious reasons (at least obvious to people who reads blogs like this) why it’s pretty cool to go to a place where everything is new to you, including your neighborhood, your hang-out spots, your lifestyle, your food, and the people you meet. That exploration of the unknown and the excitement that comes with it is why living abroad attracts people.
But I’m going to talk about some slightly more far-reaching effects of living abroad, of how experiencing two different cultures can change you for the better and benefit you as a person. Here are the five reasons I think everyone should try to live abroad for at least one year of their lives:
1. You become more adaptable
Getting adjusted to life in a different country means learning to navigate new social customs, entirely different norms than those you’re used to, possible language barriers, and a host of other peculiarities specific to your new country that were completely foreign to you up until now.
Although you will probably go through some form of culture shock, enduring this difficult initial period and adjusting to daily life in your location will greatly improve your ability to adapt in general. Going through such a process will better prepare you for handling new and challenging situations in your life and work, and coming out sane on the other side.
2. It greatly increases your ability to perceive and understand different points of view.
When we’ve only lived in one place, with more or less the same people around us, we tend to think of our group’s views and tendencies as the “right” way to be, in terms of lifestyle choices, views on family, work, love, etc. Of course we may read about other ways of life, or marvel at the strange habits of other nationalities, but anything that fundamentally contradicts our upbringing is just considered weird.
However, moving to a country where everyone around you thinks or behaves differently than what you’re used to, and where perhaps some of your behaviors are considered ‘strange’, can really make you more understanding of other ways of thinking, even if you don’t adopt them yourself.
This will help make you more open-minded in general, and can also help you in your career, depending on what type of work you do. If you work in any type of management, PR, or organizational capacity, just to name a few, being able to more fully understand the spectrum of reactions or viewpoints people have can go a long way towards making your job easier.
3. It tests your character, and will bring out a side of your personality you may not have realized before.
After you get over the initial awe at your adopted country, on to the nostalgia for your home, which will then blossom into annoyance followed by boiling rage at everything in your new surroundings that’s seemingly been designed only for the express purpose of frustrating you, eventually you will simply become a part of this new place and accept it. That’s the standard cycle of culture shock.
At that end point, I can guarantee your confidence in your abilities, strength, and independence, will have soared through the roof. Not to mention that being around a new group of people with no preconceived idea of how you are, can bring out sides of you that you had hidden or forgotten about back home. So have fun trying things out, and finding out what kind of changes you would like to make in your life and preferences!
4. It will probably make you throw the word “normal” out of your vocabulary.
Living abroad will really make you appreciate how many things are only “normal” in the context of your culture, and nowhere else. You’ll realize which behaviors and ideas are more or less the same across all cultures, and which ones are only widely held in your native country. This will do wonders for expanding the way you think about ‘social norms’ and how willing you are to break them to see what feels right for you, instead of trying to fit in to what you’re expected to do.
5. You can decide which lifestyle suits you best.
Here’s where you get rid of the ‘what ifs’. What if you hate your current job and town, and have always longed for the simplicity of a beach-bum life in Bali? What if you think you’d prefer the ‘work to live’ attitude of much of Europe over the ‘live to work’ attitude of the US? What if your dream has been to work hard and make it big in the fast-paced culture of New York?
What if after a few months of any of these dreams coming true, you realize it’s not at all what you expected and you want to go home?
This is where taking some time to not just live abroad, but live your personal dream abroad, can help you decide if your dream life is the one you actually want. For a lot of people, perhaps it is. Maybe you pick up and move and realize your new life is what you’ve always wanted, and decide to stay there. Great! Or maybe you realize the daily routine of your adopted country doesn’t agree with you, and you head on home with a new appreciation for your old lifestyle.
Either way, you will have experienced something incredible, and changed your life for the better. And you will have taken a brave step that most people out there never will. So you can pat yourself on the back for that.
Have you ever moved to a different country with no idea what to expect? What was your experience like? Share in the comments!