Five Things Living Abroad has Taught Me

When I visit home in the US, it can be difficult to explain some of the lessons I’m experiencing abroad, which slowly but surely are changing me. Today I’m breaking it down and limiting myself to sharing five things which living abroad has taught me.

Life and joy is found in the mundane. No matter how adventurous you are.

Living abroad has taught me to appreciate the small things. This week in Aldi, (a grocery store which often rotates its merchandise so you never know what you might run across), I found saltine crackers. I very nearly doubled the salt with my tears of joy. Okay, perhaps I slightly over exaggerate, but never in a million years had I imagined I would feel any emotion finding just normal saltine crackers in the grocery store. I’m learning to appreciate the small things, because surprisingly those are what I miss the most when they are beyond my reach.

I am still searching for graham crackers.

On the flip side, sure, missing certain things from home make me appreciate them more when I do have access to them, but paying attention to the new details here in my new home helps me to deal with all the change.

For example, I love that I can buy flowers really inexpensively here. I often buy a bundle of daisies or peonies to have on our table. Little things like that, and finding little ways to make life beautiful has helped extremely through the adjusting period and the homesickness which comes and goes, comes and goes.

A bit like when you’re in the car going around curves and your stomach starts to feel queasy. Several times I’ve heard someone say to focus on something out the window that’s standing still, like a tree or a cloud. I’m not sure why this helps, but it does help to focus on one thing. Weird illustration, but the point is, focusing on the big picture rushing by can be extremely overwhelming, but concentrating on the little things that fill one day at a time, can cure a lot of anxiety.

Sometimes being empathetic means understanding that you don’t understand.

I think one of the main ways that life abroad has truly opened my eyes and given me broader perspective, is in this area of empathy. First of all because I’m a witness to multiple ways of living and thinking. But also because I am that person that very few people can relate to. I’ve realized (am realizing every day a little bit more) that our problems and struggles are all different shapes and sizes, but that doesn’t minimize their reality or magnitude and relevance to a person’s journey.

Life is an adventure. Life abroad is just another type.

I’m not trying to downplay how awesome it is to live in another country. But it is just as hard to find the adventure in the every day, as when I was in the States. Secretly, I wish that setting up bank accounts, finding work, landing a visa were all things we would never ever label as an “adventure” so as not to mar the positive vibes I have when I hear that word. I moved abroad when I was 20. Learning to adult is hard enough. Learning to adult in another country can be all kinds of crazy which can easily end in frustration and tears. But sure, if you want, you can call it an adventure. But then so is your life at home in your home country.

It’s possible to live without a car.

There is nothing so philosophical about this. It’s simply that, I’ve learned it’s possible. Though that’s not to say I recommend it. Moving to Europe almost eight years ago, I was like a country mouse in the city. I’d never ridden the underground, a tram, a train. It was exciting at first. But in most places in the USA, a driver’s license equals freedom for a young person. I had my driver’s license as soon as I was old enough, was certified and driving ambulances by age 18. I’m well aware that lots of people around the world survive just fine without cars, but for me, the fact that I have not sat behind the wheel for a year and a half, is just downright strange, surreal, and would be unimaginable if it wasn’t reality. The driver’s license is used as a form of ID in the US, and driving itself was actually part of my identity somehow. Emphasis on the ‘was’…

But the experiment has been successful and at least I now know it is possible to live without a car.

People can be completely the same all over the world AND completely different at the same time.

This is hard to explain. It’s a paradox the traveler understands well. The more I travel and the longer I live in a foreign country which has mystified me from the first time I set foot across its border, the more I see that deep down, we humans are all the same. We long for meaning and purpose and love in our lives, we just all seem to go about it a little (or a lot) differently.

Share Yours

Maybe I tend towards the philosophical and look for deep meaning in every little aspect of life. Not everyone sees the world that way but I know everyone’s learned both big and little life lessons from adulting, travel, or living abroad. I’d love to hear and learn from you. If you’re so inclined, leave a comment sharing with us something you’ve learned.

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