Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Living Abroad Can Make You A Better Person

Today’s post is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL-related article on my blog on the 10th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me, and I'll let you know how you can start participating! To read other blogs from this month's Carnival, click here!

Living abroad definitely wasn’t on my radar.  I was more than content living in America, teaching at a fabulous public school in Milwaukee, being surrounded by English speakers, eating real cheese and Mexican food, and driving my car.  But then a hefty round of education budget cuts caused me to lose my job.  I was devastated; I would not have left that job by choice -- like I said, it was a fabulous school.  

But the silver lining was that it gave me a big push to take the opportunity to do something completely new.  Within a few months of being told I was SOL about trying to keep my beloved job, I had packed my entire apartment into my stepmom’s basement, bought an incredibly expensive one-way plane ticket to a tiny island in the Far East, and said “see you later” to my friends and family.

It’s now been two years since I moved abroad.  I lived for over a year in Taiwan, and now here I am living in Vietnam.  Looking back at the time I’ve spent living in foreign lands, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.  I know I’ve changed and grown as a person, even if just in small ways.  How could you move across the globe and not change?

I would encourage anyone to consider taking the opportunity to live abroad.  It’s a great lifestyle, getting to travel the world, experience different cultures, eat exotic foods, and learn new languages.  But beyond all the fun, it can also make you a better person.

Friend Request
Even if you move abroad with a friend or partner, you’re going to have to make new friends.  Not having a group of buddies to call up and hang out with is an unsettling feeling, but a highly motivating one as well.  Making the effort to be friendly and striking up conversations with people you’ve never met are necessary for building a friend base.  

Luckily, most of the people you meet abroad are like-minded, open people who know exactly what you’re going through being in a new country.  And you’ll make life-long connections with people from across the globe.  No matter what, you’ll always share a very unique experience.  And just think -- if you can make all these new friends because you had to do it, you can make new friends any time you like, just because you want to!

Liquid Courage
When I starting telling people about my upcoming big move, above all others, the most common response I got was some variation of, “Wow! You’re so brave!”

There’s a reason that less than 40% of Americans are passport holders, and even fewer actually use them beyond Mexican beach resorts and Caribbean cruises: it’s a big, scary world out there.  Living squarely inside your comfort zone is just fine, but you won’t grow.  Facing challenges and jumping headlong towards new experiences are the best ways to see what you’re really made of.  And maybe you’ll discover something incredible about yourself.  Or perhaps you’ll recognize an area in your life you want to change, improve, or develop.

If you never felt like a brave person before living abroad, take the new label and wear it proudly like a badge of honor.  If you can step off a plane in a distant country knowing little to nothing about the culture, local language, job you’ll have, apartment where you’ll live, or even how you’ll hail a cab from the airport to the hotel -- all after enduring 24 hours of transoceanic travel -- if you can do this, you can do ANYTHING!

Bloom Where You’re Planted
Like I said before, I was crushed when I found out I was losing my job teaching in Milwaukee Public Schools.  But I discovered something about two months into my teaching gig in Taiwan: I love teaching.  Period.  

It was a big realization for me that my happiness depended far less on my location than I previously thought.  I found that all the things that made me a happy little clam in my life in the US were available on the other side of the world, just in foreign packaging.  My friends were new, but just as amazing and loyal.  My job title changed, but still provided me with purpose and fulfillment.  My family was different, but now I had a home away from home.

I think this has been my biggest area of growth in my time living abroad: accepting that my plans may not always come to fruition, and that’s okay.  I kind of hate all those inspirational quotes about “letting go” and “enjoying the journey” but I must admit, there’s some truth there.  It’s been a hard lesson for me, as I’m a bit of a control freak.  But it’s also somewhat freeing, not being able to control everything.  It takes away some of the pressure to have a plan at all times.  Plus, plans gone astray -- that’s the whole reason I’m living abroad anyway!


  1. You raised some excellent points. I really like your 'bloom where you're planted' section. It's all about growth :)

  2. Less than 40% of Americans have passports? I never would've guessed that! I think everyone should take a year off after university to explore, grow, and learn about other countries. It should be a prerequisite before moving into the work force. :)