Why Living Abroad Will Change Your Life Forever

Step away from the comfortable and get a new perspective on the world.

It's easy to get comfortable in what we know and are used to. We are creatures of habit, and often straying from that can cause fear, anxiety, and life changing moments. Yes, past the initial uncertainties are vast possibilities to view the World and our selves differently. Change is the only constant in our lives and it's time to embrace that and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Living in a foreign country is just the way to throw yourself into the unknown. Many people travel, bouncing around from country to country.  This gives them glimpses into alternative ways of life (which is better than nothing), but it doesn't tell the whole story of that country. When traveling, it's easy to stay in the tourist areas, where you still interact with plenty of people who speak your language and amenities from back home can be easily attained.

But what about in a small town where you are surrounded by people who don't speak your language, all the amenities you are use to don’t exist, and you must adapt to their way of life? This is where the real magic happens, unraveling out of three phases.

Phase 1: Shock and Excitement.

Stepping off the plane onto foreign soil, my eyes scan the surroundings; similar to most other airports I’ve walked through, but outside these glass-covered walls, I step into a new world: Thailand. Cars are on the left side of the road, the three-lane highway has turned into four lanes, and every block wafts a new smell into my nose. Flicking back and forth, my eyes can’t take in everything fast enough. Markets line the streets full of new, unidentified food. I learn the word for vegetarian and soon a whole new world of food is open to me - I can’t get enough of the new cuisine.  Stumbling my way, accepting my place as a confused “farang,” and realizing that I will never really know what is going on. Every sunrise brings a new experience. Every sunset closes another day full of shock and excitement.

Phase 2: Finding Your Place

My bike turns down back roads knowing exactly where it’s headed, the coffee shop completes my order with, “mai wan,” and the vegetarian restaurant immediately grabs a to-go container when they see me. My confidence has risen. The abundant laughter with my students echoes down the hallway. I’ve accepted that learning Thai isn’t in the cards for my brain. The language barrier that was holding me back now feels comfortable. I play charades daily and speak broken English to express myself. I feel back to my “old” self. Well, I will never return to who I was before stepping off that plane, but I feel myself again. Friends visit and I show them around my “stomping grounds,” making all these places feel more and more like home.

Phase 3: Do I Have to Leave?

The end is in sight and I don’t want to leave. I slow down. Less travel, more time appreciating the slow river town I’ve been calling home. My connection with my students feels grounded and is finally building into something meaningful. But that is soon to come to an end. The outline of the rolling green mountains across the river are so familiar, and their beauty will be missed (not forgotten). I don’t want to part ways with this new life I’ve made for myself...the simplicities I’ve grown accustomed to. Like never knowing what I’m eating from the vegetarian food place but loving every bite. I won’t be leaving it all behind though - a piece will stay with me. “Thai time” has settled down my punctuality and that is something I don’t want to lose.

The most important realization these three phases provided is that no way of living is perfect. Coming from America, I often feel many of us think that the United States is the best in all aspects of living (and many countries look up to us in that regard) but that just isn't true. Every culture contains both strengths and flaws that create an intricate, unique strategy for going about life. No one is doing it perfect. We are all humans trying to figure out this whole life thing.

The only way to really accept, understand, and gain appreciation for another culture is to experience it. Not just by stopping by for a brief moment, but by fully engaging in that way of life. Dropping everything you know, everything you are comfortable with, and everything you think is “the right way.” Sacrificing some of your comforts in order to gain a better perspective. Then through this fresh perspective, appreciating fully what you do have back home and adapting your way of life to incorporate the newfound habits you’ve attained from this culture outside your own.

So I challenge you to find at least six months out of your life to live somewhere new. 

Somewhere that doesn't speak your language.

Somewhere with different cuisine.

Somewhere with different cultural norms. 

Somewhere that will challenge your previous perspective on the world.

Somewhere that will change your life forever.

Published: July 13, 2018

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Breanne McNittExplorer

Chiang Saen

Smile. Laugh. Live a good story. Love unconditionally. And Adventure hard.