Living in a new culture, meeting different people, eating delicious food, having access to exciting travel spots; these are just some of the reasons why so many people feel the urge to travel and leave their "normal" life at home.
While it definitely requires dedication and a level of sacrifice, I believe that traveling is the single most important thing you can do to improve yourself and to fully enjoy life. There is a reason why if you ask someone to tell you what they did last Wednesday, they’ll sit there thinking it over for a while, but they could tell you in detail all the amazing experiences they had on their backpacking trip to Thailand 5 years ago. Traveling allows us to create experiences that change us in fundamental ways and provide us with lasting memories.
For some motivation for you to ditch your 9-to-5 — or at least take a long break from it — here are 5 reasons why you should live abroad at least once in your life.
to broaden your perspective
Living your life the way it's been laid out for you deprives you of the ability to make personal decisions about the direction you want your life to take. Speaking from personal experience about the culture in the U.S., it is almost expected that you attend university after high school, while also maintaining an impressive list of extracurriculars to put on your resume, and line up a full-time job to commit to immediately after graduation. However, there are so many different paths that you could take, that aren’t always apparent if you just do as you believe that you’re expected to. Traveling in general, but more specifically, living in a different culture, changes your point-of-view in so many ways. You learn to be more open towards foreign cultures and more empathic towards people struggling in different parts of the world. Living in the U.S., watching American news, talking to American people, will never give you such a broad range of perspectives as interacting daily with people whose lives have been so different from yours.
Living in a different country has allowed me to become more objective about politics, social structures and less judgmental in general. When you are struggling to make yourself understood in a different language, are always singled out as “The American”, or maybe just feel a little homesick that day, you start to better understand the world as a global citizen.
to push yourself out of your comfort zone
When you travel or move to a different country, you will naturally experience some new things that you didn’t expect. Every culture has its norms and if you do push yourself to experience a new place fully, you won’t love everything you view. Sometimes food isn’t like it is at home, people don’t talk to you the way you expect, and some things just don’t seem right. But that’s okay. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable; it actually will make you a better person. You can’t grow or improve if you do the same thing all the time. Trying different things will show you at worst, that you can survive some seriously weird stuff, and at best, that you can learn to love something new.
to make the transition from tourist to local
There is a certain charm to going on vacation as a tourist. Your primary goal is to relax, enjoy your time off, and push yourself as little as possible. Many people choose this path when traveling, not bothering to learn the local language or customs, but expecting their hosts to accommodate their needs. When you go beyond this step however, and travel with intention, you will start to see the enormous impact that living abroad can have on your life.
Traveling with intention means doing your research about your host country, attempting to learn some language basics, going out of your way to visit outside a city center and see non-tourist sites. Asking locals for recommendations, talking to people who have traveled or lived there before, or doing internet research before your trip are good places to start. Even better, this sort of mindset becomes necessary when you commit to staying in one place for a month or more.
I promise that when you do make that shift from, “Oh wow, this place is great, but I don’t know where I am or what to do, AH,” to feeling more comfortable in a new environment, and eventually giving out your own recommendations, it will be worth it.
to improve the way you handle challenges—even in the workplace
There are times that every traveler wants to quit. Maybe you missed an international flight, maybe you desperately need wifi to check into your Airbnb but no one around speaks English, or your second bus breaks down as you’re rushing to work (thanks ATAC). Facing new and different challenges is inherent in experiencing life in a different culture. While the physical aspects of traveling and figuring out a new country are certainly difficult, it can mentally be even more taxing. With a language barrier, or even in a different English speaking country, you can often feel disconnected from the world around you or like you don’t belong.
The moment when you push past these challenges is when you really start to grow. I am more confident in myself than ever before. The things that used to give me anxiety, I feel less stressed about because of my new found perspective. The new skills you develop and your ability to perform under stress translate perfectly into the demands of a full-time job. After spending time living in a different country, you will be able to market yourself to future employers with the new skills you developed.
to develop a go-with-the-flow mentality
Some frequent travelers swear by strict itineraries, fully researched trips, and a clear picture of what they want to accomplish when traveling to different countries. Aside from the obvious difficulties of maintaining this approach over a long period of time, one of the best parts of living abroad is that it forces you to move away from this way of thinking. Life in your own city becomes a lot less stressful when you don’t try to plan everything out or control the uncontrollables that life will throw at you. This is especially relevant in Italy, as the Italian culture does not allow for Type A personalities. People are at least 10 minutes late to every meet up, public transit is either late or not working, and should you need any paperwork taken care of in a timely manner, forget about it. People call life here la dolce vita for a reason, and it isn’t for the country’s punctuality ;)
When you learn to live in a more relaxed manner that the U.S. (and many other countries) are known for and to maintain the “flow” at all times, it allows you to fully enjoy the unforgettable experiences you are living.
While there are many other benefits to moving to a new country—learning new languages, meeting new and different people, the instagrams, etc.—these are a few of the most important impacts that I’ve observed in my time traveling, studying, and working abroad. So, what’s holding you back from living abroad?