In February of 2014, as I was about to graduate my final year of university, I attended an International Job Fair at my school. I hadn’t ever thought of moving abroad before. As I browsed through each country-themed booth, I realized the booth about teaching in England scared me a lot less than it should have. I graduated a few months later with my teaching degree, and at the end of the year was on a plane to London with my fiancé. The extent of our plan was that we had jobs – not a lot to go on, but we also had each other.
If you’re a homebody like me, you’re reading the title of this blog and rolling your eyes. I know what you’re thinking. Moving so far away doesn’t sound like a good idea. It involves too much planning. I’m too old to think of going somewhere else. I wouldn’t ever want to stay there forever. I get it, and I had the same thoughts. My experience abroad contains some of the most difficult times of my life. However, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And even knowing how tough it was, I would still do it all over again.
So, why should you move abroad? It’s a big move. It’s definitely not an easy decision. But, it will change your life.
You’ll learn to adapt easily to just about any situation.
In life, resilience is key. It’s hard to be resilient with few life experiences. It’s not that you’re throwing yourself into a tough situation on purpose, but that you’re preparing yourself for an unsheltered life. Moving and living in another country really helped to open my eyes to all of the ways I needed to adapt.
Moving abroad is a dose of reality. My fiancé and I booked an Airbnb that we thought was close enough to where we wanted to live. It ended up being right smack in the middle of nowhere.
It was late December. We arrived at our Airbnb with a lot of difficulty because it was so far removed from the city. I was freezing my buns off with no notion of where I was, and just about one week away from starting my new job. We were both sad and traumatized with leaving our parents at the airport. I’m also not ashamed to say that we felt the weight of this relatively unhappy situation. So, we had a heart to heart and we decided to cut our losses. Instead of sitting around, we left the Airbnb early, lost a couple hundred pounds, and headed to the city where we intended to live.
We ended up living out of a hotel room in Chelmsford, Essex for about two weeks until we finally found a flat. It was tough! But, both of us proved to adapt easily. What else could we do but make the best of it?
You’ll learn to become comfortable with uncomfortable situations.
In terms of places that are accepting to immigrants, England is probably high up on the list. But that doesn’t mean everybody was happy to see me. We experienced many uncomfortable situations with people questioning why we were there, both professionally and personally.
When you’re living in a place, actually living and not moving through it, you need to do what everybody else does. You have to pay your bills. Pay your taxes. Sign up for your bank accounts. Save your money. Buy your furniture. It’s difficult. I can’t tell you how many uncomfortable conversations I had with various agencies about what I deserved as a resident and not a citizen. I remember vividly calling up the British Tax Agency to ask a question and having the irate agent on the line tell me that I didn’t deserve any rights because I was an immigrant.
That might sound scary to most – I certainly would have been put off by an experience if I heard of a story like that. But really, it wasn’t so bad. Because for every person that was negative, there were ten who were positive and helpful. I’m not afraid to stand up for myself now. I’m not afraid to confront people who have questionable opinions. And I’m certainly comfortable with situations that are uncomfortable!
Living abroad gives you cultural perspective that you can’t learn staying at home.
We are all shaped by where we were raised, but that doesn’t mean that is the only thing that shapes us. Everywhere you visit or live will have little norms and traditions that you’ll take with you forever. Whether they are small or huge, these things will shape how you treat people, how you look at global situations, and how you build a life in the future.
I’m not going to say that I am the most traveled person in the world, but my experience in England really taught me a lot about how to respect where I was visiting and how to enjoy traditions that are new to me. Smaller things like enjoying a traditional breakfast, having a tea with a meal or during the day at work, learning to walk respectfully on the right side – all of which I picked up while I was away and I still do now. Or, larger things like learning to travel on weekends, earning money to spend on myself rather than obsess with saving.
There is so much you can learn from visiting or living in other places – it’s your effort to appreciate how people live in other parts of the world.
Living abroad changed my life. Not because I had to move, but because I had to survive. I did it on my own. Made my own living. Paid my own bills. Made new friends. Traveled to new places. I did it all through the struggling and the challenges, through the difficult people and situations. Not only did I do it, but I learned to love it.
Take it from me, a professional homebody and comfort-zone-aholic. Living abroad is the best thing you can do. Not saying this is the big change you have to make in the New Year…but maybe just think about it.