To date, I’ve traveled to Canada, Ecuador, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Panamá, Russia, and most of the U.S states. And now with the countdown at 7 days, I’m preparing to leave once again. I’m headed back to Bolivia, but not without the difficult realities looming overhead.
Truth is, most times I tell people what I’ve been doing and what my plans are, their response is often one of, “Oh that’s so nice! You’re so lucky; you’re going to have the time of your life.”
And while I’d admit that traveling abroad is something everyone should experience, it’s not for the reasons one might expect…
In fact, before you head out on your grand soul-searching adventure, let me share some travel wisdom. Here’s what you might not know about living abroad:
Whatever you think you know about living abroad probably came from a movie or TV channel. But, let me tell you what doesn’t make good television. Visa problems, lost passports, custom officers, stolen luggage, setting up bank accounts, insurance papers, public transportation, stomach bugs, new odors, confusion, loneliness, allergic reactions, or no privacy. But how about all of those fun nightlife scenes, you might ask?! More like, you’re stuck inside your house because you’re a young, single, white, blonde female in a foreign country.
So, before you go looking for those scenic vistas or adventurous memories, keep in mind that while those moments exist, they don’t come without a cost. Don’t get caught up in the glamor. Understand that the real adventures are found in meeting people. Sharing cultures. Becoming part of their community. And listening.
2. Learning another language isn’t easy.
I know you saw the commercial for Rosetta Stone.
Language comes with time and dedication. Then more time and more dedication.
It takes real work. It takes living away from your norm and sharing life with people who communicate completely foreign to you. And that alone is enough to make you go a little crazy.
You’ll get headaches. You will siesta more than you ever have in your life. You will offend on accident. You are required to have a sense of humor and laugh at yourself.
Yet, the moment you realize you just had a conversation that worked. It’s all worth it.
(oh, and a side note, “Fluenz” is way better than Rosetta Stone.)
3. It’s okay to despise your adopted country at times.
Although your friends and family will expect you to have grand stories of romanticized destinations, you’ll often have days that make you want to cry.
Your patience is almost always being attacked in a new culture. You’ll question “why” A LOT.
You know different ways of doing things, and at times, they seem like “better” ways. And it builds up frustration and disappointment.
You will see and hear things that offend you. Your idea of justice won’t exist. You will be stripped of whatever you think is right and wrong. Gray areas will suddenly be everywhere.
Whenever I come back the U.S I feel like I’m in limbo. I see things in my home culture that I now despise, too. The hardest days feel like you’ve lost a sense of belonging. When your adopted country begins to feel like home, you realize you’ll never be “one of them”. But, when you’re back home, you’re different. And you don’t quite belong there either.
4. You will change.
Struggling to learn another language, to assimilate to a different culture with a different set of rules and learning the difference between fiction and reality – those are the lessons that stay with you, that shape you, that change you.
Understand that living abroad is an incredible thing. You will never be the same afterwards. You will learn more in 4 months than you have in 4 years. But, if you want an easy, comfortable, glamorous and “lucky” life, don’t move.