This is probably the most common and repeated question I am asked. Should I study abroad? I was thinking about teaching overseas, what’s it like? What brought you to Thailand…Australia.. New Zealand?When I sense this reoccurring theme I think… blog post. That’s what happens when you’ve been blogging for this long. It’s easier to just get out all the advice in one fell swoop.
So… you’re thinking about teaching abroad? Dreaming of leaving your boring job behind to travel the world? Want to meet a sexy foreign man and never return? Be careful.. It can really happen! Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.
So let’s go through some pros and the cons and what I believe you need to be ready for no matter where you go or why.
Your life becomes a “holiday”— When you move abroad everything feels shiny, new and exciting. You always feel like you are traveling because, well, you are. You feel excited to do ordinary and mundane things and every single day someone comments on your accent. You are an outsider, which to me makes life fresh and unusual. And I love that.
You see so much-– I always say the best way to see a country is to live there. 2 weeks in a country. Forget it. You don’t actually get a real feel for the culture, the people, the struggles, the local spots and the hidden gems. Should you still go if that’s all the time you have? Of course. But the best way to see a country/ area of the world is to just move there already. Stop thinking so much.
You never have to say “what if”— I have had so many older people tell me that they wished they did what I did when they were young. I promised myself I would never be someone who looked back and regretted getting settled down too fast– and I am definitely keeping that promise. I would rather give it a shot and hate it, then never try and just dream about it for the rest of my life.
You gain a newfound respect for your home– You start to love and appreciate home more than ever. You understand what a gift it is to have familiar faces and places. You savor every second with loved ones. You realize how privileged you were to grow up where you did. (in my case, anyway) and you are proud to represent your country-no matter where you roam.
You find out what you actually like– Traveling and living abroad teaches you to actually figure out what hobbies and interests light you up. You can’t travel and see the world while having 17 random hobbies you only do because of your group of friends. You probably can’t get your nails done every two weeks and buy all the latest trendy outfits, but if you’re like me you’ll realize that shit didn’t really make you happy anyway.
You don’t define yourself the same way– When you live in your hometown, home state or even your home country: you are constantly defined by constructs outside of yourself. Your family, your church or religion, your friends, your college, your favorite sports team, your gym or your state. Once you cross the borders, you have to define you. Everything about your past is just a story and a memory. People meet you at face value–who are you today? You can be whoever you want to be. Sure, you never lose those parts of yourself but you get to decide how closely you let them define you.
You realize it’s not the only way– This was one of the biggest things for me. The perspective. The cultural differences. It’s absolutely mind blowing at first. I remember when I first moved to Thailand I felt so sorry for the young children playing in the streets with no shoes. I could tell that they lived in the small area at the back of their parents shop and I felt like I wanted to adopt them and “save them.” I quickly realized they had every single thing they needed and they were as happy as clams. I stopped feeling sorry for them and started feeling sorry for the 4 year old kids, glued to their iPad in the back seat of the Range Rover with 4 nannies and a serious lack of attention and interaction with their parents.
You grow apart from everything– You change. You are the one who left. Everyone’s life continues on without you, (well duh), and for the most part life naturally separates you. Of course, the closest people in your life make an effort and when you see them, Facetime them or receive a card from them–it’s as if nothing has changed. But you grow A LOT and most of the time- even the people you love the most can’t comprehend it.
You have to sacrifice– You miss a lot. Weddings. Bachelorettes. Birthdays. Engagements. Homecoming. Reunions. Family time. You want to be there for everything but you can’t. You have to sacrifice some special moments and it is painful as hell. There is no sugar coating it. It sucks. You get lonely and cry. You live in shitty studio apartments smaller than your college dorm room because that’s all you can afford and find. You sacrifice luxuries of having a home base and a stable lifestyle.
You have the adjustment phase– You probably won’t just move abroad and love it right away. Once the “vacation” feeling wears off and you’re like, “Oh shit, I live here.” You are scared, lonely, frustrated, and confused. Should you just go home? Is this really better than your country? Is that mother f’er really speaking English? Will you ever find friends? Are you really working a restaurant with a Master’s degree? There will be things you don’t want to do in that adjustment phase and multiple times you want to run home crying- but you gotta tough it out to reach the good stuff.
Visiting home is bittersweet– It’s incredible to go home or move back home after being abroad but you really figure out just how much you’ve changed once you touch down on familiar soil. Things you used to love seem boring. Not because you’re too cool or so worldly- seriously, it’s just not that impressive anymore. You love seeing everyone but you also feel like an outsider. Everyone thinks that since you live abroad your life must be as perfect as your Instagram feed. You can’t possibly have struggles of your own while you’re out seeing the world, right? You want to stay but you also are excited to leave.
You still go through the hard stuff– Usually when you are sick, have a breakup, are having emotional problems, you name it– your family and friends are right there with you. When you’re abroad, you’re left to fend for yourself. Being sick and 10,000 miles away from your mommy is so tough, no matter how old you are. But, if you’re lucky, you find traveling mates who become a lot like family. I have been so blessed to have found incredible people in every country I call home.
You have to put in a lot of effort– It’s a ton of effort to make new friends, explore a new city, find all the cool places, find a new apartment, open bank accounts, register for tax numbers, sign leases, and learn the time differences. Everything about moving to a new place takes effort and sometimes that effort scares people away. It’s easier to just stay at home and be comfortable, right?
No matter where you go, you have to be ready to learn. You have to be ready to put in a hell of a lot of effort. You have to be ready and open to change. You can’t cling so tightly to your old life that you miss everything right in front of your face in that new and exciting opportunity. It’s very ironic that I am writing this now, in my tiny studio apartment in New Zealand, during one of the hardest adjustment phases I have ever experienced in all of the three countries I have moved to. I am definitely feeling more of the cons lately and yet, if you ask me if you should move/teach/study/travel abroad?
My answer- without hesitation- would be FUCK YES.
Every single step of my journey has shaped me into the woman I am today and even though some of the lessons along the way have sucked, I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world. It’s surely not as pretty as my Instagram feed. But it’s worth it. Through all of the sacrifice, struggles, ghetto apartments, temporary jobs, and time away from my family– I still encourage anyone and everyone who has that feeling tugging at their heart to go and see the world. Simply stop asking people if you should go do it: pick a country, do some research, save the money, handle the logistics/visas, pack your shit and GO. Stop asking people what you should do and just go do something.