I’ll be honest – living abroad is not for everyone. Even I have had times when I’ve questioned what it is exactly that I’m looking for in foreign countries. The jury is still out on that one. But I also know that when I look back on my 15 years as an expat, I see so many advantages to living abroad.
I absolutely would do it all over again from the beginning (I just wish I could take all this wisdom with me this time around).
Even though I write about some pretty heavy topics in this blog, I do it for a reason – to normalize the fact that living abroad is not all about jetsetting every week with a side of fun and games. It’s real life, with warts and all.
I still see that there’s a major positivity bias that’s rampant in the international/travel lifestyle business. But we need to talk more openly about our struggles abroad and how we tackle them.
Otherwise, those of us who are struggling with their life abroad can too easily feel like they’re doing the whole “living abroad thing” wrong and give up too soon.
With the above in mind, just because I address some pretty heavy stuff in Bad Days Abroad, doesn’t mean that the world I see is all bleak and hopeless. I firmly believe that we need to go through some sh*t in order to truly be able to appreciate the good that is available to us in our lives.
So to balance things out on this blog, I want to share the advantages of living abroad, as I see them, based on my 15 years as an expat.
It was really easy to come up with a whole list of reasons, but here are three advantages that have stayed with me throughout the years.
LIVING ABROAD MAKES YOU SMARTER
I am very curious by nature (which I can only hope won’t turn me into a nosy neighbor once I’m an old lady!).
Living in foreign countries has been great for me because I’ve learned how the same thing can be done in completely different ways in different parts of the world, just because they are underpinned by different values and beliefs.
Political systems, doing business, relationships of all kinds, even service standards in restaurants or differences in clothing trends – it always gives me a real kick when I get to explore why is it that people do what they do or like what they like, especially when it’s something that’s so different from the idea of ‘normal’ that I grew up with.
Living abroad is a perfect scratching post for my perpetual itch for new knowledge.
But being confronted by difference and trying to understand the reasons behind it doesn’t mean that I’m such a tolerant and accepting person now. While I do think I have grown in my sense of empathy for people, the more I’ve learned the more there are things that just make me want to scream. Which leads me to my next (perhaps most cliché) point.
LIVING ABROAD CHANGES YOU
One of the most talked about effects of moving to another country is that it changes you.
I’ve written before how living abroad forces you to figure out who you are – what do you like, what do you not like, what can you tolerate and what can’t you live without.
Every country that I’ve lived in has changed me through good and bad experiences.
Switzerland taught me how I love long dinners and deep conversations over amazing food.
Australia taught me how I value education and that I have no place in my life for mindless drinking.
New Zealand made me realize that I love nature but I can only ever see myself living in a European city with a lot of history, not in the middle of nowhere.
Denmark taught me what it means to be alone and that I have it in me to single-handedly move mountains if I need to (but that it’s also okay to ask for help).
Portugal taught me that it is possible to live a life abroad without being treated like a foreigner all the time.
So, while it’s true that living abroad changes you, in my experience, being confronted with a different way of life simply makes you that much more aware of what you need for a life that you actually love (with warts and all).
It’s just that some countries will open your world to even more of the good stuff that suit your nature, while other countries never will. Living abroad will never be a one-size-fits-all experience.
LIVING ABROAD MAKES YOU STRONGER
I don’t mean to say that you’re suddenly going to become a regular at the local gym (although that has certainly happened to me because working out is just such a great stress reliever). What I mean is that living abroad is going to make you emotionally stronger.
I’ve written before about the lessons I’ve learned from living abroad alone throughout the majority of my expat life. But whether you’ve moved abroad on your own, with friends, a partner or even with family, your experience abroad is still going to be specific to you.
Whatever challenges you will personally have, at some point or another it’s going to feel like too much to handle.
Living abroad also means you won’t have the luxury of a support network to fall back on when times get tough (although this may have been the case for you also in your home country). So your only option is to pull through on your own. To build your own resilience reservoir.
Because when the training wheels are off, you f-ing learn how to balance that bicycle and ride it. It’s either that or you fall face down on the ground.
How does this fall under the ‘advantages of living abroad’, you ask?
It’s because, and forgive me for being cliché again, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. While the actual process through any ordeal may not be pretty, the fact that you made it out alive is something to be incredibly proud of.
YOU made things work.
Knowing that you can get through a hard time through your own efforts will serve you like a superman’s cape for the rest of your life. For me, that’s a pretty great advantage to living abroad.
What are the advantages to living abroad that you’ve experienced in your expat life?
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Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.