If you were to ask me 3 years ago if I would end up living abroad, I would have told you, “No.” Not that I didn’t want to, but years were passing without any action, and I was beginning to give up on that dream. It wasn’t until life threw me some unfortunate circumstances that I decided it was time to get up and fearlessly go in the direction of my dreams. Despite what people thought my life should look like at 28 years old, I packed up my bags and left for Thailand to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) – something I always dreamed of doing.
Social media followers thought that I was on one extended vacation living a glamorous, mystical life in a foreign land. At times it was mystical, but the truth was, it was harder than I thought. I got homesick, I got sick from the food, I felt heartsick at times, and I missed my family and friends dearly. But these were all growing pains from being out of my comfort zone and embracing change and understanding the feeling of being a foreigner.
I also had some truly memorable experiences. I saw some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, learned to live in a completely different culture, and fell in love with a people that were barely a thought in my mind before leaving. I saw places most people only dream of seeing.
Living abroad has opened my eyes to appreciate how people with a different upbringing operate their lives and how the local culture thrives differently, yet efficiently, despite what I am accustomed to at home. You learn that neither lifestyles are better, they are just different. When you are outside of your own culture for an extended period of time, you begin to evaluate your home culture and can compare the differences – seeing the good and the bad. For example, Thailand was a peaceful culture where very few people owned weapons. Violent events rarely grazed the newspapers like I was accustomed to at home. I felt safer being there than I did at home most of the time.
I learned to believe in myself. Navigating new places, learning to get around in a place where all the signs are in Thai, and communicating to people who don’t speak your language takes a lot of patience and practice. The day-to-day tasks become more difficult when you have to put in the extra effort to perform what should be simple, because of the communication barrier. I also picked up parts of speaking a foreign language and learned how to order food and give directions in Thai, which was probably comical for the locals.
My eyes were opened more than ever to love and embrace people from another culture, and many of my fears of the unknown were destroyed. They say travel destroys ignorance and it’s very true. You begin to see that people are just people no matter where you go. They all have a desire to be loved and are just trying to survive in their culture. They may see the world differently, through religious or cultural lenses, but at the end of the day they all desire to love and be loved like everyone else. A desire to fit in.
One of my favorite aspects of traveling is always the children. No matter where you go in the world, kids are always kids. Loving and playful, they remind you to stop and enjoy the simple things. But it’s always interesting to see how their culture affects their behavior in certain ways. In Thailand, the kids are taught to meditate from a young age – sometimes even Kindergarten. Learning to be able to slow down and concentrate at such a young age, I felt, played a positive role in their temperament. This felt different from Western culture.
I truly believe everyone should have the experience of living for an extended time away from the comfort of their own culture and learn what it’s like to be the foreigner. You will learn more about yourself than you thought, push your boundaries, challenge your ideas of comfort, learn to love a different culture, acquire a new taste for foods you never knew about, and come back to your home country with a different set of eyes. I truly hope you take the leap.