Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve made such great strides until we get some distance from a particular situation and look back. Lessons take time to process and little personality shifts don’t happen overnight. Some of these are directly related to living abroad and some are just truths I’ve come to realize with time and it just so happens that I live abroad. As we get older and see more and do more, we can’t help but allow these experiences to change us. I like to think it’s all for the best.
Life lessons from living abroad
Forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone is a good thing — even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. Whether you do that on your home turf is up to you and you certainly don’t have to make a major life change like a move abroad to challenge yourself.
For me, moving abroad has shifted my perspective on all kinds of things and it’s made me a more empathetic and open-minded person.
Here are the life lessons I’ve learned from living abroad:
Everybody processes things differently.
There’s no one way to react to something. Happiness, grief, excitement and anger manifest differently in all of us and just because we act one way doesn’t mean others will agree or follow suit. For me personally, I used to laugh at my mom who would tear up and cry while watching sad movies. I couldn’t understand it. Yes, The Titanic was sad but as a kid or a teenager, would it bring me to tears? No. It’s not because I didn’t have a heart; it was because I don’t think I had enough life experience to be able to relate to the emotions on screen.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that I will get more upset over sad scenes in movies (especially if a pet dies!) and really feel for people going through a hard time. There’s no one right way to feel or act and that’s OK.
You will never appreciate the present as much as you should.
Life is short and nostalgia is something fierce! I was telling a friend the other day how good we had it as college kids. Very minimal responsibility and my life was on a path with very little uncertainty. I knew I had to wake up and go to school and if I made it to the gym or a concert too, great. But for those 4 years, my job was to get an education. Woes of everyday life were there, but when you have a routine with a clear purpose like you do as a college student, stress can be managed and nothing is the end of the world even if it feels like it at the time.
Life is precious and as an 18-year-old, I think it takes some distance and maturity to see that. It’s easy to tell yourself to appreciate the present, but what does that look like exactly? I almost feel like I appreciate it more when reminiscing about the past. In five years, will I look back and appreciate this moment more than I do now? I don’t know.
When there are two lines, sometimes it’s best to take the longer one.
Whether you’re waiting in line at the supermarket or deciding which toll booth to pass through, sometimes the shortest line isn’t always the best option — both figuratively and literally. Sometimes the shortest line moves the quickest but other times, the guy right in front of you in that short line ends up fumbling for his coins for five minutes and everyone in the other line passes you by. Although the shortest distance from Point A to B is a straight line, sometimes it’s worth it taking a few detours in life. You’ll learn the beauty of patience along the way, and perhaps a whole lot more.
If you never take a risk, you’ll never experience the thrill of the reward.
I’m not talking about crazy, dangerous risks here (although if that’s your cup of tea, that’s cool too). Each person’s comfort level is different. Taking a risk can be as simple as trying a new food, taking a new class at the gym or carving out a new route for your walk home. Or maybe a risk like moving overseas, making a major career change or starting a business is more your style.
Whatever it is, listen to your gut and that little inner voice that’s telling you to GO FOR IT. So what if you fail? At least you tried. More often than not, your efforts will pay off because you’ll feel proud, energized, excited and most of all, happy. Live a little because if you don’t try, what’s the point?
Mistakes I made when I moved to France >>
There will always be crappy people.
People can really suck. Everyone from people in a bad mood to friends you once considered dear that don’t have any time for you. It pays to be better than that. We’re all human and have good days and bad, so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt no matter who they are or where they’re from. Well, the first time anyway. If you’re repeatedly nasty, judgy, rude or unpleasant, I’m going to steer clear. I know we all aren’t perfect and that’s part of life (sometimes we are the crappy one), but make a conscious effort to better yourself, if not for your own good, for those around you. It may rub off on someone.
You’ll never feel like you’re a “real” adult.
When I was a kid, I used to think 18 was so old. As an 8th grader, I though the high school seniors were so mature and cool with their driver’s licenses and cool clothes. But once I was in college, I’d see high school kids and realize just how young they looked. After college, I’d see university students out and about and think they looked like babies. I’m sure some kids see me today and think “oh she’s an adult and has it all together,” when in reality I still don’t know what I want out of life or where I want to be with any degree of certainty.
Adult milestones like marriage or a great career don’t automatically turn a switch in your head and make you feel like a real adult who has everything figured out. Even if you have a job, a spouse and a stable life more or less, I don’t know what it would take to feel like a real adult. I’ve evolved a bit since being 18, but I’m still the same person.
What life lessons have you learned from living abroad?
Taste of France says
I have definitely seen how culture pervades life from individual to society. You can’t change one part of it without ramifications all over the place. At the same time, it’s enlightening to see how other people deal with issues in life, again from individual level to society level.
Another thing is that geography you learn in school and geography you learn from living abroad are completely different. The first is boring; the second is endlessly fascinating.
Same with history. When you see places where great events have taken place you get a different understanding of history than what you learn from books and classes.
LOVE this post. I consider my time living abroad to be a complete life overhaul. Beforehand, I was a very sheltered kid and scared to leave my comfort zone. I was a senior in a college, so I had little life experience. Also, I’m not too proud to admit that I was spoiled. Up until then, everything was so easy. My parents helped me. Living in France, as brief a time as it was, completely changed that. Even the simple task of bagging my own groceries made me reflect on my previous life differently. Also, before I lived abroad, I was a work-a-holic, and being a part of a culture that places emphasis on savoring and enjoying life really gave me a new perspective on how little I was enjoying my own life.
I could go on, and on, but you really hit the nail on the head here, Diane. Such great insight and food for thought!! 🙂
Molly @ Toffee Bits and Chocolate Chips says
oo I love the last one. I have to keep telling myself that!
Bruce Jewell says
Especially the last one — I can tell you it’s no different for me at 67, and I remember my 80-year-old grandmother Willie staring into the mirror and brushing her thick, silver hair with her fingertips. She would shake her head slowly and say “Willie, can this be you?” She’d probably echo what you said.