Travel Stories

A travel blog for a long-term expat, backpacker, traveler, ESL teacher, and photographer. 

Living Abroad. The Good and the Bad.

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This May marks my third year in a row (excluding my study abroad year) living out of a suitcase and living within an expat community. I don’t think I will live in the United States again. I don’t find my inner happiness when I am there and I don’t feel the desire to travel and explore within a culture that I am so familiar with. I feel that if I were to take a 9-5 job in the United States, I would start worrying more about buying a house or a fancy car than expanding my education through exploration and excitement. I am not the sort of person who can easily learn out of a book, I want to learn by doing, by becoming wiser through experiences. I find myself in my happiest state when I am surrounded by something so foreign and new to me that I have to dance out of my comfort zone into an overwhelmingly beautiful new situation to find a new comfort. I named my site “the globe is beautiful” for a reason, I named it because there are so many beautiful things to discover and appreciate in this world. I can’t think of one country that I do not want to visit someday. Of course, there are some countries that I prefer over others, but I desire to learn, dance, sing and take in all the cultures I can in my short life.

I have continuously chosen the life that I live, knowing the positives and the negatives well in advance.  Of course living abroad has its many perks but sometimes it isn’t as easy and fun as it seems to be either. Here is my list of the goods and the bad:

The Good:

Living abroad gives you the chance to be an outsider and gives you a much more open minded opinion when seeing foreigners in your home country.

I find that many (not all, I, obviously, cannot generalize an entire country) Americans hate on immigrants in our country (regardless of us being all immigrants at one time or another). I find that people say things like, “speak English in America,” “damn <insert minority group here> flooding our country and taking our jobs” etc. Guess what? Americans also go abroad and work and do the same exact thing. As for the foreigners in America, it isn’t easy to pull a language out of your ass and to start speaking it, especially when you’re middle aged and you may not have the funds or time or ability to acquire a language. I absolutely hate bigoted, xenophobic people. So, if you go abroad and try to become an outsider, you’ll look upon domestic life very differently and probably even want to extend a helping hand.

Living abroad makes you more interesting/special. (not even joking.) If you generally are a boring person, go live abroad. People will be interested in learning more about you regardless. I kid you not. If you are blonde and you go to the Middle East, Asia, Africa, anywhere where there doesn’t tend to be blonde people, you’ll automatically stand out and people will stare. Sometimes people will want to take photos (and I don’t mean this in a vain way, I mean just because you look different), people will want to converse more, speak English with you, and it’ll generally be easier for you. It will probably be a self-confidence booster too. Just sayin’. Taxi drivers tend to take the most interest. I danced with some elderly Korean women at a festival and all of a sudden, a bunch of Korean men started taking creeper photos of me. In fact, some of them have asked to pose with me and taken selfies with me. I am nothing special. I am definitely nothing special in America. But it is nice that people are interested in you just because you’re different.

Living abroad makes it easier to discover new holidays, new festivals, and new traditions. Living in Belgium, I learned about the electronic festival culture, red light districts, and the difference between Flemish and Dutch. Living in Poland, I learned about holidays such as Smyngus Dyngus (yes, that’s a real holiday name). Living in Turkey, I learned more about Islam and the call to prayer. Living in Korea, I learned about Buddhist and Lunar Calendar festivals. Anyways, my point is that you get flooded with so many different beautiful experiences by going and spending long periods of time within a culture. Traveling abroad has brought me to spend Christmas in Norway experiencing their seasonal traditions and Easter in Italy numerous times. They eat a ridiculous amount of food by the way.

Living abroad gives you the opportunity to meet people also living abroad and diversify yourself.

For the past six years, I have been either living abroad or immersed myself within an international community. Over these years, I have realized and observed that those who are foreign tend to flock together. In the US, the Europeans stuck together, the Asians stuck together etc. In Poland, the foreign students stuck together and didn't integrate with the Polish students. My point is that the common trend is those within a foreign culture don’t normally make many local friends (of course there are exceptions) and that way you get all sorts of foreign connections instead. I have friends from Bali to Brazil, from England to Australia. Through living abroad, I have really been persistent in meeting people from different places, asking many questions, and expanding my knowledge of different cultures. Also this provides you with a guide when you plan to visit them. And yes, I tend to visit each and everyone of them. Someday. When I am rich. 

The Bad:

Living abroad poses challenges when it comes to products and foods that you’re used to. Cooking, baking, beauty products, you name it, the products will not be the same. Sometimes you’ll find it depending on the country, sometimes you won’t. I love apricot scrub but for the life of me, I couldn't find it in the mainland European countries. In Korea, toothpaste with fluoride isn't easy to come by so it is easier to obtain cavities. You like to make pumpkin pie? Cool. Well, in the US, we normally buy cans of it to make our life easier. In Poland, you've got to puree your own pumpkin, canned pumpkin isn't a thing.  However, Korea is definitely the most American food product friendly country that I have lived in. Most things I need food-wise are available locally or off the internet.

Korea is not big on deodorant. Maybe Asians don't sweat. Maybe they don't smell. I smell. I need deodorant.

Living abroad in expat communities sucks for dating (and friendships). People within expat communities are always coming and going so consistence is not common. This way, if you meet someone, your life plans may easily be changed based on another person’s plans. That’s cool if you don’t have plans. I have all the plans. However, if you're not dating within an expat community, that is a different story in that my points are not valid.

In addition, the smaller expat communities are almost incestual as in if you see one person, you’ll probably know their exes and may already be friends with one or two of them. There are many overlaps and this can be irritating.

In my opinion, you've ultimately got three choices: Living abroad means you should A) live abroad with your SO that you met in advance, B) accept that you’re going to be alone forever with cats and your hand, or C) keep trying to date and deal with the unwanted emotions this sort of lifestyle brings on.

As for friendships, people keep coming and going, especially in an English teaching environment. I keep meeting people that I get attached to and then they leave. Life isn't consistent and you'll constantly be heartbroken when a good friend or lover leaves. Living in Poland in a student community, exchange students kept changing each semester and I was the only one left behind. It was tough and continuous and I really had to become strong to not internalize every goodbye.

Living abroad can sometimes stress you out in ways unimaginable. Language barriers, cultural customs, everything is somehow different (depending where you are). You want to get a phone? Well guess what, <insert country name> doesn’t allow foreign phones in unless you go to so and so office and pay so and so ridiculously priced tax. Well, where is the office? you may ask. Oh well, guess what? The map is in <insert that country’s language here> language. Okay, I’ll take a taxi. /get in taxi. “Hi, uh, please go to this address?”  Taxi driver man looks confused and blahblahblah’s in <insert that country’s language here> and eventually you get frustrated and get out. So, then you get in another taxi. The new taxi driver takes you to the wrong place and you look more lost than before. Guess what? He still wants money regardless of the accurate location. So..... you think... "Oh Jesus!! What do I do? Oh lawdy lawd! I feel so helpless!"

Anyways, this problem happens a lot when you first arrive. Not specifically with phones (unless you go to Turkey) but with many different aspects may it be registering a car, registering your foreign status, getting a visa. Oh, don’t even get me started on getting a visa for Turkey. That was the biggest bullshit in the world. We had to go get a visa from the Turkish embassy before arriving in Korea. Upon arrival, we had a few weeks to sign up for an appointment to get a foreigners card that allowed us to actually leave the country again after arrival. The office to go to our first appointment was so far away (2 hours from our house because Istanbul was so large). We went and gave our documents. Then they told us, “oh sorry, it is too late, we can’t accept cash at this time. You have to come back to pay.” So then we had to do another 4 hour round trip trek to pay. Then we had to go back a third time to actually pick up this freggin document. /end of rant. In addition, I have also had taxi drivers deny me multiple times because they were hungry. I don't know why this keeps happening to me.

Lastly, holidays are lonely. You find people to spend Easter or Christmas with but you don't feel whole unless you're with your real family. This is a big sacrifice to some very family-oriented people and can cause unwanted stress.

Living abroad can reveal how some cultural/local customs can piss you off and that you need to tolerate shit that pisses you off more than you would like. My experiences: Many Turkish men tended to stare at us like we were all easy hookers. I once bought a postcard in Istanbul from a man, I greeted him with a “Merhaba” and got a “Oh, are you married” /wink. OH JESUS, I REALLY JUST WANT A POSTCARD. Poland had the worst customer service known to man whether it be a bank, a waitress, or a post office. I almost always cried when I went to the bank because it would be so ridiculously horrible every time. Can someone just fucking smile sometime and tell me “have a good day!?” FUCK. Korea has this spitting thing. the bad driving thing, and the toilet paper thing. Korean men love more than anything else on this planet, to hock a big ass deep throat loogie and spit it on the street. I’ve sat at a bus stop before and listened to that horrible noise like 15 times in 10 minutes.  Another horrible one for Korea is the driving here is a nightmare. You can’t believe how horrible people are at driving here until you actually get behind a wheel. Holy. Shit. Lastly for Korea, you aren't supposed to flush toilet paper here. I keep thinking, "well, what if I take a big shit? what the hell do I do with the toilet paper?" Seriously? Oh well, I still put toilet paper down regardless of my landlord correcting me way too many times.

In Conclusion

Living abroad has its ups and its downs. The goods outweigh the inconveniences/bads. When the bads arise, you deal with it, stare at it, and tell yourself "c'est la vie." Eventually, I just stopped questioning things and I have built a strong, imaginary armor over a long period of time. Living abroad has changed me for the better and I can't recommend it enough for self development. Living out of two suitcases sounds more difficult than it is and it is liberating to have such limited material possessions.  Jump out of your comfort zone and face your fears.