It was in the summer of 2002 that we first decided to move abroad. The kernel of an idea was already there but, during that summer, we began to turn an idea into reality.
One year later and our first stop was Vancouver, Canada, where I turned my back on the corporate world and returned to student life. It was tough to begin with but things got easier as time went on. And we moved on.
To Ottawa and a job with the government, a new set of friends, our first Canadian house and a more settled way of life. But we were young and so we grew restless.
With the quest for travel and adventure still burning brightly in our hearts, we quit Canada in 2006 in search of long hot summers and a laidback lifestyle near the beautiful harbour city of Sydney, Australia.
In almost 12 years, I’ve lived in several countries, visited countless more, embraced foreign cultures and traditions, faced uncertainty and accepted frequent unease, met interesting people and collected friendships to cherish.
In my own way, I’ve tried to live life to the fullest.
Because living abroad is one of the most satisfying and challenging things I have ever done. It has altered the very core of who I thought I was and who I am now. Living abroad has fundamentally changed me.
I believe there are four ways living abroad changed me. Four ways it will also change you.
1. You’re not the same person you were.
Living abroad is one of the most profound undertakings a person can do.
You don’t change job or move house, you do that and more. The scenery changes outside your window along with everything and everyone you once knew. The impact on you personally is huge.
You might not realise it immediately but over time, one day, you’ll see it for what it is. You’ve grown, evolved, moved on, faced setbacks and dealt with them on your own, overcome obstacles, beaten back the naysayers and you have the scars to prove it.
Some scars are good, some are bad, but nothing can ever be the same.
Things that were once important no longer matter. Things that didn’t seem important before now matter more. The value of friendship is paramount. Familiarity is a forgotten concept and you take nothing for granted.
The act of moving abroad makes you quickly realise that “things” don’t equal happiness. In fact, you start to redefine your original ideas of success.
On this international journey, you learned more than just differences – people, places, language, culture. You learned about you.
You faced challenges, got to know parts of you that you never knew existed and you’re amazed at what you’ve become. You’re amazed at the world.
You are different now. You changed.
2. You can never go back home.
You could if you really wanted to but it won’t ever be the same.
While you’ve been having adventures at breakneck speed and the movement of time in your world slowed in order to incorporate all of these experiences, everything at home carried on as before. People went to work, they came home, they holidayed, they had birthdays, they got married, they changed job and sometimes they moved house.
And while everything appears to have stayed the same, the truth is that life moved on without you.
This is a huge price to pay with moving abroad. You can have the adventures and the experiences but you can’t have “them”. You’re missing everything from the life you had before and all you can do is watch from the sidelines as people carry on.
At some point, you realise you couldn’t go back even if you wanted to. Some have tried and succeeded, others have failed. The problem is that your former life moved on, you moved on, and all the time you both moved apart.
Over time, phone calls drop off, emails are less frequent, contact lessens. You’ll never lose your friends and your family will always be family. But you’ll matter less to them and they’ll figure less in your new world.
It’s a harsh reality so face it. Or go back while you still can.
3. Your world became a whole lot bigger.
The moment you set foot abroad, the world grew in size.
New sights, smells and sounds opened up before you. The boundaries of your former life pushed out. The addiction to exploration became a permanent fixture.
And now there’s no turning back.
You always knew the world was this big but only when you stepped upon its far-flung corners did you truly realise just how big it is. How unfathomably amazing it is.
Knowing this, marvelling at its size and scope, how could you ever give this up? The answer is that you won’t. You can’t.
You’ll never stop searching for more.
Living abroad encourages independence, responsibility, respect and an opportunity to appreciate everyone and everything around you. These lessons will stay with you and shape the person you become.
Embrace the scale of what you’re doing. Rejoice in it. Because it’s all good.
4. Suddenly anything is possible.
The hardest part was leaving. Now that you’ve left, anything is possible.
Remember that you’ve changed and the old “you” is a distant memory. Think about what you can now do and what you’ve achieved.
You can travel further, speak another language, cook diverse foods, embrace different cultures, understand local traditions and festivities, open your mind to opportunity more frequently, approach relative strangers with confidence, kiss former comforts goodbye.
You proved that you can live abroad – and you survived. You went for it and followed your dreams. Sure, you opened Pandora’s Box and you’ll not be able to close it but you’re a happier, more content, less restless version of the former “you”.
And finally you’re free. You earned true freedom. Freedom to explore. Freedom to choose whatever you want. Freedom to be yourself.
You ditched the creature comforts and made a life for yourself thousands of miles from home.
You did it.
So pat yourself on the back, allow yourself a smile of satisfaction and get back to doing what you do best.
Because it’s working.
How has living abroad changed you?