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December 21, 2014

4 Things I’ve Learned from Living Abroad.

airplane sunset sky travel

For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed by wanderlust.

When I was 21 years old, I went on a trip to Thailand. Prior to my departure, I was taking courses part-time at my local college and working full-time at an office job that paid well, but I didn’t have much of a liking for. While in Thailand, I had an epiphany that has since shaped the course of my career.

I decided to go back to school full-time to pursue a degree that would provide me with the freedom and opportunity to live and work anywhere in the world. I longed to fully immerse myself in a different culture and bravely explore the unknown.

Although I didn’t venture out directly following convocation, eventually I did. They were only baby steps at first, with a move to the next province over before taking the leap to America.

You learn a lot about yourself when you’re away from the comforts of home; thrown into an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar faces. It can be daunting at times. I suppose it’s this fear of the unknown that causes such an aversion to change in most people.

That being said, it’s not as though change didn’t scare me at all—it did. But I made a conscious effort to embrace it. And in the end, this is what I learned…

1. You are not a statue.

Wait, what? While you may have been moulded, loved and admired in one particular place (like a statue), your feet are not cemented to the ground (unlike a statue).

In other words, if ever we don’t like our situations, we have the power to change it.

That is not to say it will be easy (most change is far from it). But, it is possible. I have been told many times that I am lucky when I go traveling or that I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to live and work in another country but I tend to disagree. Luck may have played a small role, but it was primarily hard work that got me there.

I decided that traveling was important to me and I worked hard to make it happen. If you don’t like where you are, go somewhere else. It is as simple—and as complicated—as that.

2. Culture shock is a real thing.

When I finally left my hometown I couldn’t wait to get out! It wasn’t a horrendous place, but I was ready for something new. Yet, after relocating, I found myself searching for things that reminded me of home. When we compare places, customs, products and people from back home to our new place of residence we’re simply trying to make sense of these new surroundings in our minds.

However, this constant need to compare is also a definitive characteristic of culture shock. To combat culture shock, I made the effort to make my new place feel a little more like home. I discovered that home is a feeling not a place. Home is a space you create.

It is not necessarily where we grew up or where our parents reside (although this certainly is where our heart travels during bouts of homesickness)—home is where we feel loved and safe and comfortable. It is what we look forward to at the end of each long work day. Home can also be a person who makes us feel all of those things.

3. You can find adventure locally.

One great thing about living in another country is that it feels like you are constantly traveling. Weekend road trips become mini adventures because just living in another country is adventure enough!

We become quite malleable as we are shaped by our new surroundings and experiences. But we don’t necessarily have to travel far to find the thrill of adventure.

In the small American town I lived in, I made an effort to search for local farmers’ markets, county fairs, festivals and concerts—ways to experience the local culture. If living abroad isn’t your thing, you can do this in your hometown too but wherever you are, adventure always.

4. Making new friends is like dating.

When we move to a new place (especially if we move solo) we’ll quickly find that we’re in dire need of some friends.

But how? Chat up work colleagues? Join a recreational sports team? Approach strangers at the bar? Whatever the chosen method, once we meet new friends it feels eerily similar to the dating scene.

We meet, we’re not sure if they like us, we get excited when they invite you to events, we hope they keep in touch, if we get in an argument you wonder if they’ll stop calling.

It seems silly but it’s a pretty accurate depiction of new friendships—they’re fragile.

That is not to say we cannot make new friends or create lasting bonds with these new friends. I have done both of these things and I intend to do so throughout the course of my life. But the ones we grew up with, the ones who really know us, who share our memories, who have been there through it all—those are the ones that cannot be replaced. And if we’re lucky, we never have to.

Despite these lessons learned, a period of time comes when even the most seasoned traveler can be plagued by homesickness, leaving a distinct void that can only be filled by going home. And so, after two years away, my overwhelming wanderlust subsided and I was ready to return.

The memories I made while living abroad will stay with me forever and I was fortunate enough to meet some pretty incredible people along the way. But it is oh so good to be on Canadian soil once more! The relationships that I made an effort to maintain in my absence have been whole-heartedly embraced as I attempt to rebuild my life in my hometown.

A city that once seemed to suffocate me with its limitations now holds an abundance of opportunity. Perhaps my time away was necessary to rekindle my love affair with Edmonton.

 

 

 

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Author: Lindsay Brun

Editor: Emma Ruffin

Photo: Kuster and Wildhaber Photography/Flickr

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