My Journey to Expat Life: It Began With Studying Abroad
If I said I’d always wanted to live abroad, I’d be lying. Of course, the idea of travel and going on a journey to expat life somewhere exotic and foreign always seems incredibly romantic, but let’s face it, the thought of uprooting your entire life to live elsewhere is also pretty terrifying. Make new friends, become accustomed to a new culture, and learn your way around a new place.
So when I studied abroad in the U.K. during my junior year of university, I didn’t think of it as any kind of decision to live abroad permanently. It was just a way to travel throughout Europe and gain a worldly perspective before settling down in Texas. What I didn’t expect was to love living abroad so much after that.
My Journey to Expat Life: Gaining Perspective
I spent two years studying in the quaint and idyllic area of Lancaster, England. My first year, as mentioned before, was during my undergraduate studies.
It was completely enchanting and everything you want a year abroad in college to be. I have dozens of incredible memories of sleeping in train stations, partying in dingy hostels, and making new friends all over Europe. I walked around Trafalgar Square at 6 a.m. after pulling an all-nighter to club hop in London.
I dove off boats into the Mediterranean, just off the tall cliffs of Capri. I explored the colorful Easter markets of Vienna and Prague. It was incredible, and it almost doesn’t feel like it was even real at this point.
That’s not to say living abroad would be always like that. My second year was much different, full of a lot more studying (I completed my Masters in the U.K., too) and a lot more library than days spent on the beach. It was wonderful in its own way, but definitely less of an Eat, Pray, Love experience.
I know that choosing to gain an education somewhere differs greatly from choosing to live your adult life somewhere. However, my two years as a student in England did show me a little of what being abroad for long periods of time could be like. I wasn’t working, paying my rent, or figuring out all of that adult stuff on my own, but I gained confidence in meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, and figuring out how to navigate a new place. I found out that I could survive and even thrive abroad. I’d already learned so much in my two years in Europe and I had managed to make friends from all corners of the globe. I didn’t want that to end.
So, my actual decision to live abroad came after England, when I took a gigantic leap and moved to Thailand for work.
My Journey to Expat Life: Why I Decided to Continue My Time Abroad
Like I said, I had a newfound confidence from my time in England. I discovered that it isn’t that hard to make friends abroad if you put yourself out there and make the effort. After all, a lot of people want the same thing you do. They want friends and connections. So, bearing that in mind, I considered some other main factors while making my decision. And ultimately, these are the things that helped me take that leap of faith and begin seriously looking at visas, flights, and jobs abroad.
My Journey to Expat Life: Traveling Is Easier While Living Abroad
One key factor in my decision to live abroad was traveling. I wanted to see more of the world, and I knew it would different from doing the same in America. I’d loved how living in England had allowed me to travel to different places so easily. I’d seen over 20 countries and had done it much more cheaply than I would have from Texas. I could visit foreign cities on the weekends and planned spontaneous trips that didn’t require long flights. A national holiday meant a night in Paris, and Christmas break meant skiing in Italy (without breaking the bank).
Being in England made me realize that travel was a priority for me. Rather than waiting until I was older and “more secure”, I wanted to spend my time as a young adult seeing these places and experiencing new things. I also wanted to do it often, and again, America isn’t an ideal place for that. So that was a major factor in my decision, and travel has stayed very important to me to this day.
My Journey to Expat Life: You Can Still See Your Friends and Family
One thing I hear a lot as an expat is, “but don’t you miss your friends and family?” Every time someone asks me this, I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes.
I’m not heartless, and of course, I miss my family. But living abroad hasn’t stopped me from seeing them, and it’s even enriched my relationships with family and friends in many ways.
Actually, before going to England I was worried about the family thing. The farthest I’d lived from my mom, dad, and sister was three hours. How was a nine-hour flight going to work? At first, it was weird, I will admit. But you quickly get used to Skyping, Zooming, and Facebook calls. I still talk to my mom, dad, and sister a lot, and I still visit them at least once a year.
The time home is always great, but I never go home wishing I was always there or closer to it. My sister lives in New York, and she doesn’t even go home more often than I do.
You get used to putting in the effort to keep in touch with your friends and family, just like you would if you lived in the same country but in different cities. Nothing changes when you live outside of the country.
Another plus is that your family and friends will visit you. I’ve hosted many friends and family while living abroad, and I’ve been on amazing trips with them to places like Japan and Australia. It’s wonderful that they use me as an excuse to travel, and our time together is just that much more special when we’re seeing new countries together.
My Journey to Expat Life: You Get To Experience Places on a Deeper Level
Another big factor that helped me decide to live abroad is that I wanted to get more from places than a week or two would allow.
When I lived in England, I really got to know England. I made lifelong friends there and explored villages, cities, and areas I never would have if I’d have gone for a few days or a week. Whenever I make a quick trip to a place now, I try to imagine what living there would be like, and I always get a little sad about the things I’m missing out on since I’m merely passing through.
Living abroad shows you so much more than traveling to a place and lets you get so much more out of it. You make deeper connections and you hear stories and learn about the history that isn’t part of any tour you could take. Living abroad allows you to experience the world for real, rather than just see it. And while it might seem like an intimidating decision, I’ve never come to regret it.
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by: Elise Brunsvold