You can stare at maps and scroll through Instagram pics all you want, but the truth is, there’s no better way to imagine living abroad than to actually go there.
It’s not always as simple as packing your bags and moving far, far away. Instead, you have to consider the pros and cons and figure out how you’ll make the move legally — you can’t just hop into another country and take up residence without visas or other paperwork.
Living Abroad: Why You Should Do It
First, let’s talk about WHY life abroad is so appealing and why you should give into your curiosity to try it right now. Then, we’ll look at how it’s done.
1. You’ll Learn a Lot
You’ve probably lived on your own already, whether you’ve gone off to college, moved out of your parents’ place, or both. You already know it’s a hard, stressful, yet a rewarding challenge.
Now, imagine all the things you learned in setting out on your own the first time and multiply those by at least 1,000: that’s the amount of growing and learning you’ll do once you move and settle in another country on your own.
You’ll have to figure out your visas, find a place to live, make friends, open a bank account, etc. Every step will be sure to teach you something new.
2. You’ll Have a Greater World View
The world cannot be experienced through someone else’s stories or photos. Instead, you have to go out and experience it yourself.
Living abroad opens your eyes to other ways of life that you didn’t know or have had the chance to appreciate before traveling. By learning about other cultures and appreciating them in the process, you will have a greater understanding of other peoples’ points of view.
This will provide you with compassion you can take into the future — bring it home and spread it to others with a smaller lens than your own.
3. You’ll Become Bolder
Have you ever tried to open a bank account using a foreign language? Have you ever tried exotic foods like guinea pig, insects, or escargot? Have you taken time to explore a new city completely on your own?
Living abroad will push you into the above situations and more. By experiencing them, enjoying them, and conquering them, you’ll become much braver in your day-to-day life. If you end up moving back home, you’ll still feel the effects as you remind yourself,
“I handled this in [insert name of foreign country where you moved here]. I can certainly handle this in my home country.”
4. You’ll Discover New Things about Yourself
Aside from the confidence boost, living abroad introduces you to new customs and cultures.
The U.S. is known for its incredibly quick pace of life, especially when it comes to jobs and career building. A move to a European country for instance, where work hours are less and vacation time is more generously given, might help you realize there’s more to life than work.
You might find yourself adhering to local customs, as far as food, music, exercise, and fashion go. The things you find yourself enjoying will be interests you would never have uncovered without a move abroad. If and when you go back home, they’ll be interests that come with you.
5. It Looks Good on a Resume
In addition to the personal growth you experience while living abroad, you’ll be improving your professional persona, too.
Not many people have the courage and confidence to move abroad, and employers know this. If you go move with work lined up, this is clearly something that’ll liven up your resume and set you apart from the pack — it’ll make good talking points for your interview, too.
Even if you don’t have work for your stint abroad, you can make it work for your resume. For example, you could go somewhere and learn the local language, then highlight your conversational skills on your CV.
You can take classes overseas that will translate back to U.S. credits. So when you’re ready to return, it doesn’t seem as though you went on a vacation. Instead, you took time out to experience the world and learn at the same time. That’s certainly going to impress an employer.
Living Abroad: How You Should Do It
Before you pack your bags and walk out the door, there are a few things to get in order first. Here are some basics to consider.
1. Decide Where You Want to Go
Your dream of moving abroad was probably sparked by some city or place. What was it? How realistic is it that you could move there? Some countries are easier to settle in than others. So consider the red tape that could come with a move.
2. Find a Work Visa
Obtaining a work visa is perhaps the easiest way to move abroad, but it’s often easier said than done.
If you have a job already, look and see if your company has any foreign offices and then inquire about a transfer. Perhaps there’s a job opening somewhere and you could slide right into it, solving the problem of making a legal move and money once you arrive.
Not everyone will be this lucky. So think of what you can offer a city or country abroad and look for jobs in that sector. One of the best assets you have is that you’re a native English speaker. How can you parlay that into a job?
Consider searching for teaching jobs or hospitality positions in places where the native language is NOT English. In places like South Korea, English teachers get paid extremely well.
A worst-case scenario is that you only get a tourist visa that allows you into any country for an extended period of time, from 90 days to six months and beyond. At the very least, you can settle into a city for this period of time and immerse yourself into the culture, still reaping the benefits of a long-term life abroad.
3. Pack Light
As any traveler will tell you, you don’t need half of what you think you will when you arrive in your new hometown.
Before you leave, let go of a good portion of the clothes you don’t or won’t wear. Be realistic with yourself and be harsh with your possessions. They’re just things, and you’re on your way to a life-changing experience that your material belongings won’t define.
If you need help, plenty of people who have gone before you have tips you can scoop up and use to your own benefit. Things like vacuum-sealing clothes to free up room in your suitcase can make a difference in how much you’re able to pack.
You don’t need to bring too much. You’re going to change when you move abroad and that will likely be reflected in your clothing choices, too.
4. Leave Your Expectations Behind
Finally, erase the visions of what you expect life abroad to be like. You should have an idea of the culture and customs of where you’re going, but your romantic idea of a carefree life abroad? That should be checked at the airport along with your reasonably packed piece of luggage.
Prepare for a Life-Changing Experience
The truth is that living abroad is an incredible, life-changing experience – but it’s also real life.
It’s not a vacation, and it won’t always be easy or fun. You might find yourself frustrated, tired, nervous or scared. You’ll certainly be homesick and lonely, too. You need to face these truths before you make the move so you know what you’re in for.
At the end of the day, these emotions will be trumped by the highs of discovery, adventure, and excitement that come with life abroad. You will expand your mind and your sense of compassion for others. You will be more confident, social, and brave. You will create memories to last many lifetimes. Remember that life abroad is still life, so it’s not always going to be perfect.
Still, you’re more likely than not to find every trial and tribulation worth it. Your life abroad will change you and may chart a path that you never expected. Who knows? A one-year jaunt could turn into a new life and a new YOU.
Only time — and travel — will tell.