On traveling truths and how to thrive abroad, by Hannah.
Another suitcase in another hall.. take your picture off another wall- you’ll get by, you always have before.. call in three months time and I’ll be fine, I know; well, maybe not that fine, but I’ll survive anyhow..
– Another Suitcase In Another Hall (Evita)
I have often been asked whether I have experienced culture shock. My answer has usually been “no”, however, I think that at the time I had a different perspective on what it means to experience it. I now believe that culture shock is a less about shock, and more-so about overcoming challenges. No one can fully prepare you for the level of stress, the conflicts and confusion, or the sense of new words making their home in your brain, as thoughts and feelings are reassigned modes and models of expression. You just don’t believe it will happen, or at least to other people, and not yourself.
Still, when you’ve been abroad, made friends abroad, or had any experience outside of your home country or state – you take on problems that are unexpected.
The timing for receiving e-mails in your inbox goes out of whack as suddenly you receive messages from multiple time zones.
It gets harder to stay on top of communication with friends and family through texts and calls as you add in the confusion of dialing country entrance and exit codes on phones, or trying to explain international calling apps.
You may also gain serious skills at prioritizing something’s value to you, as you debate what to bring in suitcases and what to leave behind, and become transportation saavy.
Yet, you could just as easily become chronically sleep-deprived.
This is just the beginning of the list of things that you need to seriously consider if you want to live a life abroad, or have a career that involves traveling. Everyone wants the fun, the exotic food and the photos – but are you ready to be responsible for what you lose and gain?
You may lose the opportunity to see some of your family face-to-face for long stretches at a time. You will be thrust into scary situations and may sometimes get lost, become homesick, or experience embarrassing miscommunications – but you’ve got to be able to bounce back, shake it off and keep moving. You might be ahead of your peers in multilingual abilities or world skill sets, but behind in the years they’ve steadily put in at one career opportunity, or education they’ve gained while staying put in one place. Sometimes it will give you an advantage, other times it will level the playing field, but it could also become a source of frustration.
You may also become a storyteller as your life fills with meaningful moments. And as you learn more about both the good and bad realities of life abroad, as well as the contrasts with your native country, it will become more difficult to sit by and do nothing when you see injustices, inequalities, and wrongdoing. It becomes harder to be a world bystander, as you feel the pressure to make life meaningful. You learn to mix aspects of multiple cultures into your own identity, and there may be a morphing of your value system as you adapt to new ideas and also realize the extent to which parts of the world are the same, as well as different
Personally, I would never want to exchange my life for an “ordinary” one. Interacting with individuals from other countries and going abroad has had a positive impact on my life and collectively, those experiences have made me into a better, stronger individual. In addition, they have contributed to my growth as well as life enjoyment, and added a vibrancy to life for which I am truly thankful. Even though my life may not pan out along the lines of the traditional, I would not exchange these diverse experiences for anything. Yet, I think there are some ways to be more open-minded and flexible that can make the transitions of living or traveling abroad much easier. Here are five suggestions for how to make the experiences all the more positive..
1. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, because doing so can have serious psychological consequences. It’s just not worth it! Yes, you will make mistakes, look like an idiot, get your feelings hurt (or hurt the feelings of others), as well as make people doubt your intelligence. You will face criticism and pressures. You must be strong- and also kind and forgiving, toward yourself as well as others.
2. Resist the temptation to conform completely to the society in which you end up residing. The culture, story and background of your native country and family is important and has value. It is okay to be different and diverse, and even to have different values from other people (as long as they align with God’s value system). Don’t let anyone demean your differences. Having cross-cultural manners is not equivalent to fully adopting the culture of another country. Try to strike a healthy balance, even if it’s hard.
3. Seek out community. Interaction with other people, especially like-minded individuals, is not just positive or necessary, it is crucial to your happiness and healthiness abroad. Without a sense of community, your mental health can suffer, and this is not something to take lightly. Look for community, and don’t stop until you find it. It’s also okay to befriend fellow foreigners, even if you feel like it’s not “going native” enough. Interacting with people who understand your unique struggles or background can help you to gain valuable support. Just don’t use this as an excuse for not learning the language of your new home, or for avoiding social encounters with non-foreigners.
4. Respect your body’s limitations. Living abroad may come with lots of mental and emotional challenges, but it is also important to take care of your body and health. Be careful not to neglect sleep or to over-exercise or work too hard without taking time to recharge. In addition, finding positive outlets for stress and eating a healthy, balanced diet can be helpful.
5. Going abroad is not an escape. When you go abroad, you take all of your mistakes, past failures, fears, and dreams with you.. so if there is something unresolved in your life, it is important to intentionally work on it rather than expecting it to work itself out. New experiences will definitely change you, but don’t think that it will be easy or that you won’t have to continue to grow in your areas of weakness. However, rather than looking at this as an obstacle, use it as something to propel you forward!
Have you ever been abroad or done traveling? What advice do you have for others considering this lifestyle? What do you enjoy, and what are some of the struggles you experience?
To find out more about Hannah, visit our writer’s page.
Art Credit: Pinterest