It’s easy to get caught up in expectations in your 20s – get a good education, figure out what you want to do with your life, and start your career path for the next 40-to-50 years. But that’s not the only choice. It’s unlikely you’ll know exactly what you want to do at 55 when you’re 25, so why not live somewhere new and exciting for an extended period? After all, there’s only so much you can see in 10 vacation days a year. Take the time to explore (while you’re still resilient enough to deal with a 22-hour train ride in a cramped seat next to a 300-pound snoring man), make some incredible memories, and maybe find the path you’re supposed to head down while you’re at it.
Chances are you haven’t started a family yet (and don’t have any kids, pets, or a mortgage), so there’s not necessarily anything that’s forcing you to stay put. Sure, you’ll miss your family and friends, but they’ll still be where you left them if and when you return. And they’re not depending on you to provide for them in the meantime, making it much easier to pick up and leave.
You’ll gain invaluable skills for life by landing in a new country where you may not have everything figured out yet. You won’t be able to pack heavily (have you seen how much airlines charge for every bag now?!), so you’ll have to make do with a lot less. And since you may not have the job thing figured out, and probably just spent upwards of $1,000 on airfare, you’ll have to live frugally. But most likely you’ll realize that you really don’t need that much to be happy – a lesson that will serve you well later on.
You become infinitely more interesting after living abroad and experiencing new cultures, but that’s not what I meant. Being the stranger in a strange land means that you’re the one with a different perspective and life experience from those around you, and they’ll want to learn more about you. It’s the easiest conversation starter in the world when people realize you’re foreign, and you’ll have the mystique of coming from somewhere unknown.
In this regard, you are the best source of information on your home country, and very few people are going to be able to correct you. Feel free to expound about your beliefs on your political system, the best sports teams, and why there’s nothing quite like a night out in your home city. Not only will you be giving others insight into a world they might not know, but it’s the chance to be a bottomless source of information.
This is important – the world is a big place, and the ability to speak another language will serve you well in countless ways. Dropping yourself into a new culture will force you to adapt quickly and learn more efficiently than you would in any class, and locals will appreciate you putting forth the effort. But at the very least, you’ll be able to do a good accent and impress your friends when you get back home.
If an employer is looking at several candidates with impeccable resumes, it’s the experiences that may not have been specified that will help give you the edge. You’ll be able to bring unique perspectives to whatever work you’re looking to do, and have demonstrated the ability to work and adapt in entirely new surroundings. Plus, on the off chance that your interviewer has been to/lived in/is from the country where you spent time, you’ve got an instant connection.
Most countries’ school systems are remarkably provincial, spending an inordinate amount of time on their own history without necessarily taking into account the world context in which it happened. Living abroad, you can take the time to learn the rich history of other nations, how it ties into your own and the circumstances of the world today. Plus, the info will stick a lot better when you’re out living it rather than stuck inside a sixth grade classroom.
Not only your drinking tolerance – although there’s a fair chance you’ll test that as well – but you’ll be faced with new experiences every day. Whether it’s striking up conversations with strangers, taking on new jobs that you’d never attempted before, or trying to tackle your fears of heights/animals/what have you, you’ll have ample time to do that abroad. You don’t necessarily have to throw yourself out of an airplane and conquer your fear of heights. Realizing that you can hike up a mountain or travel 30-plus hours on a bus and still function – those can be huge.
Without the safety net of those you grew up with, you’ll have to become more self-reliant than before. You’ll need to learn to read a map, or decipher complicated transportation systems. You’ll need to find ways to provide for yourself and find employment in areas where you may have no experience. And you’ll have to reach out and make personal connections without designed social structures that help you do so. You’ll grow in ways you never even realized existed.
There are 196 countries in the world, and each one plays host to hundreds of different cultures and ways of life. Even if you consider yourself well-traveled, or you have indeed lived many places before, there’s still so much more. Breaking out of your corner of the Earth and heading to another is a step, and while you’ll never be able to fully immerse yourself in every community in every village in every country on the planet, it’s still worth taking a step out and seeing what’s there.
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