Living abroad is a whole different experience that is beneficial not only for the person and his or her enrichment, but also for the society as a whole. This experience taught me not only about a new country, but even more about myself. Here I share my story and my experience of living abroad and why it is that important for everyone to try it for themselves.
Why Do People Even Think About Leaving Their Home Country?
Have you ever traveled abroad for a holiday and thought: “I could really see myself living here someday?” Many people around the world have taken that big step and are living in a different country. What made them move abroad?
Living Abroad Gives You More Opportunities
Many people move for work or study opportunities. Your perfect job or degree may be waiting for you abroad, in need of your skills, knowledge and ambition. Speaking another language will double your chances of such a great opportunity, as more and more employers are looking for bilingual employees.
You Get to Experience a New Culture
One of the most significant reasons is that a foreign culture may be more suitable to your personality, attitude, and beliefs. Many people are attracted to another country because they like the way they do things. It could be possible that you are intrigued by the way people interact with one another, the music, the festivals, the art, or the food in another country! It is wonderful to go and live abroad to be immersed in a culture that is extraordinary to you, where you can experience things that you wouldn’t be able to at home.
You Get to Try New Things
Living abroad is an enriching experience, it forces you to adapt to things that are unfamiliar and unusual. You become independent and open to new, exciting, or terrifying challenges. And that is the most rewarding of all: the opportunity to learn and develop as a person, because you will discover things about yourself that you may not have known before. Through interacting within a foreign society, your eyes will be open to aspects of life that would be difficult to learn in your native country.
These are just a few reasons why people choose to move to a foreign country. And while it may be temporary, it is going to change you forever.
If you are thinking about moving, studying or working abroad, you will find some of these resources useful:
- Dealing with Feeling Homesick
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Studying Abroad
- What Does It Really Feel Like to Study Abroad
- How Can You Afford to Study Abroad
How It All Started For Me
My story is similar to many others. I grew up in a city in the south of Russia. I really enjoyed studying languages, even in my free time. Since I liked studying languages so much, I found English tests online just for fun to see what scores I can get (nerd, right?).
I also went to a lot of language competitions in our city. With all of this being said, my idea of my future was staying in my hometown and becoming an English and German teacher. That was the most reasonable and logical thing to do and I didn’t know any different. I was 15, I have never been outside of my country.
Future Leaders Exchange
One of the contests I attended was FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange). It was a scholarship program for high school students from Europe and Eurasia sponsored by the US Department of State. The winner travels to the United States for a full academic year for free and lives in an American host family and attends an American high school. A lot of my friends tried it and it was a new challenge for me. The competition lasted several months and had several rounds.
The first part started with an English quiz which was not very difficult, the next one was a lot more involved and tested your English a lot more extensively. After that, there was a round of essays and personal interviews – tested your ability to live in a new country. I was 15, I was not ready to be away from my parents for longer than a week.
“You’re The Finalist”
Anyway, one day in April I got a phone call. “You are the finalist of FLEX, you are going to the United States!”
Can you imagine?! Such a small amount of people got the opportunity and it was impossible to say no. My parents are my heroes for letting me do this. I will be forever grateful to them for giving their only little daughter a chance to travel, to see the world and explore herself.
Then came an opportunity to move to the USA – a small town in Northwest Arkansas, called Jasper. There’s a reason that the first few months in a new country are called the honeymoon period — America looked like a movie and I had the main role.
First Time Living Abroad
I arrived to my new town and I loved every second of it. I had a great host family – they took me around the United States and made me feel at home. After using a dictionary for a couple weeks, I quickly learned American expressions and the accent and some people couldn’t tell I wasn’t from Arkansas. I loved my classes and made a lot of friends in my new school. Every day I learned something new – a new phrase or word or the way people do things. I liked to compare life in the United States and Russia and learned that both of the ways work. I also took interest in communications, media and cultures around the world.
That year passed so fast and it was time to go home. When I returned I still had one year of high school left and a lot of exams to prepare for. That year I studied like I never did before and was looking for all of the opportunities I had. I couldn’t be an English teacher in my hometown anymore – I had to explore what is out there for me.
Are You Studying Abroad in the United States? Take this quiz to find out how many truly American things you have already done!
While I was admitted to a language program in one of the universities in Moscow, I also found a university in Missouri. I can’t believe my parents let me go again! This time it was for four more years, or maybe more.. I left again and started my college degree in the United States. College of the Ozarks offered free tuition to every student through a campus work program. Plus, you could pay for your room and board by working over the summer. It is a wonderful concept – you work on campus and keep it running, while gaining work experience and getting education. I enjoyed my time there, but I was on a roll and had to keep my momentum going.
Keep Moving Forward
I applied to a different university (University of Arkansas at Little Rock), which offered a better education and more opportunities. Through a variety of core courses that focused on societies, history, and philosophy of East and West, the Donaghey program introduced me to, and increased my understanding of different cultures and perspectives around the world. It has also influenced me to learn another foreign language and study abroad in Spain. During my study-abroad semester in Barcelona, I was intrigued by the history and culture of the region.
One of my professors in Spain led me to read more about theories of intercultural communications, which drove my interest further, especially to the glocalization of mass media, marketing, and public relations practices. My study abroad experience sharpened my interpersonal and communication skills and inspired my undergraduate research.
Where to Next?
In 2017, I graduated college in the United States and got my first job. Recently, I moved to Chicago and I am still living abroad and learning more about this country, the world and myself. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know that my first study abroad experience changed my life forever. I can’t tell what my life would be now if I didn’t go, but I wouldn’t have the experiences and opportunities I have now. There are a lot of affordable ways for people to study or live abroad and this experience will impact you in the ways you couldn’t expect.
A Little More About My Experiences:
What I miss most about life in Russia:
My family, of course. But I also miss walking everywhere. The first time I came to United States, I didn’t have a driver’s license, so I was completely dependent on other people. That’s not necessarily a good thing as it can make you get in uncomfortable situations. I really miss being able to come out of my apartment and walk to a nearby grocery store, a pharmacy or walk to school.
What I love most about life in the United States:
The friendliness of the people. I enjoy meeting new people and feeling welcomed. I really like sharing my culture with other people and being able to experience to so many new things every day.
Biggest lesson I have learned while living abroad:
People are more similar than we think. Customs and places vary, but we all want to love and be loved, follow our passions, and dream big. Plus, differences can lead to making things better, conflict is not always a bad thing and it should lead to compromise, we need to learn from it and move on.
Food I never tried before coming to the US:
Tater Tots, Cheese Sticks, Steak, Frog legs, you name it. So many new types of food, too!
The most common questions I get asked about Russia:
How cold is it in Russia?
I am always open to new questions and they never get boring. The more creative, the better!
You Get To Fully Embrace A New Culture
The culture can be very different from your own even if it doesn’t seem like it from the outside. The American culture is so new and people here are so different. A variety of different cultures and ideas together is what makes this country unique. Taking in a new culture adds a different dimension to you. It allows you to be more open and accepting of how other people do things and it lets you see a different side to life. In the United States, I spent more time in nature than I ever had before. Here I ate food I’d never heard of and I improved my English. It’s not until you live in a new country that your ideas, ways of doing things and perspectives really change.
You Don’t Need That Many Things to Survive
The first time I went abroad, I had just one suitcase. There is something liberating about not having anything you are so attached to. I like having having just a few things with me as it helps me feel free. Of course, I cherish pictures and gifts from family and friends! But, I’ve learnt that things won’t make me as happy as experiencing a new country, tasting its food and talking to its people. The unique experiences you’ll have while living abroad will stay with you forever and enrich your life. When you are moving to a new country for sometime, the less stuff you bring with you, the better.
Movies Have It All Wrong
Modern media has romanticized living overseas, making it seem easy, when in reality, it can be the hardest thing you ever do. The movies rarely talk about the hard times, and they make it look so effortless. However, movies also can’t show how amazing this experience really is, it is a lot more enriching and wonderful than movies can ever show.
Also, movies and media like to exaggerate on stereotypes of a different country. I now know that not every day in the United States is an action movie or a romantic comedy. And not everyone in Russia drinks vodka and has a pet bear. (okay, maybe some people) It’s is not always snowing in Russia and it is not as dangerous as people think it is.
Sometimes Bad Things Happen When You are Living Abroad
Sometimes nothing happens for a long time and you are really happy, and then suddenly it all sneaks up on you at once. When I was in Spain, my phone was stolen, together with my debit cards and even keys. That’s a lot to deal with one your own! I learned to be more assertive and more responsible through this experience. Trust me, it’s not the end of the world and having great friends and a positive attitude helps.
Anything is Possible
When you go to a different country, you can basically start over. Being by yourself in a new country shows you what you are really capable of doing. It shows you how strong you are. If you were able to live in a different country all by yourself for several months or years, you feel like you can overcome pretty much anything. And that’s empowering. You are free to start over again, free to stay or free to go home with an amazing story to tell.
Living Abroad Is Good for the Society as a Whole
People usually say that traveling or living abroad was the best time of their life and you should go too. It is also beneficial for the development of the world. Moving abroad was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has taught me so many lessons and has encouraged me to be independent, have respect, and appreciate people, cultures and the world around me.
Living abroad has also taught me to question the hard truths that are formed by societies and to be more curious, more involved with the society we live in. Conflict, difficulties, awkward situation that you are exposed to when we travel abroad make you a stronger and a more responsible individual. You become more outgoing, understanding and open to new ideas. Imagine more people in this world believing that their opportunities are endless and they can work to change the world they live in.
I want to encourage more people to be open to the idea of exploring the world we live in and its people. If you have the opportunity, move abroad for a few months! It may be hard at times, but you will never be the same. If your kids have an opportunity to study abroad, encourage them to do so! It will be the most amazing learning experience they have ever had.
Here are some really useful resources if you are planning to study abroad soon:
Tell Me: Have you ever lived abroad? For you, what is something no one ever told you about moving abroad?