It was in the early summer of 2016 when I made the decision to leave my home country for at least half a year. Packing my bags caused me to realize that I was about to go and live abroad on the other side of the world.I was answering a feeling within me. An urge for a break from my usual life. I wasn’t planning on looking for another job soon, I didn’t feel ready yet to step into the mass world of work-sleep-eat repetitions. Instead, I wanted to do something completely different.
That’s the reason why I took that plane to Sri Lanka in October 2016. It felt like a huge relief when I sat on that plane. I was about to live a completely different next chapter in my life. The dream of living abroad was about to become reality.
Table of contents
- 1. New habits
- 2. The world became much bigger
- 3. All the gear I needed in my backpack
- 4. The meaning of a ‘home’ has changed.
- 5. Speaking new languages became a habit
- 7. Saying goodbye becomes easier after time
- 8. The longer the distance, the stronger the relationships
- 9. I started to romanticize my home country
- 10. Coming back home will never be the same
- Conclusion: how living abroad can change your life.
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1. New habits
Starting a new life in a new country exposed me to many new experiences. New exotic tastes of food, the feeling of a tropical atmosphere on my skin, new sounds and different people; All were there.
I was staying at a Sri Lankan family at the time, giving me the opportunity to experience the Sri Lankan culture from up close. New habits, like eating rice and curry with my fingertips, paying homage to Buddha, drinking sugar-infused tea and learning a few words of Sinhala; they all became quite common.
I had the choice to integrate as much as possible or to keep my distance when I was living abroad. Another option would have been that I could have rented a small flat in the city center of Kandy, but I would not have learned as much. And thus, I was going to be staying in Sri Lanka for at least 6 months. That’s a long time.
If you are only passing through the country as a traveler on a short holiday trip, it’s different because you want to spend your valuable time on making the best out of it. But when you live abroad for a longer time, integration and cultural acceptance are key elements for the best experience.
2. The world became much bigger
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller
With every new experience in a new place, the world around you changes.
My world changed a lot because of my experience living abroad. I feel stronger and more experienced because of my interactions with a new environment and completely different culture. Living abroad was one of the most impactful experiences of my life.
I feel that my perception of the world became much bigger. Living abroad gave an extra dimension to the world for me. It doubled all experiences I ever had before. It triggered me to further explore more parts of the world and go on with expanding my perspectives on the world.
3. All the gear I needed in my backpack
“You only need as much as you really need”. That’s a rule I learned from my experience living abroad.
All my necessary belonging were fitted into one backpack at the time.
My backpack wasn’t loaded, but after living abroad for 6 months I realized that I still brought too much stuff. Only the basics would have been enough because when something got worn out or when I needed something new, I could just buy it at a local store.
Having to take care of less stuff gives a feeling of peace and simplicity. Because the lesser stuff you take with you, the lesser you have to think about not losing everything and keeping everything in place.
Taking less stuff with me in my backpack when I was living abroad, caused me to have more time for myself. To think about the past, to live in the moment or to dream about the future. It gave me a better opportunity to better enjoy the small things in life.
Keeping it basic can give a lot of peace to the mind.
4. The meaning of a ‘home’ has changed.
The longer I was living abroad, away from my former home, more I started to realize that the meaning of ‘home’ is not a place for me, but merely a feeling.
I guess that’s why people say: “home is where the heart is.”
I started seeing home in a different light after living abroad for a few months. I really liked it and after some time, that new place felt like home for me too.
After a time living abroad, the overall feeling of a place called ‘home’ changed for me.
Home became a place for me where I can find all the comfort I need, where my heart can rest, where the desire to escape ceases to exist.
The feeling of a place called ‘home’ can change. This is what I learned when I was living abroad. I started to see the meaning of the word in a different light. It’s something that might be have changed me forever. I feel more open, less connected to one place now. And, I’m looking forward to making the next move towards a new home soon somewhere else in the world.
5. Speaking new languages became a habit
As Sri Lanka has 3 national languages, of which Dutch isn’t included, I had the opportunity to practice my English and Sinhala for quite a long time.
I had to speak English for 6 months. A sentence or two of Sinhala also came in handy when I spoke with tuk-tuk drivers and shops keepers. Some Sri Lankans don’t speak English that well, and it felt good to integrate by speaking Sinhala with the locals. I could feel that they really appreciated it.
By listening and speaking other languages for a longer time, I developed a habit, which I found to be very useful in Sri Lanka.
Even now I consider my English to be of a higher level.
6. Pushing boundaries becomes an addiction
Whenever you have to conquer a small barrier or a more ambitious one, pushing your limits can become an addiction.
It happened to me when I was living abroad because I had to push boundaries all the time. Visiting new places, meeting new people and eating new things became a habit.
I really started to like having these new experiences over and over again. Every new challenge made me feel a bit stronger. It helped to grow my personality.
When you are having these new experiences over and over again, pushing your boundaries may become an addiction.
7. Saying goodbye becomes easier after time
When you meet a lot of new people abroad and you know that you won’t be able to stay with them for long isn’t always easy.
Especially when you meet the most lovely people on the road as a backpacker, and you know you probably only will spend 1-3 days with them, and then perhaps you will never see them again. It can be a difficult thing to accept.
For me, I needed time for it to accept that saying goodbye isn’t the end of the world. Saying goodbye after time becomes easier, but it will always remain a sad experience. This depends on who you meet, what and how the situation is of course.
When I was living abroad, I had to say goodbye to people quite often when I was on the road for the weekend or holidays.
8. The longer the distance, the stronger the relationships
People say that you only realize how much you can truly miss someone when you are away from them.
And, having that person very close to yourself for a time can have an opposite and blinding effect.
I felt that my relations with friends & family from back home got much stronger when I was living abroad.
It felt like the longer distance was improving the strength of the relationship. Maybe that’s because we always talked about very positive things when we had the chance to talk. I was often sending pictures home when I was living abroad with my family & friends.
Living abroad can cause relationships to get stronger because you’ll miss people and they’ll miss you too.
9. I started to romanticize my home country
The concept of a home country became a very romanticised idea when I was living abroad.
I started idealizing the smallest things from back home. Like going to local bars, doing fun stuff in your hometown, meeting family, and friends… All of them very positive memories. No negative thoughts came to my mind when I thought about home.
I think this happened because I stepped right out of my comfort zone when I was living abroad. Being exposed to a new location, new people and many other new influences are probably good reasons for a feeling like this.
Thinking about home and focusing on all the good things around it, it’s probably something that’s in the nature of a human mind. I heard other travelers sharing the same experience when I was living abroad.
I think that when you try to focus on the good things when you live abroad can be a major key to happiness. In the beginning, it can be difficult because you need to get used to a new environment. It also happened to me when I was living abroad in Sri Lanka.
10. Coming back home will never be the same
The experience of living abroad in a tropical paradise for 6 months slowed down my world. I didn’t worry much and I basically was living the good life having a long holiday. Life in my home country carried on as before. People went to work, they lived their usual lives, did what they had to do. I realized this when I came back from my trip.
The biggest culture shock of my experience abroad happened when I returned back home. I had to do a large effort to adjust again to the habits and culture of my home country. Searching for a job, finishing the last bit of my studies and getting ready to save some money for the next trip, all felt like a big struggle at the start.
It didn’t feel good at all to get back home. I really missed the freedom of being on the road as a backpacker and to be living abroad. But, I did really enjoy to see friends and family again.
Experiencing this reverse culture shock, having difficulties with psychological, emotional and cultural aspects of reentry, made me only more motivated though. It made me rather feel like someone that became richer from the experience of living abroad and not bounded anymore by the limits of a nationality.
Conclusion: how living abroad can change your life.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. – Mahatma Gandi”
Living abroad made me a mentally and physically stronger person. Also, I became addicted to having new adventures all the time.
I’m not saying that you necessarily have to be living abroad for a long time to be able to grow your personality. Even leaving your home for a short time can do the trick as well. As it might let you see another way of life and give you the opportunity to grow your personality.