I just wrote 10 things I have learned in 10 years of travel which gave me the great idea to continue writing my lists of TENS.
I am on my second round of living abroad as an expat. The first time was while I was teaching English in South Korea for two years. I am currently on my sixth month of living in Thailand with no end in sight at the moment.
That said, these are the 10 things I love about LIVING ABROAD:
1. Living abroad means adapting my taste buds. I am obsessed with meat. I tried to be vegetarian after a food poisoning stint, but that lasted for about 5 days – OOPS. I also WISH I could eat spicy food but my body isn’t loving it. However, I love love love Sai Ua (northern Thai sausage). I love getting to know a place and having my local lunch spots. It’s great when the server can bring me food without me even asking because they know my order. My fave foods in Thailand are Kao Soi (famous northern soup), Tom Ka Gai (chicken coconut sweet/sour soup), Sai Ua, Guey Diaow Muu (pork noodle soup), krapow (basil/spicy pork) and curry!
2. Living abroad means learning a new language. Confession: I am only fluent in English (sad face). However, I know bits and pieces of Spanish, Korean, and Thai. I love hopping in a taxi, going into the markets, or meeting people and trying to have conversations with them in their native language. I would love to be fluent in Thai (I am taking classes) because the language is really fun and I love understanding what people around me are saying. The locals also love when tourists or expats can come in and speak some of their language because it’s never really necessary, but it is respectful. Also, there’s tons of people who retire in Thailand, get their sexy young wife, and never speak a word of Thai….
3. Living abroad gives me a new sense of normal. What’s “normal” in America isn’t normal abroad and vise versa. Life slows down in Thailand yet the evenings are always full of busy markets. I don’t have a routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat. I love spending my evenings after 5pm walking around the old city and eating street food outside of 7 Eleven while people watching. I love getting massages for the price of a beer back home.
4. Living abroad gives me access to new cultural festivals. In 2012 I went to a folk rock music festival with my brother and cousins in Dubno, Ukraine. We spent a month in the country and had some time to travel a bit. We spent the whole evening dancing and drinking at a little outdoor venue with a bunch of goth Ukrainian teens. I loved going to festivals all over Korea which included Boryeong mud festival, Busan fireworks festival, and a music festival in Seoul. This year I was able to spend Songkran in both Bangkok and Chiang Mai (Thailand’s three day nationwide water fight) and am looking forward to the lantern festival in November. Living abroad means access to tons of events that aren’t always accessible if you just hop on over for a short vacay.
5. Living abroad makes the world a smaller place. I meet people from around the world which means I have tons of couches to sleep on wherever I go. The people I met in South Korea give me access to new places to travel and visit such as Melbourne, east coast America, London, South Africa, and the Arctic Circle! Making friends while living abroad means access to many more opportunities to travel and stay for free! Wherever I go, I meet people who give me connections for life. The more I travel, the more I CAN travel.
Not only do I have friends around the world, but the world becomes smaller in a sense that humans are all the same. It doesn’t matter about income, race, religion, jobs, or nationality. We are all the same; we are not THAT special. Everyone is searching for something and I typically find the nomads.
Honestly, meeting friends in Chiang Mai is much more difficult than it was for me in South Korea. But the people I meet are amazing and I can create friendships with people from loads of different backgrounds. My Thai class consists of French, German, Chinese, Australian, and American students and we always incorporate some culture into our classes to get to know more about each other.
6. Living abroad helps me grow. Every day there are little frustrations. A taxi driving not listening or a grumpy waiter or food poisoning. But those are things that happen in life and you just learn from it. Nothing is that bad if you step back and look at the big picture. Every day I face little challenges (like I am currently in my living room getting bitten do death by mosquitoes). IN MY OWN LIVING ROOM. So I need to figure that out ASAP. Also, I’m in the midst of a visa issue and won’t know if it’s resolved for three more days. If it’s resolved – great! If not – I book a flight out of the country for a few days. I have to be PATIENT and I suck at patience. But overall, you learn to deal with it and then can become a bad ass who fixes it and makes it better next time.
7. Living abroad makes accomplishing the little things much more rewarding. If I can take a bus in a non-English speaking destination and arrived where I hoped, then it’s a success! If I can order food, eat what I want, pay, and leave, success! If I can have a conversation in Thai to my cab drivers and they understand me, success! If I can get bit by a dog, understand my insurance, go through a series of five rabies shots, pay the bill, not get ripped off, and come out alive, success! If I try new foods and learn to cook them, success! The daily things that happen at home are amplified and become big deals! The day to day norms become a little more exciting.
8. Living abroad gives me easy access to everywhere in Asia. I still think the Pacific Northwest is the prettiest place on earth, but I’m biased. I have been fortunate enough to snorkel in Boracay in bright blue waters with colorful fishies below me. I have climbed Mt. Fuji at sunrise. I have walked three days through Angkor near Siem Reap. There are countless sunsets, lush hikes, and mini bus trips. I am heading to Bangkok next week because the flight is $40 round trip and then Hong Kong two weeks after that. Everything is so accessible (and cheap) be it by plane, train, or bus. In 2018 alone Taylor and I will have been in about 20 cities in 10 countries.
9. Living abroad humbles me. I know I am privileged. My passport, skin color, and native tongue prove it. I wanted to live abroad because I love southeast Asia, learning about the world, learning the language, and stepping out of my comfort zone. My boyfriend, Taylor, and I refused to live in a condo in an expat neighborhood. We eat local, live in a Thai neighborhood, and live on a budget. We don’t buy stuff. I’m currently struggling because I was working at nonprofits back home which were much more rewarding than what I do now. But I know that I am still searching for that “career” while being able to live abroad and be fulfilled with what I am currently doing.
Through living, traveling, and volunteering abroad I have seen really sad parts of the world. But it helps me appreciate where I come from more. I have no reason to ever complain and I need to help those in need and try to do my little bitty part to make the world a better place.
10. Living abroad helps me appreciate home. I miss Washington. I was so excited to move abroad both times knowing that it would also be very hard. I miss my family, friends, and having to pick and choose when to see new babies, which weddings to go to, and not knowing the next Thanksgiving or Christmas I’ll be home for. But home is there and will be, and this part of my life is for traveling. I talk to my parents all the time and stay in touch with my close friends.