Do you remember that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie where the parents decide to ship them off to Paris for a vacation because their world was the size of a pinhead? I think I watched that movie too many times because that idea really stuck in my head. If your world is too small – make it bigger by seeing more.
That has literally been the theme of my adult life. Whenever I feel like my world is too small or my view on life is too narrow, I pack my bags and go live somewhere else. I don’t like the idea of being ignorant and not understanding the world I live in. I need understanding and I can’t gather understanding without seeing more. Watching things on the news evokes emotion but actually seeing it in person does something else to me entirely. It changes me for the better and gives me a better understanding of humanity. My biggest lesson has been about why people do what they do.
I cannot speak for everyone and I’ve encountered people who have shown little change after living a year abroad. People who aren’t thirsty for change will remain the same and I can’t judge them on that – it’s their journey.
Things you learn living as an expat
You don’t sweat the small stuff because you’ve learned patience
Small issues in your day-to-day life will start to seem minuscule. Once you’ve been party to a discussion where no one speaks the same language and you struggle for over an hour; what’s a long line at a checkout counter? To me, the realization was that people move at different paces in their lives and I’m not the centre of the universe – I had to learn patience. Living in London, I had to speed things up – walk faster and work harder. Fast forward to Thailand and I had to slow things down; people moved slower and there was no rush.
A greater understanding of people and their cultures
You’ve seen the petitions online in regards to the dog-meat farms in Korea, right? Have you seen the same amount of outrage for pig farms or similar? No. That’s your conditioned belief that dogs are only pets. You eat pigs and cows – why would you have a problem with people eating dogs? It’s because you look at the dogs and you think of your dog Sally from when you were three years old. Here in Korea, dogs haven’t really been kept as pets for that long. A lot of people don’t seem them as such and therefore, have no trouble eating them like you would eat that cute lamb on your plate.
In Thailand, elephants are classified as livestock so you might think what they’re doing to them is cruel (and it is) but to them, it’s, as you would treat a horse. People ride them every single day and I’m sure horses would prefer to be out in the wild rather than have a human on their backs. It’s our upbringing and conditioning that gives us these viewpoints and being an expat has taught me that.
A greater understanding of who you are
I never got in touch with my emotions and myself like I have when I’m abroad. You’re alone for lengths of time and you really start to peel back the layers on who you are. You start to look at who you are and we often don’t like what we see. We understand why we react to certain things and what we really want out of life. There is something about being in unknown places that force you to look inward and realize our harshest truths.
You realize what friends you actually want around you
When you are forced to befriend a small handful of people, you realize what humans you actually want to surround yourself with. There are so many people on this earth – we were not meant to get on with everyone. Travelling allows you to distinguish between the type of people who add value to your life and who you’d rather do without. It also forces you to reassess your friendships back home and you realize which relationships you want to keep. People are busy, but it’s who classify you as a priority that really counts.
I can’t recommend living as an expat enough, it’s taught me so much and I’ve seen the positive effect it has on others. The adventure is there – go get it.