6 Way Living Abroad has Challenged My Character

6 Way Living Abroad has Challenged My Character

Posted by Merry Mortal on 15th Nov 2015

It took me two years to summon the courage to make the daunting move overseas. There was no magical sum in my bank account that would make me feel more prepared. The perfect job would not be wooed’d by an online resume or zealous correspondence; they would invest in me as soon as I invested in myself. Blathering about my plans and dreams in a distant land was no more. When I bought my plane ticket to Japan and sold most of my possessions, there was no turning back.

I have since changed continents; giving up the colorful, esoteric land of the rising sun for the cobblestone-laden, linguistic-rich, bon vivant streets of Europe. Although much can be attributed to living and traveling in specific regions of the world, some things- like loneliness feel the same on every continent. Living away from home has taught me the following lessons about growing and adapting as a sober, progressive person. 

1. “...talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.” –Patrick Süskind

I had no idea that moving to the other side of the world would land me in a fried chicken, fast-food enterprise. A college graduate with nearly a decade of esteemed business experience, I cast my line for bigger fish. When it was the difference between staying and leaving however, I accepted the job with enthusiasm.

I eventually found the job of which I always aspired, but the long nights spent manhandling the fryer and mopping up the crumbs of junk food patrons transformed my attitude about suiting up and showing up. At that elbow grease establishment, with my sweat and sore muscles, I understood what it means to be humble.

There is a fine line between knowing your worth and being gracious. As I continue to live the life of an expat, I anticipate being presented with less-than-desirable ways to earn my keep. I can continue to grow in my chosen career, but should also remain open to expanding as a conscious person. After all, the payoff is that I get to live this incredible life in a new land!

2. “Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.” – Deborah Day

Away from all of the comforts of home, I had to rely on my spiritual practice and self-care tool kit to get me through difficult times. Lounging in my favorite Starbucks, numbing out to my favorite show, ordering from my number-one pizza joint, or even talking to a loved one- are all former luxuries I gave up when I moved abroad. In its place, I had to amp up my spiritual game and try new things. Here are some of the things that helped me:

a)Guided yoga and meditation via YouTube. There is something for everyone on the internet. Only got a few minutes, consider yourself a true yogi, or enjoy chanting? It’s all there.

b)Start a new project. I frequented a lot of thrift stores (called Tuk Shops) in Japan and refurbished old furniture. I also spent countless hours scrapbooking, tried out one lesson in crochet, successfully reproduced some ethnic recipes, and commit to a ridiculously complicated puzzle.

c) Baths, baths, and more baths. Japan is known for their bathhouses, but if you live near a major city (or are lucky enough to have your own bath), I encourage you to get your Zen on spa-style. Add some bubbles, light some candles, listen to music, and enjoy.

d)Find an AA group and rework the steps. Nothing challenges your recovery like being away from your home group. As soon as I found a new fellowship, I started the steps again. In all the hustle and bustle of starting a new job, learning a new environment, and being the new kid on the block (don’t even get me started on carrying out otherwise simple homely tasks, such as finding curtains in French using centimeters!), it’s imperative to make recovery a priority. While we’re on the subject of AA, be open to the way AA operates differently in other countries.

e)Continue your growth as a professional. Read a book, listen to a lecture, or volunteer. I completed a 3-month online certification to enhance my skills. It felt great to accomplish this small investment in my future!

f)Connect with nature and take in the landscape. When I feel homesick, sometimes the best cure is being present in my new environment. I take lots of walks, snap pictures, and channel my gratitude for being here. 

3. “But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” 

–Khalil Gibran

One of the most challenging aspects of living abroad is the strain it puts on your relationships. Maintaining intimacy and harmony in relationships is difficult, and even more so when distance is involved. I had to let go of my expectations of loved ones back home. Some people will never show up for you in the way you hope. Paradoxically, some of my old relationships have blossomed and deepened in new, unforeseen ways. Instead of staying angry at the people who didn’t write me back or who will never visit, I had to remember that I am not the only one on a life adventure. Rather than take others’ inventories, I had to change my perception about the ebbs and flows of relationships. Furthermore, I had to get comfortable being alone and forge new relationships in my new home. 

4. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” –Ludwig Wittgenstein

This does not mean you need to learn a new language, although that helps! Learning how to read people and how to say “thank you” in another language will go a long way. In my travels, kindness is the universal language. Just like we learn how to be good examples in AA, try to be the best ambassador of the world while traveling. 

5.“You never choose the way that you’re raised, it’s just the way that you were raised, but you do get to a certain age where you’re in a position to question the expectations of you and the way that you’ve been formed by your surroundings.” – Mia Wasikowska

In light of the recent, tragic events in Paris, I think it’s imperative to discuss the importance of situational awareness. There are some situations for which you can never plan or prepare, but you can avoid a lot of trouble by arming yourself with acuity to your surroundings.

Formerly a complacent, suburban dweller from the states, I had to train my third eye when I moved to another country. Making eye contact (when appropriate, depending on the country), avoiding flashy clothes and accessories, keeping purses and valuables concealed, and learning to have good spatial intelligence (in other words, don’t get lost!) are just a few basic ways I ready myself for the world.

In AA, we learn to stand on our own two feet. It is the same out there in the world. 

6. “If you stand with one foot in the past and the other foot in the future, all you do is piss on the present.” –P.J. Parrish

This is a saying we hear a lot in AA, and it rings true at home and abroad. Much of the joy of traveling is due to how different things are in other places, but sometimes these differences have a tendency to make one play favorites. In my case, I idealize how good or easy it (whatever it is that day) was in the states.

Once, I caught myself silently criticizing a cashier in Brussels for the way she made idyll chit chat and slowly rang up a customer’s items. I didn’t have anywhere else to be, but I felt that all too familiar rush of just getting on with things as I concluded how inefficient she was. In Rome, I feared for my life as a taxi driver weaved us in and out of lanes at an alarming speed. I found myself wishing I was somewhere else: at our destination, or walking, or even where we started. I even thought of Guam- a former travel destination. At a historic Ryokan on a remote island of Japan, I was presented with a beautiful display of food. Where was I? Probably thinking of ketchup or pizza or something.

The point is, be present for the medley of moments that come your way. If you let them, they will liberate you.

What events- at home or abroad, have changed you?

- Merry Mortal


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