Living abroad is a dream come true. It’s an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, escape the doldrums of everything you’ve ever known, and most likely – travel the world.
These things are great. These things are enviable – and I guess that’s where the problem arises. The entire time (well – the whole four months) I’ve been in Spain, I’ve been on the fence about whether to play up all the awesome things I’ve experienced living in Europe, or whether to share the realities … that can sometimes, well, that can kind of end up being a drag.
In an effort to straddle the line, and have a clear conscience as I continue to share badass stories and pictures, I’d like to let you in on the not-so-awesome realities of living abroad:
All the things you’re missing out on at home
Birthday dinners, reunion weekends, concerts and parties – they will all go on without you. I know, I know – this one is a duh. If you leave your hometown, let alone your home country, you’re going to miss out on things.
But, that doesn’t make it any easier.
My mom has recently been sending me lots of pictures from our (growing!) family. My stepsister Michelle had an adorable baby girl last summer. My brother bought a condo. My stepsister Sarah moved into a new house in Colorado Springs, and my other stepsister Katelyn just moved to Seattle.
I love hearing about all the cool things my family and friends are getting together to do, and even – thanks to the internet – seeing the photos from the rodeo, and the football watch parties and Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on important events that I’ll wish I could have been apart of later on.
Dealing with Visas
“How long are you going to stay here?” is one of the first things students ask me when I introduce myself to them in class.
“As long as I’m allowed to,” I reply. And they look at me with confused expressions.
Oh, chicos. You thought you could could just live in any country that pleases you for as much time as you’d like? That’s cute.
The truth is that if you’ve never seriously considered living abroad, you might not realize what a pain in the ass it is to deal with Visas. They’re not always easy to get, they don’t always last as long as you need, and there are very real consequences if you break the rules … like getting barred from visiting the country – ever again.
Although, you know what remains a mystery to me? How were all those writers in the ‘Lost Generation’ like Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Stein, able to live in Paris for a really long time while they sat around and wrote and drank all the time and talked about deep thoughts? Huh. What kind of a Visa did they get? The I-promise-I’ll-be-famous-someday-if-you-let-me-hang-out-her Visa? Yeah right. Sign me up for that one.
The prospect of returning home
If you have something, like a job, or someone waiting for you at home, you’re probably scrambling to get back after your stint abroad.
But, on the other hand, the idea of returning might scare the pants off of you if you’re like me and you:
- Sold most of your belongings
- Quit your job
- Gave up your apartment/home
Because going back means starting from scratch. I put everything into the plan of moving abroad, and I know that returning and getting things back to homeostasis is going to take A LOT of work.
Sending out hoards of resumes and waiting around to get called back for job interviews? No thanks. Putting on a full pants suit again? It’s enough to make me nauseous. Having to buy all new furniture? I’ll pass.
I guess I will just keep living here in my fantasy land until I get kicked out 🙂
Getting used to it
This sounds like a good thing on the surface. You might be thinking I mean the act of adapting to your new habitat. I am not.
The first time you see a spindly cathedral built like 1,000 years ago, it’s the coolest GD thing you’ve ever seen.
You could spend hours marveling at its beauty, pondering the craftsmanship.
How DID people do this SO MANY years ago? Impossible!
But then … you visit another city that has another cathedral. It also has gorgeous frescos painted along domed ceilings. It also has three-story high wood-relief carvings that have been coated in polychrome.
And then another city, and another cathedral. And so on and so forth. At some point, they all start to look the same. And unless there is something really special about a cathedral, you’re relatively nonplussed by it.
Which is a TOTAL bummer – for one, because you should never ‘get used’ to this kind of thing – but also because at some time you face the music and go back to Columbus or Springfield or Greenville or whatever boring ole place you’re from. And you hail from a New York or Savannah, there probably aren’t statues and a beautiful buildings and art every where you look.
Or as Chris’ sister Lindsey noted (And I’m liberally paraphrasing here): When you first get here, you take all the tours to learn about cities, but once you visit enough, you realize the story is pretty much the same everywhere you go. There was a settlement. It burned down. They rebuilt on top of it. There was some disaster, so they rebuilt on top of that. Then at some point someone comes in and brings Christianity. Then there’s a war, And eventually they build a statute of the Christianity-bringer on a horse in the center of the city.
I think this is the most disenchanting reality. You don’t WANT to get used to these things. But I suppose it’s somewhat like the ocean. (Go with me here.) The first time you see it, it blows your mind. Whoa. An ocean. It’s big AND beautiful. Those waves, mannnn. But if you build a house next to it and see it everyday, you’re eventually kind of like – meh -I could to go on a ski vacation. Damn human condition.
Living outside of your comfort zone … constantly
After a day of trying, and failing, to blend in, you might be in dire need of a drink and some food. Except – SURPRISE – you’re in a foreign country.
And only after you walk into a joint that’s filled with grumpy old men who are all glaring at you from behind their newspapers as you try to get the bartenders’ attention, do you remember that you don’t really know the correct way to order food or even eat what’s put down in front of you after you do.
You gave me a donut with a fork and knife? Right. Of course.
I’m used to cutting my pastries with utensils and not just shoving them into my mouth like a caveman…
And if there is a language barrier, be prepared to embarrass yourself all the time through your attempts to speak the native tongue.
In the end, this is a good thing. The reason you travel is to see new things, try something different, step outside of your comfort zone. But in the moment, it can feel like torture. There is no autopilot when you’re having a rough day. You left autopilot in the rearview mirror.
But comfortability is an expense you have to be willing to pay if you want to live abroad. In exchange, you gain widened horizons, a better awareness of the world, and (I think) compassion toward other people. Not to mention that you get tons of great stories to share for the rest of your life, and cool pics to share on social media right now – if you’re into that instant gratification thing.