In case you’ve been away and somehow didn’t know, I upended my life in America to teach abroad in South Korea. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not living abroad would be beneficial or detrimental to my goals. So I did what I usually do when I’m mulling over a question: I researched, read, and asked other people about their experiences, too. Simply letting an experience happen to me is difficult; I think it’s more responsible, in the end, to prepare for it. What did I discover?
NOTE: This is an interim post, halfway through my series on traveling through Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore, which will resume again soon. If you are making a decision, take a moment to explore what I’ve gotten to see while abroad.
People Have Two Ideas About What Traveling Entails
If you plan on actually quitting your job and living abroad, two groups emerge.
Let me build a scenario for you. Let’s take Group A. Group A believes that travel is vacation. They are jealous that you get to go and have “the time of your life” while they sit at their boring, mundane job, doing the same things they always do. They are generally disillusioned by the status quo and want to be free of it but as of yet have not yanked off the proverbial chains. Instead, they see in you an adventurer, a hero if you will. Maybe one day they too can be brave enough to see new cultures, grow as a person, and also relax on a beach indefinitely.
On the other hand, Group B thinks that you are shirking your responsibilities. They mistrust travel, mistrust change in general, and think that you are either 1) trying to live a fantasy that will crumble at any minute, or 2) attempting to run away from some problem in your life. They believe that all good work is achieved before the age of 30, especially if you want to build a reputable career. Anything that puts off this career, a rooted family, or saving for retirement should be disavowed immediately as a fool’s errand.
There is a Group C, those who’ve already gone abroad, but I want to leave them for later. Either way, wow! Those are two extremes that I painted. Even so, people tend to feel more comfortable polarizing rather than wafting between them. Are there any truths to what Groups A or B suggest?
Why Living Abroad Isn’t Good for You (And Your Career)
Let’s side with Group B first, for funsies.
Are you traveling because of a break up? Did your career fall flat or were you just not good at it? Have you bought into the lie that you can (or should) just quit your job and LIVE ABROAD, damn the consequences? Or maybe you simply have no idea what you want out of your life.
If the above reasons at all ring a bell, you may want to carefully reconsider your plans. We live in a world tethered to the idea that work produces coin and coin grants us food. While some have been able to skirt this through massive inheritance or some other unlikely scenario (marry a Prince from Jordan lately?), this fact remains for the rest of us. Dropping everything at home isn’t a simple matter.
First you must decide what to do with your things: Are you selling them or stashing them? If the latter, do you have a kind family member or friend willing to put up with your clutter, or are you going to drain your savings account? Second, you need to decide how you will make money and what steps are required to make sure that this is legal (and safe) for you. While there are ways to get the cost of your trip reduced, costs will remain no matter what you do. And before you think you can simply become a world-famous travel blogger who makes money by simply “having fun,” let me tell you that this represents more fiction than fact.
Additionally, what ABOUT your career? Most people, if they will succeed, have shown signs of success at some point before the age of 30. Putting this step-by-step process off might incrementally slow or halt your progress. You are only getting older while new, talented individuals with seemingly more spunk are not only flooding into your career causeway but also the one you’re thinking of running away to. Yes, life is sometimes mundane, but perhaps the answer to this lies closer to home than you realize. And contrary to popular opinion, traveling isn’t a pill that will magically help you find yourself.
Why Living Abroad Is Good for You (And Your Career)
On the other hand, Group A, while sometimes a little naive, certainly has a point, one which I have decided outweighs the consequences of the above actions.
Living abroad can open your world to a host of new experiences that you never imagined. While we now live in the 21st century with the Internet at our fingertips, watching a video of a cultural practice (or worse, simply reading about it in an article) will never compare to living it. And though culture shock between Western countries is not that large, a jump into an entirely different paradigm like those of Asian countries can induce a whole slew of feelings you never knew were within you.
In fact, dealing with that culture shock is one of the best things about living abroad. Daily, I must remind myself that actions or words said by others may not mean what I immediately take them to mean. And though this is true wherever you live, this forced adaptation makes you much more cognizant of those differences and ultimately forces you to confront your own inadequacies as a person (be it your patience, kindness, or self-control). Living abroad develops your confidence and helps you discover your self-worth. Though there are many reasons, for me, the following made going more attractive.
As an English teacher back in the States, my time teaching abroad has enhanced skills I need to do my job even better. Every day I work with my students, both young and old, on ways they can improve their grammar, their reasoning skills, and their empathy for other cultures. They ask me questions I’ve never considered about my own language and how I use it, impelling me to practice reflection not only on the language but on my own culture and value-system. Concurrently, I can practice my Korean and learn more about their views and beliefs about humanity.
And lest we subordinate this too quickly, globalization will indeed force us all to interact with those of different faiths, creeds, or ethnicities. Having a sense of how to navigate these conversations only benefits our future, an important tool as an English teacher. By the same token, I can use my experience to teach better material and to make my classroom more inclusive. Even if you’re not a teacher, becoming one abroad allows you to put management and training skills on your resume, allowing with a concrete job.
And did I mention that you can make a pretty penny by working overseas? Saving money doesn’t get much easier, especially for someone just graduating college and looking around the job market. It definitely depends on where you look, though, Asia being where the biggest payers reside. If you want to travel while saving for a house master’s degree, this is a great way to begin. If teaching ultimately doesn’t suit you, there are plenty of other ways to make it happen too.
Don’t Jump into Your Decision: Think It Over
Whatever you decide, you will have chances and opportunities moving forward. I am a firm believer that choices like this do not halt progress (nor set it racing ahead). In the end, so much depends on your attitude and on what your motivation is. Nonetheless, traveling (or the decision not to) can solidify some of your core beliefs about yourself or the world.
Many Americans choose not to travel for one reason or another and living abroad scares them to death. Whether this is good or bad, do not make the all-out decision to live abroad in a moment’s notice. Consult your friends and family and read articles such as this as to the benefit or detriment of the idea. Sleep on it. If this is something you want to do, you’ll do it whether you decide today or a year from today. Take it from me; I’ve seen people move their lives just to flee back home because it was too “rough” for them. That’s not the kind of life you want to live, in my opinion. Living abroad is valuable experience, but maybe it’s not for you at this point in your life. Taking short trips is another consideration if you are travel-hungry.
I took a year to think about it. Though Danny was set on it, I needed time to adjust and consider the pros and cons. I love my career (as does he) and we plan on returning to it. Thankfully, what we do abroad is right in line with these goals. People can’t argue we’re “wasting time” traveling as we’re still within our career. Furthermore, I firmly believe in what I stated above. Seeing other cultures can broaden your mind, help you become more adaptable, and increase future success; but these only occur if you approach the life abroad correctly. Some use the time to party and generally relive their college years, which is fine. But you need to decide if it is fine for you and what your goals are.
What About You?
So, some questions remain: Why does living abroad appeal to you? And for those Group C‘s out there, what influenced you to take the plunge? What have you learned from living abroad? For those having gone different places, what area helped you the most?
With these thoughts in mind, I am positive you will be able to make the correct decision for yourself.