This week marks the fourth year that Luke and I have been living outside of our respective countries. It’s been four years since we set off on what was once meant to be a year long trip and accidentally spurred a lifelong love for living around the world.
We were so young when we left (I like to think I’m still so young now). We were only 22, fresh out of college and ready for an adventure. Although we’d lived on our own at college, and by that I mean away from our parents, we were still in the safety net of university, close friends and the structure of classes and due dates. We’d had a taste for life abroad briefly back when we’d met in Switzerland, but moving to New Zealand was a massive growing experience for us.
In the last four years I’ve learned a lot about myself; a lot about what I want in life and what my passions are. I’ve learned a lot of small lessons. I’ve kind of become an adult (at least I think that’s what this is?). I have met a lot of different people from different walks of life and all of them have taught me a little something valuable.
1. Life at home is going to carry on without you
People are going to grow up, get different jobs, get married, have babies and change. I knew I had changed a lot in the time that I was away, I had grown more confident in myself, more sure of my opinions, but after three years of being in New Zealand and Australia, I was woefully unprepared for the fact that everyone else in my life would be changed too. I was, stupidly, shocked at the fact that people from college weren’t exactly as I had left them after graduation four years earlier. I was confused by my family members and their new opinions and views on things. It took some getting used to, this idea that perhaps I didn’t know people as well as I used to. Which is why you need to…
2. Value your relationships
Value your family members, your friends that have stuck by you and those you meet along the way. I am sometimes embarassed when I think back to how utterly horrible I was at keeping in touch with people. I was simply “too busy” to Skype with my parents regularly or keep up to date with emails to friends. There were times I was too pigheaded; “well they haven’t emailed me, so why should I email them”. Then I went home and realized how much I value these people in my life; I realized relationships don’t maintain themselves and love of all kinds takes work.
3. Making new friends is hard
We have packed up and moved to new countries and cities more than five times in the last four years. Each time I left behind new friends and colleagues that I had worked hard to build relationships with. Each time I arrived in a new city all I had was Luke. We had to start again, try to meet like minded people, people who also wanted to make new friends (that’s harder than you might think). We had to get out of our comfort zones and get out there. I joined clubs, used meetup.com a lot and was ridiculously awkward on more than one occasion. Is this what dating in your 20’s is like?
4. Learning a new language takes a lot of discipline
I put minimal effort into my Spanish studies in high school, and it shows. I tried my hand at German while I studied abroad, but if you don’t use it, you lose it. Now Luke and I are putting real effort into trying to learn Korean. We study every morning before work. We have flash cards and workbooks and we watch Youtube videos. We try to practice with friends at our language group or when we’ve had a few too many beers at the local pub. After five months here we’re finally starting to see progress. We are able to make sense of the confusing grammar rules and wrap our mouths around these new sounds. It certainly hasn’t been easy, though.
5. Appreciate the Little Things
Life is full of simple joys. Whether it’s sitting out on your balcony with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, feeling sand squish beneath your feet or enjoying the sun on your face. I have learned to love and appreciate so many of life’s little gems. It sure makes life a whole lot happier.
6. The more places you see, the more places you realize there are to see
This has been true of traveling as well as living. The more countries we move to, the more cultures we experience, the more we dream of where else we can live, what other languages we can learn or local foods we can eat. Traveling and living abroad is an addiction. Once it grabs hold of you, it’s hard to imagine living your life any other way.