Next month, I will celebrate my one-year anniversary with Bratislava. What?!? I’ve only just scratched the surface of what it means to live abroad and immerse myself in an entirely different culture. My Slovak is still broken beyond belief and I will never understand why most Slovaks are obsessed with “Big Bang Theory”. Nevertheless, if you’ll allow me this indulgence, I would love to share with you what I have learned so far living and working abroad.
Admitting homesickness is not admitting defeat
Homesick? Yikes! Just saying that word used to scare me. If I admitted the truth, that sometimes, despite the extraordinary thrill of living abroad, I felt a bit lonely and overwhelmed with New Hampshire nostalgia, surely I would be admitting defeat.
But I realize now that homesickness is an essential part of finding success abroad. Most rambunctious renegades and vivacious vagabonds are constantly tending to their roots. They understand that home is the type of architecture that makes a person stand tall and fumble confidently into the next adventure. How can we expect to connect with others when we deny the connections we have been fostering since birth? You miss Mum, you miss Dad, you miss your siblings, your friends, your pets, your neighbors, your hairdresser, that squad of squirrels that always used to hang out on your porch.
It’s okay! Say it, exclaim it! You’re all the more courageous for admitting you miss home.
Constant embarrassment is the key to success
Yes, no one enjoys embarrassing themselves because, well, it’s embarrassing. But trust me, when you are fully willing to embarrass yourself, you will experience some of best moments of your life abroad.
A few months ago, I embarrassed myself completely when I voluntarily played in a soccer tournament against Slovak politicians and Swedish diplomats, despite the fact that my foot has never come in contact with a soccer ball. This is no exaggeration. During the tournament, I sprinted from one end to other to make myself look busy, all the while praying my teammates would not pass the ball. They quickly learned 🙂
I have also confused many a waitress with my broken Slovak, fallen face first on the pavement in front of crowds of people along the Danube, used the Slovak word for “boyfriend” when I meant to say “friend” too many times to count.
I embarrass myself almost everyday but I have experienced so many extraordinary moments because of it. Humble, clumsy adventurers are the luckiest in the end.
Beauty is ugliness with heart
Grand buildings have crooked smiles and flaky skin. Shimmering lakes have murky insides, stately mountain peaks are balding, the raw and the broken is bursting with an extraordinary narrative that saturates a photograph and cuts into the pages of a book. Every worthwhile story should be gorgeously grotesque and disturbingly beautiful.
Abroad, you will quickly discover that what we perceive to be truly beautiful is so imperfect, and crooked, and chaotic. Objects and lives steeped in conflict fill our souls and move the deepest part of us.
People are inherently good
Before I left for my first solo trip in Europe, my Mum’s advice was simple: never forget that most people are genuinely good at heart and will do what they can to help you.
Mum’s right (as always). People truly are inherently good and helpful. They will offer a hand and point you towards the right direction. I am indebted to countless people by now who have offered me their food, homes, dogs, etc. Because of them, living abroad is supremely lovely.
Introverts are adventurous, too
I’m an introvert, no doubt about it, but I’m an adventurer, too. When I started traveling, I realized many avid travelers are actually introverts, even though the myth that true adventurers have to be extroverted continues to circulate.
So much about solo traveling is embracing solitude. You will spend a lot of time alone, observing the world among thousands of strangers. You don’t need to light up every room to truly appreciate the beauty of the world and make new friends. Introverts are not loners, or painfully shy, or any less adventurous.
So introverts, be proud of who you are . Same goes for you extroverts. The world needs both!
You have always been you
“I went abroad to find myself”. How many times have you heard that phrase?
I wish more people would resist the urge to completely disregard their former selves before moving abroad. Yes, traveling and stepping outside of your comfort zone will teach you something new about yourself. You will grow, gain new skills, and become a better person.
But please understand that you are you and you don’t need to “find yourself”. Your very being, something you have been cultivating since birth, is not something you can lose. Embrace the person you will become but celebrate the person you already are.
Lastly, the best advice I can give you is this: adventure on my gobsmacked gallivanters!