How global travel changes your life
Opinion: I think the best people in the world are those who have experienced global travel. And by this, I don’t mean just weekend trips to a neighboring city or stopping in an airport (not to say those aren’t good enough, ‘cause they’re awesome too). I mean travel travel – nomad travel, living abroad…any type of worldwide travel.
How to live abroad
So, if you want to go about global travel, how do you do it? There are tons of ways, and a lot of them don’t require any sort of degree or certification. You can get creative – if you can find a way to make money, do it abroad!
- Au pair
One of the most popular methods of getting oneself abroad is becoming an au pair, or a nanny. Families hire au pairs to provide their children with an opportunity to learn from a foreigner. This generally happens with English-speaking au pairs; parents want their kids to learn English, but maybe they can’t afford lessons, so they instead offer a native English speaker free meals and housing in return for English lessons.
Therefore, this is a great opportunity for those of you who like kids. You’ll generally have all your necessities spoken for, and even get a bit of pocket money for your days off. This can be one of the more labor-intensive options, however, especially with families who have young kids who may not be in school yet.
- Teaching English
Probably the most popular way to move abroad. There are lots and lots of options, from different countries to different kinds of schools. Different countries have different requirements, and private schools are different still. If you work through a local government, you probably won’t have a choice where you go or what you do.
You might also search out private schools, which could have different requirements and benefits altogether! It really just depends on what you’re looking for. I would suggest starting out with one country in mind and moving on from there.
Once you have decent experience teaching English formally (and if you enjoy it), you may also consider teaching private lessons. With certifications and a good resume in the right areas, you can make a good income; native English is a much sought-after subject, so you can definitely find long-term success in it.
- Getting a “normal” job with a visa
If you’re working through a local government to teach English abroad, you will essentially be walked through the visa process. However, you do also have the option to get your own work visa independently and get a “normal” job overseas. This is a great method of immersion: working in a restaurant or in a store, for example.
This is just like any other job, and great if that’s exactly what you want: the same kind of retail job you already have, with just a bit of a challenge. Different countries will have different restrictions as to how long you’re able to work under a visa, if you’re able to do it at all, so do your research!
There are a number of ways to volunteer abroad, as well. Volunteering obviously means you won’t get paid, but if that’s not important to you, this is a great option. You can have a truly local experience, living with and working beside locals.
Depending on circumstances, you can also travel abroad for pretty much forever, as you’ll be using a basic tourist visa (as you won’t be officially employed, taxes don’t care about you!). It’s a great way to be flexible and be able to call the shots on what you’re doing and where.
- Work remotely
This is by far the most flexible option. When working remotely, you’re able to work where you want, when you want (unless you have a strict work schedule, of course), doing what you want. This is the job that most of us dream about, and it is the perfect way (in my opinion) to go about global travel.
It does require work, though. If you’re lucky enough to get yourself a normal job that’s flexible and remote, more power to you! Those jobs are hard to find, though, as most every kind of person there
Therefore, a more realistic option would be freelance work, though keep in mind this can take years to develop, and generally comes with little stability. That being said, if you have a skill that you can monetize remotely, I won’t tell you not to do it! If you can find a way to do it, do it!
What happens to you when you live abroad
Living abroad is a life-altering experience, and I know that’s easy to say, but if you talk to anybody who’s ever experienced life abroad, you’ll get yourself a passionate explosion of all the wonderful things that happen to you when you live abroad. Time to get into some anecdotes.
When I went to live abroad for a year, I became the person who I had always wanted to be. Up til that point, I was just scared all the time, haunted by anxieties that prevented me from doing things as simple as going to a convenience store and picking up shampoo. I would find excuses to not go out and get a social life, like not wanting to spend any money, or the classic “I’ll leave at 8:15….welp it’s 8:16, so it’s too late which means I can’t go!”.
I was a scaredy-cat. Of everything. I was afraid of my own shadow, and I hated it, but I didn’t know what to do about it. My anxiety controlled my entire life. I had always wanted to travel the world, though, and didn’t realize how life-changing that could be.
So there I was, never having done anything interesting or brave in my entire life, living in a tiny little town where nothing ever happened, suddenly moving to Spain to teach English abroad. All alone. Knowing nobody. Speaking no Spanish. With nothing but an email from the program I was working through saying “try your best to make your way through the airport; the bus leaves at this time, and if you don’t make it, good luck getting to the hotel!”. I was a little anxious.
When I first arrived in Madrid, I for the first time experienced a common Spanish philosophy that told me the opposite of everything my anxiety said: it’ll all work out. I got off the plane, followed the crowd to the airport entrance, and found the signs for the people I was supposed to find. I had survived.
Advantages of living abroad
Once you actually get abroad, there are two ways you can go about your life: you can sit in bed hour after hour, day after day, scrolling Facebook and watching Netflix. Or, you can get out of the house and have adventures! Trying local restaurants, seeing the history, meeting other internationals, making friends with locals, etc.
Guess which one I did? You bet! I sat in bed and did absolutely nothing. Because my anxiety was still paralyzing. What a waste of a trip abroad, right? Right. Which is why, fortunately, I eventually pulled myself together, got a little bit of gumption, and decided to spend my time in Spain learning Spanish and spending time in the city – what a novel idea! This opportunity was definitely one of the best benefits of working abroad.
Learning the local language
With that gumption, I filled my calendar with every opportunity I could find to learn Spanish as quickly as I could: language exchanges with locals, formal language classes, textbooks, watching movies in Spanish, anything. I took my Europe life and threw it 180 degrees, because I was going to take advantage of living abroad.
This was easy enough, because we don’t realize how constantly surrounded by language we are until we’re thrown in a country that speaks another one and all of a sudden we just…don’t understand anything. You have no idea what billboards say, the voice on the metro is announcing something but you don’t know what, you think that guy is talking about you but you can’t tell…it can be really frustrating.
As English speakers, we can generally find locals who can kind of sort of communicate with us, but you can’t always be sure about that; imagine that most of the locals know as much English as you do their language. Sure, most countries in the world are pretty focused on having good English teachers in public schools, but going into this expecting to be able to get around easily with zero knowledge of the local language is just silly.
Appreciation for your own country
A lot of us see the problems that exist in our own country, see (from a distance) how other countries do it better, and then are all of a sudden convinced that every other country in the world is better than ours. I know this because that was me. In fact, when I made the decision to move abroad, my plan was to never come back!
And, to be fair, for the first few months of living abroad, your experiences might just confirm this perspective. Yes, it’ll be tough, but living in a new country is fascinating! There are so many new things to see, new kinds of people to meet, and new experiences to explore. You’re in the honeymoon phase of living abroad, if you will.
However, those of us who are more seasoned travelers (meaning those who have traveled either to many different countries or who have spent significant time abroad) know better. We know that no country is perfect, and that there are little quirks in other cultures that you’ll just never get used to. Sure, some other cultures speak to you in different ways than your own culture, but some things really just grind your gears.
There are methods of communication that you just can’t function with. It may be the way that lines in stores work, or whether or not people make eye contact with you when you’re walking down the street. It’s the little things that, when they’re a part of your everyday life, just don’t sit with you well, that you have to just get over with while you’re living abroad, but can’t wait to change when you get back home.
Being more motivated
Moving abroad alone, emphasis on the alone part, is damn hard. There is a giant learning curve to literally every single part of your day-to-day life, and that changes you. That’s a lot of challenges to conquer and, honestly, once you accomplish that, there’s no going back.
At the end of it all, “normal” life back in your home country is kind of…boring. All of a sudden, everything is so easy. When you go to the store, you don’t have to think about the words you need to say before you say them. You don’t have to be scared that someone will ask you for directions, or that you’ll get lost. The everyday challenges that come with living abroad just…stop.
And that’s unexciting. You’ve grown so used to seeing challenges and just smashing them (because what choice do you have?) that you need more. You’ve learned to thrive off challenge, so now that life got so easy again, you miss the stimulus. Which is why many people who go travel for a significant period of time don’t ever stop.
Being more confident
Piggybacking off that last point is the confidence. Global travelers are more confident because of all the things they’ve accomplished, and they know they can conquer anything. When returning home after living abroad, I guarantee you’ll find yourself walking around with your shoulders back, and chin up, confidence in every stride.
You’ll also probably find yourself bringing home the parts of these cultures that you like best: you might dress like a Spaniard and be the fashionable one of your loose jean, big t-shirt wearing friends; you might be the one who is willing to speak up when something is wrong, because, in another country, that’s the only way you got anything done. At the very least, you’ll be more cultured.
Culture shock is a biggin’. It’s an important part of living abroad that it needs to be addressed. I talked a little bit about the confidence that comes with living abroad, but we all know you don’t get confidence without a little bit of struggle! And, unfortunately, the massive amounts of confidence that travelers get comes with massive amounts of struggle. But don’t worry, I got you. Let’s let you know what you’re getting yourself into (and yes, it is worth it!)
The causes of culture shock
The first time you ever move abroad is going to be when you’re hit the hardest by culture shock. Honestly, it’s stressful. You might regret moving abroad, and you might want to try to spend all your time attached to your phone, talking to your friends. This is normal and it’s okay. You can get through it.
Your culture shock is caused by everything around you; it’s hard going from a life you’ve always known, with friends you have history with that take no effort to talk to. You’ve got a significant investment in the people you love, the places you frequent, and your home routine. Throwing yourself into a whole new world with nothing you know…it’s completely reasonable to freak out. And everybody does and it’s fine.
How to deal with culture shock
As is true of most things, the best advice on how to overcome culture shock is to be educated. If you throw yourself into a whole new world without thinking about what to be prepared for, it’s going to make life
The causes of culture shock are not going to go away, and you can’t avoid them. Being forced to live in another language, having nobody to depend on but yourself, and learning a whole new life – it’s all stressful. It’s all really really new for someone who is just used to the same old thing all the time.
Therefore, know what you’re getting yourself into. Be ready for the stress of such a dramatic change and be prepared to get through it. Don’t worry, it’s only temporary but it is there. Be ready for it, and take care of yourself.
Self care is the most important part of how to deal with culture shock. Let yourself ease into it and listen to yourself. No use making everything worse!
Culture shock symptoms
So, how do you prepare for what’s coming? There are five main stages of culture shock, and being ready to completely and totally accept it from the beginning will put you ahead of the curve. In general, the five stages of culture shock are:
- The honeymoon stage
We’ve talked about this already. “Wow, this new country is awesome and so much better than anything I’ve ever experienced! I’m going to go do all the things!” Short term travelers never really get past this one, and that’s okay. That’s the experience they want: just enjoying the amazing things that other countries and cultures have to offer.
- The distress stage
This is when real life sets in. Travel is hard. All of a sudden, nothing is easy anymore, even the things that were so easy for you, you didn’t realize how easy they were before. Buying food at a grocery store, getting to work, doing your laundry, hell even working a microwave could be completely different!
You realize that not only is everything hard, but you don’t have your trusted friends and family at your fingertips to vent
This is when everything is awful for a while. You might get depressed, angry, sad, or a combination. You might even get physically ill for no apparent reason other than stress. This is when you might want to just go home. Like, it could be a really, really strong urge to make everything easy again. But I’m telling you, this stage is only temporary.
When this happens, go easy on yourself. Look for things that comfort you, things that are normal. Maybe lay in bed and watch your favorite show (either find a way to get access to Netflix before you
- The reintegration stage
If you hit the reintegration stage, you’ll definitely have a hard time trusting that you’ll get over it soon. You’ll start hating everything around you. The regret of moving abroad might get worse, as you’ll start to see all the differences in cultures and make the decision that everything is better back home. Essentially, this is the denial stage of culture shock. And, again, it’s okay.
At this point, listen to what your brain and your body are telling you, but also try to push yourself a little bit. Go very slow and take deep breaths, but try.
Try to go about your daily life and see things positively. It’s there if you look for it. You might hate that you have to buy a bag at the grocery store, but isn’t it great that this country doesn’t contribute to the world’s plastic problem? Maybe the bus is hot, sweaty, and dirty, but transportation is so cheap! Little by little, easy does it.
- The autonomy stage
When things start to get better again, you’re in the autonomy stage. You’ll finally start to feel like you can live like this. Maybe moving abroad isn’t so bad! It’s hard, sure, but you might just be able to get used to this kind of life. It’s different, but it’s okay, because you’re stronger than you think, right?
- The independence stage
This is the final stage of culture shock. You did it! You’re back to yourself, better, even! All of those terrible, awful
This stage is the stage I experienced when I finally got out of bed and plunged headfirst into learning Spanish. I mean, I still struggled with the culture sometimes, like when I made plans for coffee with Spaniards and at the last minute they canceled because a family member wanted to see them (that happened several times, actually).
But, in the end, I am so grateful for my time abroad, and I wouldn’t have had such an amazing experience, and I wouldn’t have learned so much or gained so much confidence if I didn’t stick it out until this stage. However awful some of those culture shock symptoms are, I promise that the things you gain from it will definitely be worth it.
Culture shock examples
To help prepare for this inevitable tornado of stress, it might help to talk to other travelers about their experiences, and how, yes, it was absolutely worth it. When you’re in the midst of it, it’ll be hard to trust what you have not yet experienced. Don’t get stuck in your head!
All culture shock experiences are different, but they generally follow the above stages. Here are a couple of instances of culture shock from the kind of travelers who know it best.
- Antonio is an expat living in Vietnam and shares the parts of Vietnamese culture that makes it so different
- Gabrielle is an American who spent almost a decade living in the Netherlands. She wrote this post about being an American expat after she left.
On returning home after living abroad
So you did it. You made it through the culture shock and had the experience of a lifetime. When it’s time to be returning home after living abroad…it can take some getting used to. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be great to go back to your home, understand the world around you without having to think about it, and go back to an easy, predictable life.
But. It might be hard. Reverse culture shock is a thing. It’s not nearly as difficult as the initial shock, considering you know your home country so well, but once you’ve grown accustomed to a new way of life, getting back to your home groove can be complicated.
Your old day-to-day
You might walk into a grocery store and be overcome with stress because you’ve been buying wheat bread abroad, but now you’re faced with 7 different brands of wheat bread? Why is this so difficult? What brand were you eating before? Also, why is it so expensive?!
You might be happy to have back all the best parts of your culture, but you’re going to miss the best parts of your adoptive culture. You might try to ride your bike everywhere instead of driving, or you might want to turn off the air conditioning and sweat a little to save money on bills.
These new parts of your personality are great! While you may try to carry them all back home with you, that may not be realistic. Be reasonable about your expectations returning home; the best travelers have learned to easily and efficiently slide into different cultures wherever they are, not just force the best parts of them all into the one they’re currently living.
Now’s the time to remember all the great things about your country that you didn’t have while living abroad! For one, we have to go without our Amazon Prime addictions when we live in countries without it. For two, you can actually…understand people now? Without thinking? Not only that, you can even just respond to them, no translating necessary!
Your old relationships
This one is difficult but doable. The part of reverse culture shock that is not necessarily so easy to deal with is your relationships. If you’ve been abroad for a year plus, your American friends’ lives haven’t stopped. Their relationships have grown and shifted and changed, and it’s only natural for you to feel out of place for a time. They’ve had all this time to create all this history without you, so you might not feel like you belong.
But, again, that’s okay! It’ll take some time, but your friends will (or at least should) make the effort to get you back into their cycle of life. There might be inside jokes that you don’t understand, or new members in your social circle that you don’t know, but jump in head first and start making more memories!
It’s reasonable and okay to feel lonely for a little while. You might not be on everyone’s go-to list for social outings anymore, but don’t take it personally, because it’s not personal. Make it well-known that you want to go out with everybody, and initiate things yourself! Ask for help throwing a “welcome back” party and have fun! If you were in a long distance relationship while abroad, your significant other can help with this, too.
Global travel is an experience you don’t want to miss
Living abroad for a year was the best decision I ever made. The experiences I had, the confidence I got, and the person I have become are things that I wouldn’t give up for a million dollars. Global travel will change you for the better.
Yes, times can get hard, but it’ll be worth it. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Imagine that the harder it is, the more you’ll grow, and the better version of you you’ll be.
So what about you? Have you experienced global travel? If you have, was it difficult? Did it change you? Let me know in the comments!