Why Living Abroad Is Worthwhile; And Why You Should Experience It For Yourself
Republished for Week 3 of our “I Dream Of Ireland” campaign.
I started a bucket list a few years ago back when I was in college. It was a typical school night, a night of reloading my Facebook newsfeed and neglecting my ten-page paper (probably due the next day). Bored of mindlessly scrolling through random statuses (what was the craze back then? FML? Double rainbow? Old Spice dude?), I decided to open up a word doc and create a bucket list. One minute, I was climbing Kilimanjaro, the next minute, I was gazing in awe at the Aurora Borealis.
It was one epic list.
Skydiving was one of the items on the list, something I wanted to do before I die… that is, when I’m 80 years old, having already lived a fulfilling life. But at the age of 20? I wasn’t so sure I was ready. I had my whole life ahead of me. I wanted to fall in love. I wanted to throw a baseball with my future children. I wanted to travel to different star systems and… anyway, I just didn’t want some freak accident to happen (although, I knew there was a better chance of getting into a car crash).
Let’s skip ahead a bit. I’m sitting on the grass, dazed and strapped to a dude, a stranger I just met an hour ago. I sit there for a good 5 seconds replaying what just happened. I look up at the sky. A few minutes ago, I was up there, thousands of feet in the air. I had just jumped out of a plane and it was unlike anything I had experienced or imagined.
Everyone has notions of what it feels like to skydive. I’m not going to speak for everyone but my experience was completely different from how I imagined it. For example, when it was my turn to jump and I was crouching in the open plane door, I didn’t freak out like I thought I would. In fact, that moment was one of the most serene and tranquil moments I’ve ever experienced in my life. Those few seconds before I jumped, I forgot my sense of self. There was just the clouds, the buzz of the engines, and the Earth below. Any fear I had on the ride up dissipated. It was as if my brain couldn’t process the fact that, in a second, I was about to lean forward and fall, and because it was beyond comprehension, I’d transcended the ability to be afraid.
“Are you ready?”
Yep. Yes, I am. So I leaned forward. And yelped. And whooped in exhilaration. It didn’t feel like falling. I saw a forest. Fields. A town. But at the same time, I didn’t see because I just felt. I felt the air rushing past me. No gut dropping feelings like a roller coaster. Nothing. Just freedom. There was nothing holding me back.
And then the parachute was deployed.
But I’m not writing this to tell you about skydiving. I’m writing this to tell you about living abroad. Like skydiving, everyone has a notion about an experience abroad. You come across it everywhere. In film. On TV. The latest Thought Catalog article. Or perhaps from your friend that won’t shut up about how awesome it was to study abroad.
You hear stories about making out with random foreigners. You see selfies taken in front of grand architectural treasures. You scroll through picture after picture of exotic food and drink on your Instagram. The world is shouting at you, “Look here, it’s a transformative experience that’ll change your life.”
You’ll be able to “find yourself.”
But that’s not what lies at the core of an experience abroad. I could tell you my story and you’ll probably hear a variation of the epic experience everyone else tells.
Was that my true experience? No. Those are good stories I tell people to entertain.
People are only ever going to tell you about the best parts and the worst parts. What you can’t share is everything in between those experiences. It’s not just the triumphs and the struggles, it’s the routines you have in your life abroad. It’s about that moment when you’re sitting in that coffee shop you always frequent and suddenly, you smile, realizing you are living in a foreign country.
Then, you carry on with your day, with life.
It’s not just about how your experience will look on your CV or all the culture you’ve been exposed to, it’s also that downtime where you’re doing nothing but watching Netflix in your bed. In Dublin. In a foreign country! And the possibility, the potential, that tomorrow, you could take a spontaneous trip to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, or Blarney Castle.
There are some things you have to experience first-hand in order to truly understand it. Living abroad is one of them.
Let’s go back to my experience skydiving. The reason I did it was because I had an opportunity presented to me and I took it. My dear friend, Mike, who was the president of Outdoor Emory at the time, told me about the skydiving trip which was going to be heavily subsidized for members. $50 for the whole shebang. I remember debating whether I should do it or not. In my heart, I knew there was only one answer: I was going to jump off a plane that weekend.
If you’re presented with an opportunity. Don’t let it go. If I hadn’t seized that chance, skydiving would still be on my bucket list, still unchecked.
Last year, I graduated from college. Like many of my peers, I had several options. You know the drill. It was either grad school, an entry-level job, freelancing, etc. However, like many of you, I have a passion for travel and adventures. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t own an apartment. My friends were scattered across the US going on to do amazing things. I had a clean slate and I knew if I started a life anywhere it would be much harder to make the decision to uproot myself for travel.
At that moment, there wasn’t much uprooting to do.
So I took the chance. (And you don’t have to be financially well off to have an experience abroad.) That’s why I decided to go to Ireland on a working holiday visa. My plan was to work for 12 months at a restaurant or cafe, save up enough money, then backpack Europe until that money ran out. Things didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but that’s a story for another day.
A million people in the world have said this but I’ll say it again: Don’t sit there wondering if that “one day” will ever come because it won’t unless you take the chance.