The world of today moves at a faster click than it ever has. Advancements in communication and transportation continue to tie together all countries into a melting pot of global society. Old ways are dying hard and new innovations are shaping culture, social norms and perspectives. It should come as no surprise that people across the globe are living abroad at an unprecedented rate. According to a UN study conducted last year, roughly 232 million people, or 3.2 percent of the world’s population, were living outside the countries of their origin in 2013. This is number is expected to increase significantly by 2015.
The US State Department estimates that between 3 to 6 million Americans are currently residing abroad on either a temporary or permanent basis and this number is growing. People live abroad for a myriad of reasons. Some do it for a better life and security, while others seek to escape the mundaneness of post-modern society. Whatever the reason or circumstances, living abroad has had a profound effect on the thoughts and actions of millions. Here are 5 reasons why living abroad may be beneficial for those of us coming from the West.
1. Gain a better understanding of your own country and culture
This might seem counter-intuitive at first since living abroad demands the immersion into another culture and spending a great deal of energy and time trying to figure out a new way of thinking and language. However, there is something about the process of learning a new culture that allows us to better understand our own. As humans, we naturally compare our own ideas and perspectives when we encounter a new culture. There are striking differences between Western society and non-Western civilizations and this becomes ever more apparent when living overseas. While living abroad, some ideas become quite appealing to us and others are rejected for various reasons. Meanwhile, this examination of a new world inclines us to decipher our own. In the end, we form a list of the positive and negative aspects of our own culture.
2. Add some adventure to your life!
If you are the from the West, your motivation for living abroad is probably based more on boredom than survival. With that being said, what better way to honor that privilege than to ‘live life’ a little. Living overseas for the Westerner grants that experience. In fact, it is almost inevitable that the typical Westerner will run into some adventure in Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East. Ive been amazed at all the Westerners I’ve met either living abroad myself or traveling who simply gave up good jobs back home for the chance to experience something outside of the mainstream.
Of course, adventure is relative to each individual, but each person from the West I’ve met abroad was definitely there for the sense of excitement and spontaneity. It could be that sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day is not conducive with the well-being of the soul. It might be that we need to expose ourselves and even put ourselves into vulnerable situations in order to grow as individuals.
3. A chance to learn a Foreign Language
The one thing I enjoyed the most about my time in both Japan and South America was learning the language. Each day brings something new to grasp and challenges to overcome. Acquiring new language skills not only broadens are ability to commicate with others, but also presents a productive personal challenge. There are undoubtably times when it is painstakingly difficult and frustrating, but the payoff of being able to at least survive in a foreign country without using one’s mother tongue is priceless. It is an almost surreal experience at certain times. It also allows one to connect with the world in a different way. If these aren’t enough reasons, keep in mind that learning a foreign language is extremely healthy for the human brain. It keeps our minds sharp, aware and young.
4. The Food! The Food! Don’t forget about the food!
This is a biased pick on my part since I seem to have a voracious appetite similar to a grizzley bear. But come on, how can one live in another country and not enjoy all of the local food?!!? I never had a preference for food while living in Japan. I ate everything and always enjoyed new items, including the Japanese versions of certain western dishes. If you are thinking about living overseas, you might want to reconsider if you are very fussy about food. We often take for granted in the West how important food is to our existence and even mental well-being. I’ve met plenty of annoying, red-faced Westerners droning on about how much they disliked the local food in both Asia and in South America. I still cannot figure out why those same individuals left their countries in the first place. But if you are even somewhat open-minded, you will learn to love discovering new dishes and consistently being surprised.
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5. Lots of business and job opportunities can be found abroad
I’ve met intelligent, educated and ambitious individuals from America, Canada, the UK and Europe living comfortable and successful lives abroad in both Asia and in South America. I’ve also met Westerners working abroad for only a year or two, but having a great time doing so. In addition to teaching English, there are thousands of other opportunities for both jobs and business development overseas. For some, teaching English is a foot in the door before moving on to other challenges. For most of us who only want to live abroad for a year or two, teaching English serves a great purpose. However, there are also thousands of terrific teachers who have been doing it for years and some who have even started their own schools. Moreover, there are plenty of opportunities to find fulfillment overseas whether it be teaching, opening a business, working for an NGO or a multinational company. For most of us in the end, it is not about the money, but a particular lifestyle that doesn’t exist back home.
There are many reasons to live abroad and it is becoming more and more common that we meet someone who has spent significant time in another country. If you would like to add to this topic, please feel free to comment.