When I hear someone say that they want to embark on a journey to rediscover themselves, I tend to nod supportively. The thought sounds so incredibly liberating, just to pack your bags and move to foreign lands. I get it; I’ve been in your shoes because I lived abroad for over six years.
But is it really that simple?
There’s no easy way to express how the core of you evolves when you decide to leave everything you know behind. You push yourself to become part of an unfamiliar culture where you strive to make yourself feel like you belong there. Your whole life as you know it will permanently change, and not only your postal code and after-work pub.
So here it goes, these are my realisations about what life overseas has taught me:
You’ll revisit the meaning of home
After living abroad for some years, the concept of “home” starts to become more of a feeling than an actual place. You visit new sites, set new routines, face new situations, and meet new people.
As a result of all these experiences, you start not only to accept what was at first an unfamiliar culture but also become part of it too.
That’s why, whenever you fly back home for a visit, you begin to notice two things: how little has changed and how some things you were accustomed to now look unnatural or even weird.
Is reverse culture shock a thing? The answer is yes. You will never be quite the same when you go back because now you also observe things like an outsider too.
You’ll break out of your comfort zone
From grocery shopping at a corner store to your first yoga practice, you’ll be continuously pulled out of your social bubble. Eventually living out of your comfort zone becomes your new standard.
Being slightly uncomfortable is not as bad as it might sound. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Remove yourself from the surroundings that made you feel protected and in control, and you will uncover strengths and grow in ways that you would never know existed in your comfort zone.
You’ll see beyond stereotypes
Not all Scottish love whisky, not all Lithuanians play basketball, and not all Germans show up on time. You think you know a country based on the prevailing stereotypes or someone else’s experience.
But if you haven’t seen it for yourself, you don’t really know what it’s like to live there. Well, at least not exactly.
Some things are just different, and it’s not a black-and-white scenario, don’t forget that there a lot of colours in between. The more you travel, the quicker you realise that there is no one commonly accepted notion of normal and there is no one right way of doing things.
You’ll learn that the grass is not always greener
Some of my acquaintances and friends used to see only bits and pieces of my life through the lens of social media and thought that everywhere I went, whether it was New York City or Ibiza, I lived my dream life.
Sure, there were more of those pinch myself moments than I could count, but sometimes it took sweat and tears, restless nights and hard work to make it happen.
Even though your closest ones envy your lifestyle, they may not know that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Moving away doesn’t mean that your problems magically disappear. You will still have to cover your college tuition fees, fix broken things, and make up with your loved ones. You’ll just do it in another country.
You’ll build a stronger sense of yourself
According to academic research, it has been found that when we connect with people from other cultures and walks of life, the process helps us to get acculturated which also sharpens our sense of ourselves and improves our social cohesion.
Being exposed to unaccustomed experiences and situations tend to challenge our belief system and make you revisit everything you think you know. Inevitably, it alters your perspective on life and the foundation of who you are.
You’ll establish lifelong connections
When you’re willing to accept how things work in a new environment, you notice that people are more alike than they are different. Whether you’re from Tokyo or Melbourne—we all have the same basic needs and aspirations.
So once you leave preconceived notions and superficial things aside, you can relate to anyone in the world. We are one large community, after all.
Remember that some things can be expressed beyond the language barrier, like laughter and tears. And simple gestures like a genuine smile always work wonders no matter where you are.
Settling down in a foreign land isn’t everyone’s dream. Some of us are immensely happy living here in Vilnius without moving thousands of miles away.
However, for those who have decided to take the leap and ditch their comfort zone, starting anew is scary, but it’s incredibly addictive, too (don’t say I didn’t warn you).
When you let go of the know-it-all attitude and open your heart and mind to experiences that come your way, the whole new world unveils itself. You’ll learn a lot about people, about life and most importantly, about yourself.