The darndest thing occurred to me when trying to think of blog topics recently: we’ve been living abroad for one year. In that time, we’ve visited more than a half-a-dozen countries and only had one trip back to the States. So much has happened since we moved, it’s hard to imagine that it’s only been one year.
So Kiley and I sat down and reflected on our time abroad. I posed the question, “when you think of our year abroad, what comes to your mind?” What came out was a random, incoherent mess of bitching and philosophy; kinda like throwing all of the comments of a Yahoo! article into a blender and pouring the contents onto our dinner table. But as we continued, the stories and feelings began to coalesce into a few main points. Before you now are those five random (more or less) thoughts:
- Learning (and using!) the language is important. If you read any travel advice, this one is going to be near the top of the list—and for good reason. Not only can this save you a lot of trouble if you find yourself in the wrong situation, but it will open people up. Here’s what I mean: when we were in Italy, we made a genuine effort to learn basic conversational Italian. We failed—often miserably—but we tried, and the locals appreciated that. They would often stop us mid-sentence to transition the conversation to English anyway (because everyone in Europe speaks like six languages, including English), but they were friendlier and more accommodating on the other side. And this extends to English-speaking countries as well. Having lived in London for over a year, we’ve definitely picked up some of the local vernacular; “lines” have become “queues,” “bars” are “pubs,” an “umbrella” is now a “brelly,” etc. Some of this is due to pure absorption, having been surrounded by it for so long, but some is also intentional. We get better responses by ordering a “pint” instead of a “beer” and saying “sorry” in place of “excuse me.” The main point is: if you want locals to really welcome you, you have to make an effort—and learning the language is the best way to do that.
- Things become routine quickly… One of the best things about travelling is the exposure to new things. You notice it as soon as you arrive; the new smells, the new sounds, the new people, the new buildings. I remember being giddy when I saw my first double-decker London bus and being fixated on the city’s chimneys for weeks. But, like any new environment, these things become less and less new as time progresses and, over time, become routine. It’s just like moving into a new apartment; at first, you’re enthralled with its lack of familiarity, but as time passes, it does begin to feel like home. That’s happened with us in London; the left-hand driving, the red phone booths, the pound sign are all now routine.
- …But never quite normal. That being said, there are definitely some deeper cultural norms that still haven’t been broken, and may never be. One example: the trash. To our Midwestern American eyes, seeing someone walk out of a shop, unwrap a candy bar, and casually throw the wrapper on the ground—within steps of a trash can, no less—is just crazy. That’s happened to us countless times since arriving in Europe. There seems to be a culture of “someone else will pick it up” in many places, although our Swiss and northern European friends often share our frustrations. No matter how long we stay in London, I am confident that this—along with the greeting “you alright?”—will never be normal.
- We want to be in two places at once. We’ve referenced this a couple of times in our blog. As lucky as we are to be living abroad and travelling to new places, we definitely miss our family and friends back home. We are able to keep in touch via social media and WhatsApp, but we do feel like we miss a lot by not being close to home. We wish we could be closer to help during the tough times and experience first-hand the get-togethers and other good times. Hell, we have a niece and a future brother-in-law who we’ve each only met once. Alas, all great adventures take sacrifice.
- We’ve had no regrets. Through all the good—the awe-inspiring sites, the awesome people, the new experiences—and the bad—the hard work, the homesickness, the trash—one sentiment stands tall unequivocally: we would absolutely do it again. Looking back, this past year has been one of the best of our lives. We’ve grown so much as a team and as individuals, we’ve learned a ton about ourselves and others, and we’ve enjoyed so many life-changing experiences that there is no way we’d go back and change our minds. The only thing we’d change is that we’d travel more, and we’re making plans to do just that over the next year. This opportunity to live abroad has been a truly remarkable experience, and we can’t wait for what the future holds.
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch. Move.” – Anthony Bourdain