Advantages and Disadvantages of Living Abroad
- Where do I begin? Living abroad is my life in a nutshell.
- Am I thankful for the opportunities I have had to experience life in different countries? Yes. Now I am. I couldn't have said the same at the time of our multiple moves.
- Do I crave moving abroad again? In theory, yes. Practically speaking, I am reluctant.
Advantages of Living Overseas
The international life I have known is so much a part of who I am, that I forget to appreciate how wonderful it is to have had the opportunities to live in different countries. My parents deserve all the credit because without their initiative to uproot our family multiple times, I would not have had the rich experiences which shaped me into the person I am today. In particular, I am thankful for the following 'top 10' advantages I have gained from living overseas.
- Languages: beyond speaking more than one language, I fine tuned my ability to communicate with people of all walks of life. My non-verbal communication skills speak to my ability to be equally engaging in my conversations with the cleaning lady as the owner of my husband's company. In the end, I believe my choice of words for writing (as you see it here) was heavily influenced by my overseas experiences. German is my mother tongue, Portuguese came next, English was only third.
- Independence: the only steady and reliable person who could help me through the sometimes difficult parts of relocating (apart from my parents) was myself. I credit this skill for the personal strength and perseverance I have today to overcome problems (which usually appear to be of relatively smaller size). And, the ability to be perfectly content when I am on my own.
- Empathy: not only because I have seen extreme poverty by living in a third world country, but also because I am deeply in touch with my emotions. I am thankful for the sensitivity I have when people around me are struggling or mistreated. And I am very eager to spend my volunteer hours to benefit an international cause.
- Flexibility: I think I am adaptable to new situations because I have known no other way by moving overseas from a very young age. I am not set in my ways when I approach a new situation and am willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done in a team situation. No job is too small for me.
- Joie-de-vivre: by living overseas, I acquired an adventurous spirit in the way I approach lifes' opportunities. A dear friend calls me her 'yes girl', because I am always willing and overjoyed to try something new and different.
- Open-mindedness: some might label it a lack of opinion or indecisiveness, but I am acting honestly when I can appreciate the same issue from more than one perspective. I listen eagerly to the ideas and opinions of others, and can be convinced easily to be supportive of opposing viewpoints.
- Adaptability: every time I am in a new social situation, I am able to find common ground with the people around me. I am able to change myself to suit the occasion and it does not take long before it becomes clear that we have either traveled to the same places, enjoyed an unusual food or even know the same people in a far away city.
- Problem-solving: I pride myself in my ability to solve problems with few resources. This is largely due to the critical and analytical thinking skills I have used from an early age to survive when I neither knew anyone or spoke the language in our new host country.
- Creativity: while some might claim that people are born with creativity or not, I believe that exposure to different ideas, people and places influenced how I am able to come up with new and valuable solutions around my life and home.
- Change is Good: I am resilient when change is necessary and make the best of the situations which demand it. I see potential when others might see problems because I have grown into someone with a drive towards heightened self-awareness and achievement.
My Personal Journey Overseas
I am from a small city in southern Germany, also home to my father's former employer. I lived here from birth to the age of 5.
An expatriate assignment brought our family to Sao Paulo, where I lived between the ages of 5 and 15. We moved locally a total of three times.
After adopting Brazil as my new home, I was more than reluctant to move away from friends at the age of 15. Hello NJ from ages 15 to 19.
Even though I was off to college in Pennsylvania, my parents changed residencies again. I would find my home here on college breaks for two years.
During my Junior year of college, my parents traded the East for the West coast. Now going home entailed taking a plane for the next two years.
After college, I began to grow my own wings. For the first time in my life, I moved by my own choice and was happy to call NYC home for 5 years.
Chicago welcomed me for two years while my husband was enrolled in a graduate program.
In my heart I knew it was time to move closer to home again. Home as in where my parents are. We have been in California for 11 years now.
Disadvantages of Living Overseas
While I am deeply thankful for the initiative my parents took to expose me to different lifestyles and cultures, the adjustment to life overseas was not free of challenges. I am not only speaking about the difficulty in saying goodbye to family and friends or the anxiety surrounding the unknown awaiting on the other side (of the pond, quite literally in my case). Beyond some of these practical issues are also some longstanding emotional drawbacks which are only now making themselves known. Please read on for my 'top 10' reasons why living overseas can have its disadvantages.
- Loneliness: invariably moving abroad will bring along periods of extreme loneliness which can be very paralyzing in any effort to make new friends and adjust to life in the new country. It can be difficult to find others who will sympathize and it is common to feel misunderstood (or not understood at all).
- Acceptance: when I first moved to the US, we lived in small town which had never seen a foreign student before. I was eager to meet and socialize with people who had a similar international background, but I learned quickly that I was the only one of its kind. The feeling of not belonging was very difficult, especially as a teenager desperate to fit in.
- Starting Over: the concept of packing up and making a new place feel like home can be very isolating and tiring. And this issue can be two-sided as I learned later in life. My mother had a friend who quite openly told her that she would never befriend another person who is likely to move away. The time and effort invested in this friendship was obviously not worth the sacrifice for someone who is not used to starting over. Sometimes, I still wonder how widespread this feeling is.
- Roots: roots, what roots? I claim I don't have any (although I recognize that I am exaggerating), especially relative to my husband who basically grew up in the same town. He has friends he is still close to dating back all the way to Kindergarten. This is an absolutely foreign concept to me. And perhaps I am a little envious because I now recognize the beauty of having a longstanding friend to turn to.
- Out of sight, out of mind: by default, moving overseas disconnects you from family and friends and it is very difficult to maintain a deep relationship when life experiences seem to do nothing but pull you apart. People I was once close to begin to vanish because they can no longer relate to me and the same is true on the reverse. Stories around celebrating Christmas in Lima, Peru while on vacation seem to fall on deaf ears. I wonder why?!
- Nothing is forever: this concept is a combined positive and negative outcome of leading an international life. When things are good I obviously like them to last forever; when they are bad, I find comfort in knowing firsthand that situations which are difficult will pass. The trick is in hanging tough when the knee jerk reaction would lead me to pull away just as a means to protect myself from things I find challenging.
- Fear of commitment: it is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy when I step back to realize that having moved a lot from a young age plays into the way I sometimes approach social interactions. Perhaps it is out of self-defense that I have been conditioned to question the ingredients to a successful relationship, because nothing seems worse than having to say goodbye to a dear friend.
- Dilemma of personal identity: It seems I have been heavily influenced by a combination of experiences and people, and it is hard to describe who I am in just a few words. I fall back on a variety of values and beliefs depending on the circumstances. I am unique not only because there are many faces to who I am, but also because I seem to be constantly changing the perceptions I have of myself relative to others. I find this has been a tiring, never-ending emotional process.
- Unhappiness with the status quo: much like it is hard to call any one place home after having grown up overseas, I find myself constantly looking for change. Lately, I have found it to be therapeutic to redecorate since we have made a commitment to stay in our current home indefinitely. This drive may create conflict or confusion for people around me who thrive on absolutes and consistency (like my husband).
- Loss of time: moving long distances can be time consuming in more than one way. Due to the discrepancy of school calendars and academic assessment tools from one country to another, I was asked to repeat half of 9th grade after moving to the US. In the end, the English language was the only (temporary) barrier as the rest of the subjects were a breeze. The effects of being older than most everyone in my class remain debatable.