Posted in 2012 (Europe), 2014 (China), Articles, Blog

Article: 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever

So I’m scrolling through Facebook (once I finally get my VPN to connect and stay connected) when I see my cousin’s friend (with whom I am friends on FB and who is currently in Spain studying abroad, I think) has liked an article on someone’s page called 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.

So here is my take on Russell V. J. Ward’s 4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever.


 

I think for me it started long before I made a choice to go abroad, let alone visit. By the time I started high school, we had lived in three states, four cities, and I had attended school in four different districts.

Phoenix, AZ – born; Charlotte, NC – 4 years; Greensboro, NC – 1 year; Kernersville, NC – 2 years; Jamestown, NY – 4 years

My thirst for traveling abroad started with the first Harry Potter book. Even though I knew Hogwarts wasn’t real and that I couldn’t catch a train from King’s Cross Station to the magical school, I still remember thinking “I want to go there.” London was really where I wanted to go, but I’d settle for anywhere in that area (even now, my geography skills are subpar).

When I went to university, that’s when I started making plans of how to study abroad. I had a plan from freshman orientation on how to get there. And so I went. In the summer of 2012, I went on a cruise with my gramma, aunt, and cousin (Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy) and I didn’t want to get off that ship. Except in the fall of 2012, I studied abroad in Ireland.

Kernersville, NC – 4 years; Wilmington, NC – 4(ish) years; Maynooth, Ireland – 1/4 year

Between moving home and back to school every winter and summer break (I lived on campus and wasn’t allowed to stay) and my study abroad experience, I moved sixteen times in the span of my four-year degree. Of course, by this point the wanderlust had settled in completely, so I was home for the summer after graduation before I moved to Colorado to live with my gramma. Then, of course, I moved to China, which is where I am now.

Kernersville, NC – 4 months; Lakewood, CO – 9 months; Langfang, Hebei, China – 12 months

My contract in China will end in May (but I might end up staying until June? I’m not sure) and I’ll return back to Kernersville, NC, which is obviously where my parents live. Ten years and they’re still in the same house, I’m impressed! Of course, I’ll be heading off to Dublin, Ireland in August/September so… Anyways. Here’s the four ways:


 

1. You’re not the same person you were.
Boy howdy. If that’s not the truth, then I don’t know what is. Even my trip to Ireland, which was only a few months, was life-changing to say the least. These twelve months in China, even more so. Ward talks about how you might not realize it immediately, but I think somewhere as vastly different in culture as China is to the US makes you realize it a lot sooner. Once you’re over that culture shock, you start to think back “Remember how hard this was when I first got here?” My personal huge oh my god moment involves a lot of “Remember how frightened I was when I first got here?” Now I can navigate my way around Beijing, I’ve gotten used to the way things work in China (even if some of the practices still annoy me), and I have the courage to travel from one end of this giant country to the other — on my own. (In fact, I’m heading to Shanghai in a week and a half.)
You learned about you.
Before I spent the summer here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. As a driven 22 year old who always had a Plan, that terrified me more than moving across the world. I thought my problem was that I liked too many things and couldn’t pick between them, but it turned out to be my strength, in a way. After a summer on my own – 100% on my own – I finally figured it out. What I want to do, what I want to be, but most importantly, who I am.

(China 2014) New friends I met in China and I in Xi’an! (Thanks to Erin for the lovely picture)

2. You can never go back home.
I think part of this is also me growing up. I hear about things from my family well after they happen now, I’m not constantly up-to-date like I was when I was just living across the country. I can’t call my mom just to chat when I’m walking somewhere and I spent my first summer without my brother for the first time since he was born. When I first studied abroad and had a taste of what it was like to live not-there, I came back and tried to go back home. It didn’t work. People had gotten so used to my absence (a mere semester!) that they forgot to include me in things later. It hurt at first, I was so used to being in that place and being surrounded by people that it was hard for me to let go and do things on my own. Plus, I missed Ireland a lot and didn’t want to return in the first place.
At some point, you realize you couldn’t go back even if you wanted to.
Admittedly, I currently want to go go go and not stay stay stay, but these are the times I realize who I miss the most and who misses me the most. (Shout-out to Katie, my bff since high school, Gagey-poop, who I miss dearly, Marcus, for constantly asking me when I’ll be back in Ireland {SEPTEMBERISH}, and my family, cause well duh.) I don’t want to go back to what I was, to where I was before. I love the people I miss, but I’m ready to go go go!

3. Your world became a whole lot bigger.
Holy moly the world is huge. But at the same time, it’s really not. Since I’ve been here in China, I meet new people every time I go to Beijing. My world is a lot bigger, but the world itself seems a lot smaller. It’s a lot more manageable now. I used to think “Gosh, I don’t know if I’ll ever visit [insert place here], it’s so far.” Now, it’s not. I can go anywhere. “I always wanted to visit” has become “I’m gonna visit…”
And there’s no turning back.
I always wanted to go go go, but I was afraid. “What if” I asked myself a lot. Now I know, the only room I have for “What if”s is “What if I don’t?” I have never regretted a single thing I’ve done in my life (no, seriously) and the only thing I regret is not having done. I was afraid and living in the What if zone too much, but now I know. The world is huge and completely, utterly manageable. I am no longer content to be in one place for very long. I wasn’t before, but even less so now.
Let’s go.
Because it’s all good.

4. Anything is possible.
Let me repeat that:
Anything is possible.
This, I think, is the truest number on this list. When I graduated college, I was so afraid. I was afraid I’d end up “stuck”: stuck in a job, stuck in a place, stuck in myself. And I did get stuck for a bit. Now, though? Now I can do anything. I wanted to move (back) to Ireland. I wanted to go back to school. Now I know I can and I will.
You proved you can live abroad – and you survived.
And I’ll do it again. The US to China culture jump was terrible. There were days I didn’t want to leave my apartment because it was just so overwhelming. Eight months in and I still get those days. But eight months in and I know this is the hardest thing I’ll ever do. And even if it’s not, I’ll survive that just as I survived this. Anything is possible and anything is survivable and there will be times in the future when I will be afraid, but I will think of this time in my life and say to myself “Well, we did that. Let’s do this.”
You did it.
Almost. I have a few months left, but when I’m done, this will be the thing that gets me through everything. I’ll be going back to school and everyone says how hard that is, but I will think of the drive and determination that brought me here and kept me here and I will pull those up and say “Okay, well. We can do this. We can do anything.”

 

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