There are lessons that can’t be learnt in the classroom. Some things in life, especially about yourself, you can only learn by being out there and experiencing new things. While I may not have been off on a long term backpacking adventure (yet) I have lived abroad for five years. In some ways, it’s similar to travelling, and it teaches you a lot of the same lessons. The biggest things I have learnt in the past five years are the following.
1. You start to appreciate other cultures more
When you’re travelling or living abroad you’re ultimately embedded in a culture completely different from your own. It makes you realise just how small home can be, and you learn to love and appreciate cultures different from your own. I’m Italian, we love our Italian food (no surprise there). Until I moved to London, I’d never had an Indian curry or Thai noodles. Other than Japanese restaurants and sushi, which are very trendy in Milan, we don’t have a lot of ethnic restaurants in Italy. This may seem like a simple thing (of course the Italian girl picks the food example) but it’s also reflective of the atmosphere in general in Italy. We’re not always open to other cultures, and if I hadn’t moved to London to experience new things, I would probably still be laughing at racist jokes on Italian TV shows.
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2. You can handle a lot more than you think
Whether it’s the corner shop being closed at midnight when you’re really craving chocolate, or a real emergency like the bathroom flooding or missing your next flight, you learn to deal with a lot more things than you thought you could. Unexpected things happen all the time, and being away from the safety net you have at home teaches you to handle things alone.
3. You mature a lot
You may not be a real adult yet, and you don’t realise this while travelling or living abroad, but you become so much more responsible and mature. I’m a kid at heart, always will be. When we have flat movie nights and nobody can decide on a movie, I will always be that person to suggest a Disney classic. Can’t go wrong with Lion King or Mulan! But when I go home and talk to old friends or family I realise how much my way of thinking has changed, and it may seem hard to believe, but I have become more responsible. Or maybe turning down nights out is just a sign I’m becoming old, not more mature…
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4. You become more patient
I grew up in Milan and then moved to London, both very frenetic and fast paced cities. Needless to say, my patience isn’t very good. I have very little tolerance for slow moving queues, bad or slow drivers (despite being one myself), or when restaurants take too long to serve my food. While travelling your patience levels are constantly tested. Things often go wrong; whether it’s losing a ferry, a delayed flight or even food poisoning. You will face situations that will teach you to stop for a moment, take a deep breath and be more patient. Accept the things you can’t change and focus on the good things. I won’t claim to now be some sort of patience expert; I still have big issues with slow walking people or people that stand on the left on escalators (Londoners, you know what I mean)! But I’m gradually improving, I’m becoming more patient and it would have never happened if I’d stayed in Milan.
5. You own a lot more stuff than you actually need
This may seem like not as big a realization as the others, but it’s something you learn nonetheless. There’s nothing quite like having to fit your life in two suitcases that makes you realise just how much of your “life” is random stuff you never use. Since I moved to London I changed houses three times (plus a room change last month) and every time I marvel at the amount of stuff I have. Despite getting rid of some of the extra stuff at every house move, I always seem to accumulate more. If I think about the money spent on things I don’t use, it makes me determined to stop accumulating stuff, it can easily add up to a flight somewhere!
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6. You will miss things
Both in the sense that you will miss home, and in the sense that you will miss out on things that happen at home. There will be cool parties, friends will get engaged and then break up, and other exciting things will happen while you’re away. It might be hard to deal with at first, but think about all the exciting new things that you get to experience, your friends might feel the same way about missing out on all the amazing things you’re up to. As someone who suffers quite badly from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) I can tell you it’s something you learn to deal with. Probably also for the best, as overtime you learn to not feel sad every time you miss something, but to focus on the cool things you’re doing!
7. You learn to leave your comfort zone
Travelling often demands you to push your boundaries. There will be things that make you uncomfortable, and that ask you to forget what’s familiar. Confronting an unfamiliar situation and coming out on top is one of the most exhilarating feelings ever, knowing that you can leave your comfort zone and that despite everything, you can handle it.
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8. Talking to new people and making new friends becomes easier
There’s nothing quite like being in an entirely new country by yourself to make you talk to strangers! You will meet new people all the time, whether it’s at your new job, university course, hostel, or visiting somewhere on a tour. It might be embarrassing at first, but most people will be in your same situation, and will be happy to have someone new to talk to. When I first moved to London I didn’t know anyone, but I knew most of the other students were in my same position, and it makes it so much easier to talk to other people when you know (or can somewhat assume) that they’re also looking for new friends.
9. Home takes on a whole new meaning
As an international school kid I get asked quite a lot “where is home”? It’s a hard question with no straight answer. I grew up in Milan but spent every summer as a kid in Sardinia, I then moved to London for university and lived there for five years. In different ways all these places feel like home. Milan is the home I grew up in and where most of my family still lives, but Sardinia will always have a special place in my heart thanks to my summer friends and adventures. London became my home thanks to the people I met, and the independence that comes from living alone for the first time. You eventually realise that home isn’t necessarily a place or country, but a combination of the right people at the right time that make you feel welcome and safe. So I guess the cheesy answer, but real nonetheless, is that home is where the heart is!
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10. You realise that nobody has it figured out
You know that girl you met at university? The one who at the start of her final year already had a job offer lined up for the year after at a dream Big Four company? Truth is, she had no clue what she was doing. She still doesn’t (she actually just quit her job to find out what she really wants to do, maybe I’m talking about me…) Most people don’t. You will meet all kinds of people, that will tell you crazy stories about their lives and it may sound like they’re living the dream and know where they’re going. Or maybe an old family friend already bought a house and is getting married, and your parents keep mentioning them. It may make you feel bad because you while they’re supposedly doing life right, you’ve been travelling, and don’t have your life sorted yet. Soon you will realise that they don’t either. Our lives are constantly changing, the things people expect from us and what we actually want are often different, and we learn to deal with it. Like David Bowie once said; “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring”.
Travelling, moving abroad, seeing the world and experiencing new cultures are going to be the best teachers. You will learn so many things about yourself and the world that you never would in a classroom or at home. What do you think? Do you agree? Have you been travelling or living abroad and learnt similar things? Let me know in the comments below!
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