Miniature Expat
© The Preiser Project

7 Things You’ll Learn About Yourself by Moving Abroad

Leaving your home to live in a foreign country can be scary stuff. If I rewind a bit over a decade, I was dying to leave my home town for a while and planned to head first to Japan, but I had a few reservations and anxieties. I even had a recurring dream (or nightmare, I guess) about suffocating on a crowded Japanese train.

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But off to Osaka I flew. And once I’d made the leap, I adored almost everything about living abroad. As a bonus, I was also pleased that I learned a whole lot about myself that has made the rest of my life since better in all kinds of ways. And from discussions with fellow travelers, I can say that this experience is pretty common.

So in case you’re tossing up whether or not to move abroad, perhaps this list of things you might learn about yourself will help you see just how worthwhile it is.

#1: Communication

Believe it or not, it is perfectly possible to communicate without a common language. In fact, you can make friends with people even if you only speak a few words of their language or vice versa.

For native English speakers, since we’re often not accustomed to other languages, this can be hard to believe until you’ve done it. But it certainly teaches you a great deal about how relationships and friendships work and how communication is more than just the words we say.

Man on Venice Beach at Sunset, California
Venice Beach at Sunset, California © Graham

#2: Confidence

I’m willing to bet that if you’re a shy person and live in a foreign country for a while you’ll soon discover that you are not as shy as you thought. In fact, in the right circumstances, you can talk to anyone.

For example, you may find yourself with few chances to speak your native language to anyone, and then you’ll happily start a conversation with a stranger on a train just because you see them reading an English novel.

And it’s not just shy people who gain confidence while living overseas. There can be a lot of ego-boosting moments as you navigate the new and different successfully, and that lends new confidence to all of us.

#3: Silliness

Silliness may seem like a strange thing to learn about yourself, but what I really mean is that you will spend a lot less time worrying about what others think of you. When you live in a foreign country and don’t yet know all the local nuances of the place, you will find yourself doing lots of stupid things and making heaps of mistakes. And in this new context you will suddenly learn that it doesn’t matter!

Dog and man jumping on bed
Don’t take it so seriously © kim (Flickr)

#4: Self-reliance

Before you move abroad, you probably have an extensive network of family and friends and if hard times strike, they help you out. Such a network is fantastic and will always be there for you, even if it’s only via phone and email.

But living in a foreign country means you’ll likely learn that you can rely on yourself to get through tough times. When you have an awful toothache in the middle of the night and need to figure out how to ask for the right kinds of painkillers from a foreign pharmacy, you will discover that you can do it on your own, without the help you might have back home.

#5: Open-mindedness

If you have made the decision to move abroad, you probably have some degree of open-mindedness. But even if you’re moving to another country due to circumstances beyond your control, you will quickly learn that you have a bigger capacity to be open to new things than you imagined.

Even in terms of experiences as (relatively) simple as food, I discovered that in the right circumstances, I was open to trying new and unusual dishes that I probably would have turned my nose up to if they’d been served back home.

In a broader context, you will no doubt learn to be more open-minded and less judgmental about the people you meet, the religions they follow, the cultural traditions they practice. And you’ll be less concerned if they question your own habits and customs.

It's raining...
© Nono Fara

#6: The Positives of Home

The number one thing I learnt is that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything!

Some people — and I include myself here — move overseas because they feel like something is missing where they live. I learnt that some of the things I disliked back home weren’t as bad as I thought and was able to see my home in a new light.

In fact, I came to think that I would have been able to live almost anywhere in the world, because I’d properly learnt to see the good things in a place and find more ways to get around the bad things.

#7: Your New Super-power!

For me, the number one thing I learnt from living in a foreign country is that if I put my mind to it, I can do anything! Before you move abroad, so many things sound so difficult — getting the right visa, learning a new language, fitting in to a different culture — but once you’re there, nothing is as hard as it sounds. And this tends to spill over into all areas of your life.

For me, my fear of getting trapped in a crowded Japanese commuter train was quite unfounded. I rarely needed to travel at peak time. I only once saw the famed white-gloved rail employees trained to push as many people as possible into a carriage. When it was crowded I was nearly always taller than everyone around me and didn’t feel claustrophobic at all. Added to all the stuff I learnt about myself, I felt very glad that my fear of Japanese trains didn’t make me stay at home.

  1. I love this post. I’d say that the other thing you will learn about yourself is your limits. I learned that they’re a lot farther than I anticipated, but they still exist.

  2. Great post. I’d also like to add “patience”. Back home we always want things Now. When you’re in a different country, with language barriers, you learn to be patient and go with the flow.

    To add to that, when you’re living in abroad you’re rarely in a rush to get anywhere… unless you’re late for your flight ;)

  3. When I moved to Buenos Aires I learned that I had been complacent and unappreciative. Best thing I did was move away. it put me in check and refocused me. it also forced me to learn a whole lot of new things.

  4. nice post.

    when i moved from Austria to the UK i learned that I could do more than I gave myself credit for. It just taking that risk that you wouldn’t when your comfortable.
    Most of all I started to appreciate Vienna more, as I wasn’t there anymore and didn’t have the things around me, i had grown accustomed to!

  5. It’s so good to read somebody else’s experience abroad. I’ve changed so much (from utterly shy to “normally social”) that I can’t put together myself since I arrived home. I feel like something is missing: basically all the perks that you have listed above… Even though I like my city (Budapest) and I missed it a lot, I would move abroad without any hesitation again.

    I just discovered vagabondish but I already like it a lot! Thanks for this “eye opening sum up” :)

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