6 Life Lessons I learned From Living Abroad
1) How to deal with anything
I’ve thought of myself as a well-adjusted person, but moving abroad definitely pushed that to its limits. Is this a positive thing? You bet it is! Learning to “be okay with anything” while preserving your core set of values is a fine line to walk, but perfecting that balance is a great life skill to improve upon.
Whether it’s smiling through bites of that bizarre-looking sea creature that your Chinese friend’s family has served you for dinner, or learning to remain calm the first time a giant flying cockroach decides to move in to your room, or having to communicate your clogged toilet to your landlord via charades, the best route is always just to be okay with it. While many things you encounter may be scary, disgusting, or just plain bizarre, that’s something to celebrate! I am thankful for all my strange experiences in life because they equip me to better deal with future strange experiences, and they make really great stories along the way.
2) What’s really important
In learning to be okay with anything, you quickly learn what’s really important to you. Getting over my ‘type-A’ tendencies has been one of my favorite ways that I’ve changed since moving to Asia. Stores don’t sell my favorite brand of shampoo? This should surprise absolutely no one, and who on earth cares, because it’s not really important.
I’ve learned to be thankful that I HAVE shampoo, and also hot water coming from all my taps (in my new apartment at least). And although it almost goes without saying, I’ve also learned the value of relationships. Native-speaking friends that will go with me do mundane tasks, students who recognize when I need a hug, and a manager who understands that sometimes life as foreigner in China isn’t always easy. And even though they don’t sell my favorite kind of ice cream in China, there’s always that friend who laughs and says here, have a pineapple cake because they’re even better.
3) How much amazingly delicious food there is in the world
In my two and half years living in China, I have maybe eaten more delicious food that I have in the rest of my life COMBINED. If the stereotype is that Asian life revolves around food, then I’m totally on board with that stereotype, and for good reason: the food here is better than anywhere else on earth that I’ve lived and traveled. And I’m not just talking about the dumplings and fried rice.
Taipei has better western food than I’ve had IN THE WEST. The food here is in fact so good that there are literally only two things I miss from home: my parents’ cooking and pizookies. Yes, literally everything else is available in China and it’s probably the best version of that thing you’ve ever had. I’m not talking fancy food either. Some of the best food in the whole country comes from little food carts in night markets or random shops tucked into quiet allies. And he best part is that Taipei is one of the most walking friendly cities I’ve been to, so those delectable, very affordable eats never even make it to your waistline.
4) How to befriend anyone
Before I moved abroad, I had a very close-knit, small group of friends. I wouldn’t say we were cliquey, but it’s not like someone could just join the group…we were old friends, we’d known each other for ages, and I was the outlier in the group when I decided to move abroad. When you move abroad, you’re thrown head first into a place where you are instantly bonded with a group of people who have one thing in common with you…they’re all foreigners too. This group inevitably contains people from all over the world, from all walks of life, all with different stories to tell.
Many of the friends I’ve made in China are the kind of people I never would have met or even been interested in meeting back home, and this has made my life here incredibly rich and diverse in a way that I never could have imagined. In learning to find ways to relate to such a diverse group of people, I’ve realized how easy and wonderful it is to make new friends. It’s not a scary ‘letting someone into our group’ type of situation when you realize how interesting everyone can be, and how much they can teach you and make you a better person. Learning to befriend anyone has been the single best lesson living abroad as a foreigner has taught me!
5) Time management
I’ve never been busier in my life since moving to China, which is a choice I make simply because there’s so much to do and see here. Never has my life so embodied the idea of ‘work hard, play hard!’ I’ve learned that the days can be infinitely long if you use your time wisely. On any given day after working full time and tutoring extra, there’s still running to do, movies to catch, dinners to attend, parties to stop by, lessons to plan, and of course always time for a drink at my favorite local bar.
All of things I could have done in my home country, but the fact is that I didn’t. Living abroad gives me a certain energy that I never back at home. Perhaps that comes from the subtle realization of the passing of time when you’re time in a place is limited, or maybe it’s because it seems like my city never sleeps so neither should I! Either way, I’ve become great at managing time and living each day to fullest.
6) Learning to ask for help
I’ve always enjoyed my freedom, independence and I absolutely love helping others and being the go-to person when there’s a problem to be solved. However, asking FOR help was always something I avoided.
Moving to a country where I spoke two words of the language changed everything. (I knew how to say hello, nihao, and pudding. Useful eh?) To order food at a restaurant, I first had to ask someone how, memorize, and repeat. To find an apartment, I was totally reliant on others giving up their free time to help me. Hooking up internet or paying rent or calling the landlord for repairs, things I’d never thought twice about, where suddenly favors from my friends.
Independence is wonderful, but I’ve learned that strength can also come from the willingness to recognize where the boundaries of my ability lie. And these boundaries, of course, are not absolute. For every situation where help is required, I’ve learned something. I’ve learned what to say to the landlord the next time the toilet is clogged, learned how to order that particular dish in Chinese, and learned where to go next time my phone bill is late. Learning to ask for help has ultimately made me a more knowledgeable and independent person. When the next generation of newbies arrive in my beloved adopted country, that will be my time to pay it forward!