A 5(and three halves)-Tip Guide to Living Abroad, Traveling, and Living Life to the Fullest

Happy first snow from Tišnov,

and happy holiday season in New York!

Left: Rockefeller Center tree, Right: Fifth Avenue building wrapped like a present. Photo credit to my dad. 🙂

You could say I know something about living far from home. Meanwhile, I know people who have been living here way longer than I have (!), and in another way, you can never have enough experience when it comes to moving your life to a place where you don’t know anyone or anything.

It’s scary to make that choice. But there are reasons for it. My reasons for doing it are here, and my reasons for then staying are here.

Some other reasons for living abroad are:

  1. Wanting to reinvent yourself.
  2. Wanting to learn a new language, absorb a new culture, or gain perspective on the world and your place in it.
  3. To scare the crap out of your parents and shock your own system by putting yourself in a totally unfamiliar environment – a little survival game, if you will, to test your life skills.
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Survivor cast

I love New York City, but I felt oppressed by its busy, sometimes snobby, high-pressure lifestyle. I wanted to do all three of these things and I learned a few good tips along the way. So if you’re thinking you may one day want to move abroad, wherever it feels right for you, here would be my advice to you.

1. Do what you want to do.

This is not easy. It is learned. It is my life philosophy, which is not revolutionary if you really think about it. How many times in your day do you internally complain about having to do things you don’t want to do? As a person on this earth, there are things you have to do because you don’t have a choice. If you’re a student, you need to study for tests. If you’re an adult, you have to pay rent and do your own laundry and dishes.

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I’m not talking about these things – I’m talking about the things we do have a choice in, but tell ourselves we don’t. You can’t do whatever you want if you will hurt other people in the process. (Remember: Your rights and freedoms end when another person’s begin.) But when it comes to achieving your ideal life, you have to ask yourself what you want.

Don’t want to do something? (Don’t like taking piano lessons, or the university major [faculty] you chose?) Do you have other options?

And more positively: Want to do something? (Always wanted to learn ballroom dance, dye your hair red, or quit your job to travel the world to travel full time?) Do you have options?

Yes? So do it. It’s as simple as that.

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(Sidenote: I think about this a lot in relation to “social norms.” For example, it’s taboo to ask someone you’ve already met for their name if you’ve forgotten it. Who cares? Everyone knows it happens. So just ask them again. “I’m so sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name. Could you tell me again?” I think they’re more likely to think you’re honest than stupid. And you’ll both move on after it.)

1.5. Try to fit in where acceptable, but also be weird.

Yes, I’m that British or American weirdo (people who don’t know me have no idea which) who gives candy canes to local shopkeepers. I also like to randomly chat with them and ask them how their day is going. In Czech Republic, that is weird.

candycane

God, those weirdo Americans. They ask shopkeepers how their day is going, but don’t really care when they ask their friends. 😉

2. Say yes to every new opportunity.

So far, I can give you advice about this if you want to move to the Czech Republic, Israel, or the United States. In CZ, accept invitations to go mushrooming, learn to ski or ballroom dance, and even eat a traditional raw meat dish. Some things you will love and some you will hate. In Israel (or anywhere), wander into a random, interesting-looking building and find yourself at a local fashion exposition. (If you read that article, please keep in mind I wrote it when I was so much younger and more immature in 2012. :P) Make an absolute fool of yourself speaking your own nonsense version of the local language. The important thing is to try, and now you know. People will respect you for it.

2.5. Don’t isolate yourself.

This is partially a repetition of 2, but I think it’s also more than that. Don’t stay at home. Involve yourself in the community.

Watch the films, read the books, listen to the music, go to the festivals, learn the history, gain perspective.

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3. Excessively thank the people who take you in or offer to help you. Especially anyone who translates for you. 😛

Humans are social beings. We need each other to survive. We need to be kind and fair to each other. As a person who thinks of herself as a nomad, I am so thankful to the people here in Czech Republic who showed me their incredible hospitality, and made me feel comfortable and welcome. I would never have stayed without that.

I try to remember to bring wine and chocolate to people who invite me to dinner, but sometimes I forget. I’m trying to get used to the system of “inviting” people for drinks or coffee. But I always say thank you, and I never forget to pay forward favors.

thank-you1

Take the lesson of the strangers who helped Ondra and I in Romania when we had no idea how to buy a tram ticket. We just stood by the machine confused and speaking English, and three non-English speakers came and showed us without us asking. I think they even may have paid for it. They did a nice thing and they didn’t have to. That’s the best kind of good deed- we can do it every day, and especially when we are trying to show ourselves of worthy of acceptance into a new culture. Someone’s having a bad day? Buy them a chocolate bar for no reason to show them you like them. Again: simple.

3.5. Accept help.

Someone wants to help you find accommodation or a language teacher? Someone wants to help you brave the foreign police? (Oh, the experiences I’ve had there. P.S. If you move to Czech Republic and have to go to the foreign police, have any document you’ve ever gotten in your life that proves you are who you say you are. And have 500 copies of all documents.) Someone wants to show you the best mulled wine at the Christmas market? Say yes, thank you.

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4. Look, listen, observe everything. Always know a few words in the language of anywhere you travel. It will always make people warm to you and open up to you more easily.

When I got to Czech Republic, I knew the words for “week” and “month” as well as how to count to ten. But I listened to everyone, tried to read all the signs I saw, and two and a half years later, I can communicate reasonably well never having had a formal teacher. However you best learn languages, do it. You learn so much more through the eyes of the culture – and think of all the people you couldn’t talk to and learn from if you didn’t!

5. Whenever possible, take the bus. (And when not the bus, the train, instead of flying.)

You often see more of the countries you are traveling to, or through, and you can stare dreamily out the window. Being the cheapest option also doesn’t hurt.

I used to love flying, but now it’s just a hassle. Even thinking about going to the airport stresses me out. When I first landed in Romania, I was so excited to learn about the land of my great-grandfather. A little too excited – I tried to run under the dividers in the passport control line. There was no one in front of me! But my first experience with my fellow Romanians was to be yelled at by the airport staff and told to go to the back of the line. Well. That was one of the only sour experiences in an amazing week and a half trip – when Ondra and I took the bus everywhere else.

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Romanian countryside from the bus window

The last unofficial tip is: allow yourself to feel scared sometimes. Cry out your homesickness and your feelings of how strange and inconvenient everything is. I was scared. But it got better. Allow yourself to doubt your decision. Then remember all the great things about where you live. You are growing into yourself all the time.

Categories Faux pas, TravelTags , , ,

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