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Lessons from Life Abroad

Eight Lessons from Life Abroad

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After 4 years away from home, I have returned and started a new journey but I can’t do that without thinking back to our time spent in Korea. Loads of new and interesting experiences made it a real journey and valuable lessons have sprung from those memories. I want to share those ideas with those who might find themselves in our situation. Here are eight lessons that I’ve picked up from life abroad. 

Eight Lessons from Life Abroad

This Life is for (Almost) Everyone

My wife and I decided on Korea and parlaying the tiny resources we had then to go for it. The jump was truly a risk and life didn’t exactly pan out at first. We hit bottom in Korea and many people were surprised that we’d actually come back for another round. Some people didn’t give it a second chance and simply left the country before their contract was up. Korea might not be for everyone but it’s not the only option. People are finding ways to live abroad (see digital nomads, work for stay) and if you save enough money to get started, it’s easily possible. 

Embrace Homesickness, Isolation

The first moments of any stint abroad are usually the best and often known as the honeymoon period. It doesn’t take long before things change leading one to start hitting walls where open doors and new experiences once existed. Then there’s the yearly ritual of calling parents on holidays and trying to hold back guilt-filled tears. You make do and hang out with other expats during the holidays but it’s not the same. There’s always someone or something back home that you want to see and eventually, you no choice but to cope. Embrace homesickness because that’s the only way to grow and better appreciate this life we’ve created.

Know Nothing, Stay Humble

This is nothing new for followers of Buddha and genuinely humble people but this is something I learned while living in another country and traveling around others. No matter how much you think you know or read, you’re going to be wrong at least once. Your idea of personal space and the right way to drive will forever change after spending time somewhere else. Go a little farther and erase “I know” from your vernacular when talking with locals or expats (especially older ones) and you might just learn something. Maybe you’ll earn some respect after asking questions, listening, and nodding your head from time to time.

Research Everything, Always

Maybe this is the history major in me speaking but you should make good friends with Google and use it at least once a day, unless you’re stuck in a Wikipedia loop which I will not interrupt. No really, some of the harshest lessons I’ve discovered have come with looking things up AFTER visiting. Whether it’s a scam or a tip on the best restaurant in Seoul, you can find it after a quick click or two. People talk and blog and write things on social media so you can save your brain, wallet, and unrealistic expectations from too much hassle after looking things up.

We’re all the Same

It quickly becomes clear while abroad that people may look and act differently but in the end, we’re all the same. Everyone is after the same goals no matter the place. Our sense of everyday normal makes us think of the world as so complex and full of the distinct. At the end of the day, many of us want the same happiness and personal connections and hope to find love. We also profess a form of faith or moral code and seek answers to larger questions that take a lifetime to answer. We’re all the same even if our looks and accents and preferences are different.

Learn some History!

My elementary school teachers spent tons of time putting Columbus in a positive light before moving onto the Revolution and Antebellum periods of U.S. history. During those off years spent on world history, we’d spend at least a month each on the Holocaust and WWII and would never finish the book due to lack of time. I can’t profess to know what everyone else studied but after spending some time in Asia, I think something was missing. Do public school history teachers even spend a day on Korea’s dynasties before the Japanese came or the tumultuous era that followed the war? Sometimes you have to visit a place before you can begin to understand its intricacies and the history behind them.

Reverse Culture Shock

Once you do make it home, family and friends will love to see you again and everything should go back to normal. I mean nothing has changed in those years you’ve been gone, right? No, try again. People’s lives have moved ahead just like your own and while they’ll understand you’ve been gone and living an exciting life “traveling the world” like I hear all the time, the strangeness of settling back in won’t register with them. My advice to you is to try and seek out former expats or groups and find someone who wants to talk about life abroad. Otherwise you should just start a blog and start writing about your time abroad. That’s not advice but an order! I need more reads and beg you to write about your perspectives. Do it now!

Cycling in Gyeongju, South Korea (경주)

Keep Moving

What else can I say? My last bit of advice is simple: keep moving when you get home because there are probably tons to see there. Maybe there’s a spot in your old town worth investigating. Go for a walk or two before graduating to road trips and the eventual plane trip back to your old home abroad. One thing that I’m learning these days is that no matter where one goes, there’s always something new and exciting lying outside.

Anything You’d Like to Add? I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts in the Comments Section!

18 thoughts on “Eight Lessons from Life Abroad

  1. Ben Zabulis says:

    The thing I love about living abroad is that, without fail, each day brings a golden moment. It could be an act of kindness, a smile, a brief encounter or coming across some previously unknown flora or fauna. You just have to know and recognise when it happens ! It pales all those petty frustrations in to insignificance. I first went abroad for work in 1984, got hooked and never looked back, best thing I ever did ! Now my partner and I are living permanently abroad and I doubt we’ll ever return – can’t see the point ! Happy travels !

  2. Dan says:

    Here is my tip for the, “Keep Moving” when you get back home. My way of buying a car fits in with that. When I know what make and model of car I want, I go on Auto and find the combination of low miles to low price that balances out to be the best car in America. I have the person or dealer selling it take it to the nearest new car factory sales and service center for that particular make. They drop it off for a full look over that I pay for. In my case it was always Lexus. The Lexus dealer would review the car and tell me what scratches, oil leaks if any etc. that the car has so that I’m not relying on the seller to be honest. If all is well, I fly in and buy it where ever in the USA it is located, then have a great road trip driving it back home.

    Home for me is Colorado, and I’ve flown and driven from Atlanta and Florida. As whatever car I’m buying is the best value in all the USA, even after flights, gas, and hotels, I still save money over buying local. And I get a great road trip adventure for free. That’s my tip on having a travel adventure while living back home.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      You’re so right about the “Keep Moving,” Dan but I love the way you pull it off here. I have to say that Christina and I have come into things prepared for most of it but totally readjusting has been tough. Maybe when the weather is nicer, we’ll be moving around a lot more. Thankfully we’re surrounded by a lot here in Durham. Ever drive through this part of the country? Let me know if you’re ever in the area and I’ll take you out for a coffee or some drinks. Take care and thanks for the kind and thoughtful comment.

  3. Krista says:

    I would also add “Get Lost!”

    The most wonderfully unforgettable things happen when you turn a corner that you never knew and it certainly hasn’t disappointed me yet! Glad to see you and the Mrs. made it home safely! Okaeri friend!

    • Duke Stewart says:

      “Get lost” is such a good idea when living abroad and traveling in general, Krista! I’m happy that you mentioned it and bet you can relate with your experiences. Thanks for the comment and I hope to stay in touch here. Take care and all the best to you and your family.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections about your experience abroad, really a wise post. I love how living abroad allows us to experience these new lessons we otherwise wouldn’t. I think moving back home gives us the opportunity at least to live with fresher eyes and to approach life with the same sense of wonder as an expat. What a great experience! Agreed, travel blogging while back home though does help keep the traveler inside me happy!

    • Duke Stewart says:

      Hey Stephanie,

      I appreciate your relating that writing while at home keeps you sane and moving on the inside. It’s good to know that I’m not alone:) Right now, I’m so curious about this place and want to explore it more than I did when living abroad. It’s strange because for so long I thought that this was a place to escape, not explore.

      Thank you for commenting. Your thoughts made me think even more!

    • Duke Stewart says:

      There’s tons to learn from just about any experience but life abroad throws a lot of those lessons into hyper gear, I say. Do you have any similar experiences to share? I’m a regular reader of yours so I’ll probably find one right now!

      Thanks for stopping by, Katie, and take care.

  5. Toni | 2 Aussie Travellers says:

    Research everything is so true especially when you’re travelling in a country where you don’t read or understand the local language particularly well. Most places are more interesting when you understand the context and history so I try to read up and get some background ahead of time but nothing beats the experience itself and the little gems you glean from the locals.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      You’re right about the research beforehand, Toni. I try my best before reaching a place but have sometimes gone into it with just a brief skimming the morning of. Criminal, I know, but sometimes I just forget. I’m proud of the planning and research we did going into our 2 month trip through SE Asia but I’m sure there’s more that could’ve been planned/thought of before we went into it. On my part, of course. Lol. My wife’s definitely more on top of things with planning.

      Thanks for commenting! I hope you enjoyed the read:)

  6. Ryan Biddulph says:

    Hi Duke,

    Absolutely beautiful post. 1 hour ago a guy in Nicaragua just stole my flip flops. He begged me for them, I said nope, then I left for the kitchen to get cat food for his little street kitty. When I returned he had just yanked them with a stick. I let him go and laughed. I found myself nodding with many of these tips because the experience vibes with them, especially being open and just letting go, and going with the flow of travel and all things that may happen on the road. Awesome lesson in release for me and an even better lesson here. Thanks much for sharing Duke.


    • Duke Stewart says:

      Ah man! I remember seeing you mention this on Facebook. Absolutely terrible but glad that you turned it around, Ryan. Did you pick up a new pair yet? I’m sure you’re going to make this experience into something creative on your own end, and I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for staying positive and for stopping by, Ryan. Take care.

    • Duke Stewart says:

      I do consider myself lucky in many ways but wish more people I know from home would’ve tried this. Some of them look at me like I’m oh so privileged but honestly, the only thing that got me to Korea was having a degree. Tons of people are going overseas with less. Thanks for your comment, Jeri. Haven’t you spent some time abroad?

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