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Lessons Learned from Living Abroad for Five Years

Living abroad for five years has been an adventure of a lifetime, and it has taught me so much about myself and the world around me. My partner and I moved from Durango, Colorado to Randers, Denmark, and then continued to move around Denmark, Australia, and New Zealand.

I have met people from all over the world, experienced new cultures and cuisines, and explored some of the most beautiful places on earth. Here are some of the lessons I learned after living abroad for five years.

Lesson 1: Adaptability is key

Living in a foreign country can be challenging at times, especially when you are not familiar with the language, customs, and way of life. You need to be open-minded, willing to learn, and flexible to adjust to different situations. From navigating the public transportation system to ordering food at a restaurant, adapting to a new way of life takes time and patience. I learned to embrace differences and appreciate new experiences.

A hike north of Auckland, NZ

Lesson 2: Learn the language

One of the biggest challenges of living abroad can be the language barrier. It can be frustrating not being able to communicate effectively with locals or not being able to understand signs or menus. Even if you don't become fluent, knowing some basic phrases can go a long way in making connections with people and feeling more comfortable in your new home. Try an app like Duolingo, or join a group of expats who are interested in learning the language as well.

Lesson 3: Embrace cultural differences

Living abroad provides an opportunity to experience new cultures and ways of life. It is important to embrace these differences and learn from them. Whether it is trying new foods, attending local festivals, or learning about the history and traditions of the country, immersing yourself in the local culture can enhance your experience and broaden your perspective. Honestly, if you don’t embrace the differences they’ll drive a wedge between you and the culture itself. So try and keep an open mind and take it all in.

La Mezquita, Córdoba, Spain

Lesson 4: Create a home for yourself

Living abroad can be exciting, but it can also be lonely at times. Being away from family and friends can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. I learned that it is important to stay connected with loved ones back home and to create a sense of home wherever you are. Whether it is decorating your living space with familiar items, finding a community of expats, or exploring your new city with friends, creating a sense of belonging can make all the difference. For me, being abroad has never quite felt like “home,” but it’s gotten close.

Our deck in Brisbane, Australia

Lesson 5: Travel as much as possible

Living abroad provides an opportunity to explore new places and travel to destinations that may have been out of reach before. When you live somewhere it’s cheap to get around, especially to nearby places. If you move home those same trips would cost thousands of dollars.

Take advantage of this opportunity to be in a new place and travel as much as possible. Whether it is exploring nearby cities or countries, traveling is so good for the soul and you’ll create memories that will last a lifetime.

Paris at sunrise

Lesson 6: Be prepared for culture shock

Culture shock is a common experience when living abroad. It is the feeling of disorientation and confusion that can occur when adapting to a new culture. I definitely experienced culture shock when I first moved to Denmark and it took some time to adjust. It is important to be aware of this possibility and to take steps to manage it. Talking to other expats, seeking out familiar activities, and taking time to reflect can help you navigate the challenges of culture shock.

Lesson 7: Embrace the challenges

Living abroad is not always easy, and it can be challenging at times. However, embracing these challenges can help you grow and develop as a person. Whether it is learning a new language, navigating a new city, or adapting to a different way of life, these experiences can help you develop new skills and a greater sense of resilience. The longer you live abroad the easier it gets to roll with the tide.

Lesson 8: Appreciate the little things

Living abroad can be an incredible adventure, but it can also be overwhelming at times. It is important to take a step back and appreciate the little things that bring you joy and happiness. Whether it is a good cup of coffee or a walk in the park, taking the time to enjoy these simple pleasures can help you stay grounded and appreciate the beauty in life.

Lesson 9: Learn to be independent

Living abroad can provide an opportunity to learn how to be independent and self-sufficient. From managing your finances to navigating public transportation, living abroad requires a level of independence that can be empowering. Learning to rely on yourself can help build confidence and resilience, and can be a valuable skill in all areas of life. If you get the chance, take a solo trip and explore somewhere new with fresh eyes.

The metro in Madrid, Spain

Lesson 10: Be respectful of the host country

Living abroad requires respecting the culture and traditions of the host country. It is important to be mindful of local customs and to adapt to the way of life in your new home. This includes respecting local laws and regulations, as well as being mindful of cultural norms when interacting with locals. Being respectful of the host country can help build positive relationships and make your experience more enjoyable.

Living abroad has been an incredible experience that has taught me so much about myself and the world around me. From adapting to a new way of life to embracing cultural differences, living abroad has provided an opportunity for personal growth and development.

It has also taught me the importance of staying connected with loved ones, being open-minded and adaptable, and appreciating the little things in life. If you have the opportunity to live abroad, I highly recommend taking it! It may be challenging at times, but the rewards are well worth it.


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