My First Year Living Abroad
It’s always been a bucket list item of mine to move abroad. Ever since I was little and watched Outward Bound I dreamed of travel and living abroad. Outward Bound is a thrilling group dedicated to teaching people about the environment and outdoor sports like hiking, kayaking, camping, sailing and more. I’ve officially been living abroad for one year now, boy it’s been a ride. I never expected it to be easy but at the same time, I didn’t think certain things like banking would be so hard and different.
Overall, I’m proud of my first year abroad. I must say though something of lessons I’ve learned my first year abroad were not quite what I expected. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to travel while living abroad and visiting so many countries in SE Asia like Laos, Malaysia, and Indonesia. If you are preparing to move abroad, I know my list of lessons learned will help you.
Learn to Love and Use Technology
I’ve never been that much of a techie, computer-lover, or gamer. Scratch that, I’ve never been any of those things. Living abroad and running a blog has changed that for me. My girlfriend often jokes that I’m always on the computer. I’ll admit I use to be on it a lot, but I’ve cut back and become a bit more efficient with my time.
While living abroad it can be really hard to stay connected with everyone back home especially if they don’t have an iPhone. This isn’t such a big deal in itself. We all have Facebook and WhatsApp, but still, these apps don’t let you call people who don’t have apps or aren’t good at checking their apps. I’ve had to figure out how to call freely any number in the USA. This took quite a while. I tried Google Hangouts and I’ve never been able to figure it out. It’s supposed to be the best option, but it isn’t very user-friendly or convenient. The solution I found was an app called Talkatone. It works really well most of the time and you can call anyone.
*My caveats are to make sure to not have a VPN on when using the app. This really messes it up. Also, sometimes not all alerts show up if the app isn’t open. Overall though this has really been a lifesaving app.*
Get a VPN Blocker
I’ve also picked up some minimal coding and VPN tricks because if you want internet access while living abroad sometimes you have to be tricky. Even Thailand prevents some websites from being seen. If you live abroad have a VPN. I use ExpressVPN it works great! You can try it out and you automatically get a free month. If you use my code we both get a month free. This isn’t a sponsored ad I just really do love their services.
Overcoming language barriers
Language… has always been easy for me to pick up, so I thought tonal language. No biggie! Hah! Boy, was I wrong. Thai is really hard to speak. I think it’s easy to listen. Even as a person who doesn’t speak Thai it’s easy to clearly pick out the words. Some languages I’ve heard or learned the words blur together but not so with Thai. I’ll admit, I’ve lost much of my gusto for Thai because I need a native language speaker to practice and I haven’t made time to find a speaker. I highly suggest learning numbers, some key questions, and food wherever you are. This is pretty much all I know. These will get you really far.
But in my day to day life I’m surrounded by English and French so I’m not the best example of total Thai cultural immersion For me. most of the time not knowing Thai isn’t a big deal unless something goes wrong like your bank card stops working or you need the internet reconnected… getting a dog spayed. Then I’ve learned some very pigeon English to get my point across. Same Same, but different. 😉
This language barrier has also given me an insight into how scary it is to be an immigrant in a different country. I can understand why immigrants don’t always learn the native language when they move to a new country because it’s easy to isolate yourself with people of your tongue. It’s also very hard to find services and understand your rights. In short, it’s scary and makes me realize how important it is to have open lines of communication in many languages in any country.
Differences of pet care
I’ve had pets my whole life in the USA and so am very familiar with the process. My first recommendation is to not get pets if you want to travel. They make it a lot harder, but when there are hundreds of homeless dogs and cats wandering the streets it’s hard to resist not taking care of one or a few. But back to Thai culture and pets. I have definitely been changed by the culture here towards dogs. Dogs, on Koh Samui at least, are mean. If someone had told me I’d be willing to hit a dog if it attacked me or that I’d almost be attacked by so many dogs. I would have scoffed in disbelief. But now I go on walks and runs with a stick, especially if I have my dog. This is probably one of the sadder ways Thailand has changed me. I still love dogs and animals, but it’s made me very aware that any species of animal can be mean.
I’m always thought of myself as pretty sociable and outgoing but coming here, in an environment that I don’t feel as comfortable. I’ve realized I can actually be a bit shy. I never knew that about myself until I was living abroad and had to make permanent friends. It’s easy in a hostel to make short quick friends. I’m good at that. But in more long-term friend situations, it can be a bit hard for me to make close friends. I’ve also realized that I write people off as not being a good potential friend too quickly. Many people I’ve met while living abroad have become good friends and I never saw it coming.
I’ve learned to be more open to a long-term friend time frame and patient when building friendships. If I don’t hit it off immediately with someone that’s okay. It just might not be our time. This is one aspect where American culture is very different from the rest of the world. Many other cultures take a long time to become friends, whereas within American culture it’s instant.
Realize what you enjoy about your home
Being away from home for so long has really made me realize that I love my home for many reasons. First and foremost, my family and friends are really important to me and they make a place a home for me. I also love living in a location that has lots of events going on. It’s nice to be able to go to a concert or art show over the weekend instead of being limited to bars and nightclubs. The variety is very much missed. I’ve also learned that I miss playing games. When I went home on holiday I bought so many board games to bring back and carry around with me while I travel. They are also great icebreakers!
Learned how to teach and work with kids
Before I traveled I had little to no teaching experience. I took a TEFL course and this was my first step towards learning how to teach. When I first arrived in Thailand, I had no idea how to make my language short and simple. My many years in academia had taught me how to use long complex sentences to say simple things. I’ve totally had to restructure my use of language. It’s been a great learning experience though because it’s made me a more clear and chronological speaker. I now think more about what I’m saying and am aware of my word choice. I’ve also learned to never assume a more complex word is known and understood. I’m like a mini-thesaurus now able to make on the fly synonym words or explanations.
My most important lesson while Living Abroad:
It’s also been difficult to learn and walk the thin line between friendliness with the students and being respected. I now to a better degree understand the way great leaders feel. How much is rapport building and where is the line?
I have been amazed at the power of positivity. People love compliments and being told they are great. If you want excellent class management skills or management skills be simple and be positive. Even if someone does the smallest thing right praise, praise, praise. This has the largest effect on the students and best of all it makes them love you. This by far is the biggest lesson I’ve learned. Positivity is key to creating a loyal following and building connections with people and students.