Sunday #13: March 25, 2012 – Living Abroad Changed My Life. Let It Change Yours Too.

Monday, August 10th, 1994.

The darkened cabin of an airplane.

Soaring somewhere over the Pacific.

I can’t sleep.

So I listen to the droning hum of the airplane engine.

My mind murmurs, over and over, “Oh my God. What. Have. I. Done?”

The previous week, I’d been offered a teaching job in China for a year—but I had to leave in only five days. I’d accepted without really having time to think. Then, the whirlwind of getting ready took over. If I’d had even a little time to think, I would have rejected the opportunity out of fear. Thank God I didn’t have that time—or I’d have missed the best thing that ever happened to me.

Working abroad changed my life.  I want to show you how it can change yours too.

When I embarked on my journey to China, I’d taught in Alberta for a year. Then Ralph Klein hacked away the education budget.  I lost my job along with hundreds of other teachers. I was crushed. “What will I do now?” I thought.

When I got on the airplane that fateful day in 1994, I truly believed I would go away and have my little adventure for a year. I thought I’d come home to Edmonton, return to my “normal” life and try to find a teaching job.

I was wrong.

Destiny had something else in mind.

I won’t lie.

That first year in China was tough, especially the first few months. It was hard being so far from home and family. It was hard living somewhere that was so foreign in every way. But that year was also a great growing and learning experience.  I met new people.  I learned a new language.  I immersed myself in a new culture. And those are only the external benefits.

I learned more about who I am and how strong I am.  I learned more about what I care about and what I’m capable of. My year in China expanded my perception of myself and the world. I strolled along the top of The Great Wall of China.  I stood in awe in Tiananmen Square.  I saw pandas munch bamboo in Guangzhou Zoo.

It sounds cliché, but Rong Qi broadened my horizons in every way.  I was so affected by my time there that I stayed a second year in China. And I’ve spent most of the nearly two decades since then living in three more countries. Each of those countries—Macedonia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates—added something sweet and special to my mind and my memories.

Life abroad changed me so much for the better that I believe almost everyone should live abroad, at least for a little while. I’m not talking here about vacation travel. I adore those experiences, too, of course. But I’m suggesting that you live somewhere rather than just vacation there. I’m suggesting that you immerse yourself in another place. In its history. In its language. In its culture.

If you’re thinking, “I can’t do that. I wouldn’t want to be away from my family,” remember this: You don’t need to do what I did and leave for years. You can go for as little or as long as you want. You can go anywhere you want. You can do anything you want.

You don’t need to do what I did and get a job. You can do a language program in Indonesia or Italy. You can do volunteer work in Kenya or Costa Rica. You can do an internship in Austria or Australia. Any of these options—or any others you can dream up—will offer you amazing opportunities and adventures.  You’ll never forget it. You’ll never regret it.

I can’t image what my life would have been like without having lived overseas. I don’t want to imagine it. My years in China, Macedonia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates have forever shaped who I am and how I view the world.

A friend of mine recently said, “I wish I could live abroad.”

I said, “Don’t wish. Plan.”

In our ever more open world, there are so many ways to live abroad.  All you need is the will to do it and the drive to find out more. Many programs are available, including some from the Canadian government.

Go out and find the world—and yourself.

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