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Life Abroad: What Makes Being Abroad Worthwhile?

By James Beckley

Summary: James Beckley shares how living abroad has impacted his life.

Living Abroad - Why It's Worthwhile

Ever since I was a kid, I was always interested in traveling, foreign countries, cultures and languages, so I guess living and working abroad just came natural to me. I took as many trips abroad as possible during high school, including an exchange program when I spent a month in Lyon, France, with a host family. It has also recently included spending several years in Krakow, Poland, teaching English, as well as a year studying abroad in Berlin before that. All throughout this time, there were moments of pure joy and ecstasy at the experience, as well as moments when I found myself cursing the country I was living in and wondering what I was doing there. To me, there is a fine line between the two kinds of experiences and there is also a rationale which makes one or the other true.

One thing that I noticed, as much as I loved the idea of traveling and living abroad from the beginning, was that it got easier and easier to keep going abroad the more that I did it. In other words, the more you get out of your country, the more you can get out of the limiting mindset that most people tend to have from birth. Where I was from, the American Midwest, there is generally very little interest in traveling or living abroad, except for those who might go to Europe during the summer holidays, and there is not very much knowledge of foreign countries either. Apart from this, is not so much thes mindset, but just the little things that you are used to having at home and the challenges that living abroad brings with it, that pose the biggest problems later.

The older I got, and the more I traveled and spent time abroad, the more I realized how great of an experience can be. The summer I spent in France was nice, but I still remember at the end of it wanting to go back home, see my family, and so on. It wasn't until returning the following summer that I started to feel differently, and see the advantages of living in a foreign culture and speaking a foreign language. Personally, I think this is rooted in a part of human nature, a part of us that knows that deep down, we are all the same, and that overcoming our differences on the surface brings with it a great joy and feeling of oneness.

I found this when I spent a month of my summer when I was 17 on the outskirts of Paris, as well as in a small town in Brittany named Loudeac, when I was helping a friend of my fathers, a travel agent who led cycling tours that operated between Paris and the town of Brest on the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the practical help this offered me in terms of improving my French, it gave me a glimpse of perhaps one of the greatest joys of living abroad- the ability to transcend the barrier of language and culture that learning a language well gives you. I think this gives you a great feeling because we can also gain a great understanding of a different culture from an inside perspective, and in doing so come to a greater understanding of who we, as human beings, really are.

I have always been fascinated by language- as the expression of our being, language is crucial to our identity as individuals and as members of a larger culture. There is an old saying, the more languages you speak, the greater of a person you are, and I have found this to be very true, in all my years of learning and being able to practice languages overseas. I found that by speaking nothing but French for that whole month, aside from the occasional conversation with an American guest, that I was able to gain surprisingly quick fluency in French, as well as have unforgettable experiences that I wouldn't otherwise have had.

Everyone always likes to tell great, cute stories about what they learned by being abroad, but for me it's really been one of the greatest experiences and has turned into a focal point for my life in general. To put it simply, I get a high out of being in foreign countries and situations, there is no other way to put it. But, like I said, I think that it's something any one of us could experience.

Being a translator gave me this kind of joy- when I was in France, and I was able to act as a go-between, essentially, between the American tourists on the one hand and the French people and nation in general. At times, this put me in a less-than-enviable position, such as in Loudeac when someone would come off of the cycling trail, absolutely exhausted, just to get a few hours sleep before heading out again. People in that kind of state are very irritable, and I had to nearly break up a few close encounters between aggravated guests and the venerable, old French innkeeper who didn't speak a word of English! I did, of course, also get to enjoy the tremendous hospitality and good-nature of village people in France, which still blows me away to this day.

I think it was in this role, as unglamorous as it was sometimes, that I got to the heart of why living abroad is so thrilling- because, again, we learn that we can break through the cultural and linguistic barriers and let some friendly, new people into our experience. It was during this time that I began to seriously want to stay in Europe for good- merely because of the fascinating mix of cultures, as well as the fact that I realized how adaptable we are, and how much we have to gain by being willing to see life from a different perspective. As I said though, I think this goes far beyond pure egotism- it's powerful and enriching for us because it gives us a fuller sense of who WE are, as people in general. The truth of that identity goes far beyond where we come from and what language we speak.

About the Author

Contributed by James Beckley, who is 24 years old and from America. He spent the last two years teaching english and living in Krakow, a city he has grown to love. Very fond of Europe, he has been coming there since he was 13, speaks several of its languages, and has lived in many of its countries, including France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. He has decided to write a guide to help anyone like him who is interested in coming to Europe and making a living by teaching english, as well as many other things, and in helping people relocate to many countries there, which can be found at: europeonmymind.com.

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First Published: Oct 06, 2007

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