Moving away to a new country will bring a lot of changes to a person’s outlook on life, and this was definitely true for me. Last year I left the state I’d lived in for 23 years and went to live in a vastly different culture. Now that I’ve been abroad for a year, I’ve noticed all the big and small ways my paradigm has shifted and been transformed by my year abroad. In no particular order, here’s all the ways I’ve changed since moving abroad:
- I no longer expect a store to be open 24/7. Siesta culture—while inconvenient initially—is now something I embrace wholeheartedly. Life is hard…let’s all mellow out and take plenty of breaks. (Besides, overworking is literally bad for you! I’m looking at you, America!!)
- The idea of buying bread from a shelf on a grocery store sounds alien and barbaric. Who even made this? How long has it been sitting here, and why does it have such a long shelf life? After indulging in freshly made bread that costs me around 50 cents a loaf in Albania, the concept of spending 5x that for day-old bread seems unpalatable!
- I have a new perspective on eating seasonally. This is the first time in my life I’ve truly been forced to eat according to the seasons, since produce is only available in Albania during the months it would naturally grow in. Now I appreciate the new excitement of showing up to a grocery store one day and having an array of new fruits and vegetables. And I’ve learned to savor produce more because I know by next week, it could be gone. (Not to mention eating seasonally is healthier!)
- My taste for olive oil has been sharply refined, since we constantly cook with it. I now know that quality olive oil should be so pure and earthy, with just a touch of sweetness, that there is no reason to add salt or spices to premium olive oil.
- I’ve realized how much better food is when it’s made with genuinely fresh ingredients. In America, I think we rely on things like butter, cream, and cheese to make meals enjoyable. But in the Mediterranean, a meal is delicious because it is made with such quality ingredients. For example, I would never dream of ordering a measly plate of grilled vegetables in the USA cause I can’t think of a more bland way to spend a meal! But in the Balkans, I order grilled vegetables tossed in olive oil, and it has a richness of flavor that still surprises me.
- I no longer give money to beggars. I used to be so overcome with pity and heartbreak at the plight of the beggars I would encounter. I still am, but now I understand that giving them my handouts isn’t going to solve the problem, and in fact can make it worse. Instead, now I’m more likely to over-tip at a good business, especially if it’s a small, family-owned place, because then I can put money into the working economy.
- I understand my own culture better. On a larger scale, I understand how my American upbringing informs what my sense of “normal” is. Americans have a lot of expectations for how things should be: how a business should run, how men and women should behave, what customer service to expect, etc. But deeper than that, I realize that I’m not only American, but more importantly a Southern American, which is a unique subculture that also informs my taste and cultural expectations.
- I appreciate fresh air more. And also stars. And water you can drink from the tap. And safe driving regulations.
- I now have friends with whom I’ve never exchanged a single mutually comprehensible word. Sweet old ladies who speak only Albanian or only Italian or only anything other than English— and yet I still understand when they are asking about how I am, fretting over my wellbeing somehow, or generally exuding a warmth and sincerity that is not contained by the boundaries of our languages.
- I sincerely celebrate the existence of places like PF Chang’s and Chipotle here in the US. And no, it’s not just because I love burritos and sushi rolls. I celebrate delicious foreign food because it represents the melting pot of cultures I grew up in. It is a privilege to live in a place that is willing to integrate foreign cultures. It’s not just about good tacos or pad Thai: it’s about access to multiculturalism and living in a community willing to try new things.
- I’ve embraced the bidet– but not for the reason you may think. The roads in Albania are very dusty and dirty, and it’s really nice to be able to wash my feet off after walking around town. It’s quite a nifty little floor sink to do that!
- I’m going to be ruined for prices for basically the rest of my life. I live in a fantastic apartment for a mere 300 euro a month. I’ve literally given up on cooking in Albania because the food is so cheap—all my meals cost me between 1-5 dollars. Now these American price tags are giving me heart palpitations!!
- On a deeper note…there’s now a fundamental part of me that almost no one will be able to relate to. Sure I can tell stories and anecdotes, and show people photos. But complete, long-term immersion in a place as foreign and misunderstood as Albania is a difficult thing for most people to empathize with. The only people who truly understand are the people who have been here with me. While this experience is now a huge part of me, it’s not even a topic that most people will want to engage in me with because it’s so foreign to most people.
- I’m a lot more optimistic about the future of the US. We have a lot of problems, but we still have so much to be thankful for as a nation. While we have issues, I still think we are generally moving in a mostly positive, productive direction. We have a strong economic and innovative infrastructure and a more proactive and involved civilian base. Sure, we have some crazies, but I think we have so many more people who are genuine, hardworking, intelligent, and want social progress.
- I’m also frustrated about certain parts of living in the US. For example, no other developed country on earth deals with the gun violence that we see here. Also, no other country saddles its youngest generation with trillions of dollars of student debt like we do in the US. These are only two small issues, but there are many more. Sure, no other country has a perfect solution to either of these two issues, but many other comparable countries are further along in managing some of these problems than we are. I wish the US would be willing to look at the successes of other countries as models which we can adapt and emulate, but too often the US is stubborn and prefers to do things on her own. (Again, I’m speaking very generally here. Regardless of some of our flaws, I’m still much more optimistic about the US than frustrated with it.)
- I appreciate the subtle and unique beauty of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Last year, I had absolutely no interest in traveling this region of the world. These countries looked like an amorphous, confusing blur on every map I looked at, since I knew so little about it. Now I have a rich understanding of the complex and varied peoples here, and I realize that Eastern Europe has so much to offer the intrepid traveler who gets to know these fascinating subcultures.
- Last but not least, I want to finish out my list with this one: the world feels so much more attainable to me now. Understanding travel hacks and even getting accustomed to long flights, suddenly the world seems more accessible and manageable and less intimidating. I definitely feel more confident and equipped to see corners of the globe I never would’ve dreamed possible.
I’m sure many people have similar stories of how travel changed their perspective on life, and I’d love to hear them! Do any of you relate to these things? Would you add any to the list?
Thanks for reading!