If you were to ask me what the most valuable thing I gained from spending time abroad was, my answer would undoubtedly be APPRECIATION - appreciation for what I have, appreciation for the way others live, appreciation for the little, seemingly insignificant things. If you are considering interning, studying, or just traveling abroad, you should understand the depth of your decision, and how important these kinds of experiences really are! My time abroad changed me. It changed my perception of what’s valuable, what’s right and wrong; it shined a bright light on how lucky I am, and also what’s missing in my life. It changed the way I live.
So, here it goes! The top 5 things I started appreciating because of my time abroad:
1 - Things are easy! - If you’ve not spent much time abroad, it is easy to take this for granted. Here (the U.S.), we can do most things online. We can order clothes, food, well almost anything online; we can register for most things - like a new business, new license plate tags, switching utilities from one house to another; we can communicate online with friends, coworkers, the bank... and if it can’t be done online, it’s usually easy to do in person (well organized, scheduled, and timely most of the time). Can you imagine waiting in a crowded room all day only to be turned away at the end of the day and told to come back tomorrow…especially when your kiddo is sick? We’re pretty lucky!
2 - I have everything I need - water, electricity, reliable transportation… There has to be a decent storm to make the electricity shut off, and it’s usually back on within a couple of hours at the most. I don’t think I’ve ever turned on the faucet and nothing came out (no need to save extra water in jugs in case you get caught in the shower with soap in your hair!) I have always had a reliable vehicle to get me where I’m going or access to reliable public transportation. I even have access to things I don’t need…like air conditioning and ice, which are so common in the U.S. that sometime I think some people really believe they are necessities!
3 - Pace of life - I am quite honestly jealous of the slower pace of life I’ve witnessed in other countries. My day to day life in the United States feels like a daily sprints trapped inside of a marathon. I’m darting from place to place with my eye always on the clock, always stressing that I’m late, that my family is eating fast food again, or that I didn’t spend enough time with my kids. There’s always too much to do, never enough time, and I’m running on fumes. While things may get done on time, it isn’t the life I want to live. I’ve come to appreciate a slower pace and the ability to recognize and enjoy the details of life. The way many other cultures make time with family and friends a priority, have more flexible schedules, don’t stress about being exactly on time, and are able to sit down and take the time to enjoy things like good food, time with loved ones, and the joys of life on a daily basis is something to be craved, and a goal of mine that I’m slowly moving towards.
4 - Perception - The best way I can describe this is with a story - All through middle school and high school I thought that alcohol was bad. I was under the impression that only bad things could come from drinking, and so I steered clear of it. It wasn't until my first short trip to Chile that my understanding was challenged. I was 19, which is above the legal drinking age in Chile, and was offered both wine and pisco sour multiple times on that one-week trip. As I observed those around me enjoying their drinks, I started to understand that it was not considered a bad thing there at all. In fact, it seemed to simply be a part of their culture; something that complimented a good meal or time with friends. It was something to be enjoyed and appreciated for its quality, not to be abused or consumed in ridiculous amounts. As my understanding increased, so did my tolerance, and eventually, I gained an appreciation for a fine drink. 5 - Those “insignificant” things - I remember returning home after a semester in Chile. I was amazed by the things I was aware of and suddenly had an appreciation for. I specifically remember being thankful for plenty of napkins at a restaurant, ice in my drink, the ablility to speak to someone without thinking, and a heater/air conditioner. The funny thing is, now, after many years, I’ve come to appreciate not using the air conditioner…strange I know, but somehow feeling the heat of the day and the relief as the sun goes down is more real and more beautiful.
I’ve come to appreciate the obvious, what some would consider the ridiculous (heat, cold, walking…), and am now tuned in to the not so obvious. All of this from spending time abroad. Some appreciation comes from going without, some comes from finally having, and some comes from witnessing how things are done differently. Each country has its good and not so good, and what some may view as not so good may be good for another. The important thing is that we gain perspective and appreciation in a way that makes each of us more aware, more responsible, and happier people. That awareness spills over in so many ways and can do nothing other than make us all better, more understanding, and more thankful human beings. Find out what you appreciate!
* Examples are based on my experiences in the countries I've traveled to and do not refer to all other countries in general.