How does living abroad change our lives?
16 things that change when you live abroad for an extended period of time
I am often asked what it is like to live in Barcelona. If I don't miss “my home”. Whether I have a job and how I can keep myself afloat financially in the difficult economic situation in which Spain is currently. I have to admit that I also often have the feeling that many people think I spend most of my time on the beach in Barcelona or traveling. It would be nice, dear people. Unfortunately, we also have to work for our bread and butter. Ok, right now I'm really lying on the beach writing this post, but I've already worked through my to-do list for today. ;)
Then again there are some who ask me why I “emigrated” back then. Which is a totally legitimate question and I am glad that there is so much interest. However, I find the word “emigrate” so terrible. I never liked it before. It sounds so final. And somehow negative too. As if you weren't allowed to / can't / don't want to return. As if you had turned your back on the country you were born in forever. I also always associate it with the TV series “The Emigrants” and I don't necessarily want to be associated with it.
I feel much more about my decision to go to Barcelona at the age of 22 as an exploration and broadening of my horizons, which has brought about a development of my personality that I would very likely have made in a completely different direction in Germany. Probably I could have gone to another place that has a similar flair to Barcelona. Which is similarly international and attracts students, expats and startups. Or maybe not.
The fact is that my view of things and my feelings have changed dramatically since I started living outside my home country.
Of course you shouldn't infer others from yourself, but not only do I feel the following points, but also many of my friends here in Barcelona and around the world. We were all born in different parts of the world and ended up meeting somewhere completely different. Let's see if you agree with me / us.
1. You have several "at home"
Whenever I visit Hamburg, I feel welcome and loved by my family and friends. Still, I miss my friends aka family (friends in another place become part of your family.) In Barcelona. When I'm back in Barcelona, I miss my family in Hamburg, the ice cream shop next door and the luxury of being able to meet loved ones whenever I want and not having to plan it weeks in advance.
2. You unintentionally chatter in the wrong language
I now speak three languages. German, English and Spanish often mix in my head. I speak one language with some friends and the other with some. If we come together, a confusion arises in the subconscious, although we have agreed on a language (mostly English or Spanish). Because many of us feel that way, it doesn't matter at all if someone suddenly throws a foreign language into the confusion. It's so fun and I love it.
Even with mom on the phone, the words only come to me in a different language every now and then. Some words simply fit a lot better with the feeling or the situation that I want to describe, because some of them do not even exist in German vocabulary. Sometimes I just can't think of the right word in German. ;)
3. You are constantly being asked the same questions and already have your answer ready
In Germany I get questions like “Do you have a job there?”, “You don't get a lot of salary there, right?”, “The Catalans don't speak Spanish at all, how can you communicate? “Are you staying in Barcelona forever now?”. I think every question is legitimate and there are generally no stupid questions, but as you can see, there are some prejudices stuck in. That makes me a little sad sometimes and then I feel called to eliminate them. Of course I already have the answer ready.
Abroad, I also meet prejudices and always ask the same questions. A direct association is of course Ms. Merkel. Depending on the person's country of origin and experience with Germans, one is overwhelmed with positive or negative comments and questions. However, much more positive ...
The political half-knowledge is followed by comments on my appearance. Brief info: My skin is usually a few shades darker than that of my friends (don't ask me why, but a few rays of sunshine are enough and I look like I've had a 2-week beach vacation behind me), my hair is brown to dark brown and me have green eyes.
No German girl looks like that. ;) And then you get to hear “You're not really German, are you?”. “What does real German mean?” I asked myself at the beginning.
In my opinion we are all the same and it doesn't really matter what we look like, where we were born or what language we speak. What counts is the person who is in you. When I travel, I always become aware of this and I hope that the people who make such a difference will also be able to see it at some point.
Yes, I have a very romantic idea of the whole thing here, but no one has ever been able to prove me wrong either.
4. You acquire the culture of the new country and lose a piece of your own every time. Everything mixes up.
This point supports my last one so blatantly. Cultures and customs are so different and so exciting. Every time you immerse yourself in a new culture, you learn a lot. If you live in this culture for a while, you automatically adapt.
For example, in Spain you don't eat lunch until 2 p.m. In Germany you have your lunch break at around 12 noon. After 4 years in Barcelona, I can no longer imagine having lunch that early. This is just a small example and of course there are countless more.
5. You miss out on important events, be it friend weddings or birthdays
You can't dance at two weddings at the same time. If you live further away, events in your hometown that you would like to attend always involve booking a flight, spending money and time. Of course I always try to be there at important events, but sometimes it just doesn't work out.
When I was still employed, it was even more difficult to fly home. I had to use my vacation to visit home, during which I tried to see all the people I loved and to do as much as possible. In the end, I was more ready for a vacation than before the vacation.
Sometimes you don't even get free when you need it, and staying as long as you like is never possible.
I want to give you an example:
An event that really affected me was the death of my grandfather in April 2015. I had just been to Germany for a visit and he died shortly afterwards. It was foreseeable because he had been sick for a long time and was still a shock. When my mother called me at work, I didn't know what to do at first.
To fly home? Stay in Barcelona? Was it possible for me to help on site? Would I just get in the way of all the mourning and the organization of the funeral and the liquidation of his room in the residence? But maybe I could also be there for my grandma and my mother and comfort them?
These and many other questions were circling in my head and when I asked them to people, everyone said something different. I didn't know what was right. After an honest and detailed conversation with my mother (days after his death), I decided to stay in Barcelona and not fly to Hamburg until a few weeks later.
That may sound strange to a lot of people, but it was a good decision when I look back now. Because ultimately the death of a loved one is a shock that everyone has to deal with for themselves and nobody can help you with that. But somehow you feel more helpless when you are so far away from what is happening. When talking to loved ones on the phone, you cannot see them and thus have a distorted picture of how they are doing. Especially if they're good actors and don't want to burden you. ;)
I skipped my vacation on Fuerteventura a few days later because I just didn't feel like “enjoying”. In retrospect, however, it didn't do me any good to be sad in Barcelona. I could have mourned in Fuerteventura or in Hamburg.
It was very difficult for me to assess what to do. If I had been there, I wouldn't have had to make all these decisions.
6. You age more slowly
Many of my friends and acquaintances “at home” already have children or are building a house for which they have taken out a huge loan. I, on the other hand, am still in the process of discovering the world and already feel restricted when I go shopping and have to buy new clothes (e.g. when something breaks). I absolutely cannot imagine buying a house and living in it forever. If I were to buy a house, I would probably rent it out.
Children are a topic I'll be looking at again in a few years.
I see this mindset in each of my friends who have traveled for a long time or who live abroad.
Obviously, getting older doesn't just mean settling down, it's a lot more than that.
If you live / have lived abroad you also remain curious, you don't judge so quickly and in general you see the world more like a playground. In the best case. You age more slowly.
7. You want more
More travel, more learning and more freedom in general.
8. Your cell phone becomes your most important possession
Skype and WhatsApp are indispensable in my life, because this is the only way I can stay in contact with my loved one.
9. You become more confident and get to know yourself
In a country where you may not speak the language at first and are completely on your own, you leave your comfort zone on a regular basis.
You do things and master situations that you never thought possible.
As a result, you grow incredibly quickly and only really get to know each other.
10. You become more open and tolerant
Not only towards other cultures, but also towards different behaviors. Because you know that everyone has to carry their own package and that life doesn't always go as planned or desired.
11. You become a storyteller
You experience so many things in other countries, some are funny and others are quite annoying or scary at first. In any case, your repertoire fills up with stories that you want to share with others (sometimes you don't want to share them either.: P) and so you become a storyteller.
12. You don't take many things so seriously anymore
You stop getting excited about things or taking them to heart because you know that everything is relative.
You develop a basic trust that everything will be fine. Because everything will be fine.
Warning: prejudice alert!
In Germany people always like to complain. About the weather. About the government (justified or not, I think you can complain a lot about that in many countries). About the work colleagues or the boss. About the neighbors.
Whatever the case, complaining costs unnecessary energy and yet does not change the situation. So change what bothers you and if it is not in your power, then stop getting upset.
Enjoy your life damn it. It's short enough.
13. You learn to appreciate love more
Love is what each of us is looking for. For me it is the meaning of life (ohh, now she comes here with the big question of life). Honestly, it's all about love, power and money. Always.
Since power and money, in my opinion, don't make you happy in the long run (because they're used as substitutes for love), it's all about love. Be it the love of your partner, family or friends. Everything is love on different levels. Being on the same wavelength as someone is like winning the lottery (funny that I'm bringing money into the game again).
And that's exactly what I've learned in the last 4 years, because I can't always be with the people who are close to my heart. You only appreciate something when you no longer have it or, in my case, you cannot always have it.
14. You enjoy time more
Time is our most important asset and when you understand how big the world is and how small you are, then you start to enjoy every single moment. Because we are not here forever and should make the most of the time we are here on this beautiful planet.
Live in the here and now. Soak up every moment. Everything else doesn't count.
15. Money and possessions become less important to you.
Time is the most important thing we have. Money is just a means to an end and possessions are ballast (for me at least). If you leave this world, you won't be able to take with you the flat screen TV or the awesome sofa that you could buy through hard work. And when you're on your deathbed, those won't be the things you think back to with a smile. It will be your experiences and experienced feelings that you want to take with you.
The moments you shared with others will be the reason you are missed here.
16. In some situations you just learn to shut up and listen. You become an observer.
Yes, far too often we are convinced of ourselves and want to prove something to the other person or to ourselves. We forget to listen.
When traveling, you are forced to listen or watch because you are the new guy. Like when you started the new class or when you started your new job.
You learn to look at the situation first and then to play along. If you follow the same principle in conversations, you will notice how you can learn a lot again here and misunderstandings will be avoided.
My goodness, that was once an article. To be honest, I could go on writing forever, because I learn something new every day and I am constantly changing. This article is only a snapshot and it is possible that one or the other thought will change again.
I would be very interested in what you have learned on your travels or abroad. Do you agree with me on all points or have you had different experiences with some things? Did I forget to mention something else? I'm looking forward to your commentary.
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