By Esther Schorr
No doubt if you are on this website you have a passion for travel. I am guessing that you have either done a fair amount of exploring the world already or you have been bitten by the wanderlust bug and want to learn from others about where to begin. I am right there with you! As a much younger person I stuck close to home, but my post college days - and a now 33-year-long marriage to a "go for it" kinda guy - have brought me years and miles of awe-inspiring adventures in more than a couple dozen countries. Some of this travel was part of my work - and that was a lucky break as far as the cost of sightseeing goes. But most of my wandering has been because I cannot think of anything I’d rather spend my time and money on (aside from keeping my family happy and cared for).
The style and duration of my travels has been, literally and figuratively, all over the map. I have walked the Camino Santiago in Spain with my daughter with backpacks and a couple changes of clothes for two weeks - staying in hostels and homestays - meeting people from all walks of life while exploring gorgeous countryside in snow and sunshine. I have had the privilege of sailing through the Galapagos on a boat with just two dozen passengers, and got up close and personal with everything from a 100 year-old tortoise to blue-footed boobies. We have stayed in remote backpacking hostels deep in the Andes and I have lived and worked in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia in Africa. All of these experiences were special in their own way, but the mostthrilling, and at the same time, most challenging experience was living for three years in a foreign country - in our case, in Spain. I cannot recommend this kind of shift in world view more heartily!
There is a profound difference between being a tourist, and being an "expat" (ex-patriate…someone who is living outside their country of origin). When you become an expat, you make the commitment to pack your bags knowing that you are not going back to your normal routine at least for some protracted period of time…you are putting physical and emotional roots down in a different culture that likely has a different language spoken on the street, that has customs different from what you are used to, foods that you may never have had (and in some cases may never want to have), and you are committed to call that place home for the time being. There can be paperwork and process, frustration in making yourself understood, getting lost more than once trying to navigate activities of daily living, and yes - missing those you left behind at home. It is very likely that for a while you will feel very much like an outsider…because you are. Getting comfortable with that feeling and deciding what you need to do to feel integrated enough to enjoy the experience is key. On the flip side, moving out of your comfort zone can be a real rush. It was for me. When I look back on the three years we spent in Barcelona, I realize just how much my view of the world expanded and how my confidence in my ability to adapt grew exponentially.
What did I learn from living in another country?
Deep down, we all want and need the same things…to be nourished, to have shelter, to do something daily that makes us happy, and to feel accepted…to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Our life in Spain was rich and fulfilling because we worked at learning the native languages (a bit of Catalan and a lot of Spanish), we made a real effort to get to know our neighbors, we went out of our way to experience customs and traditions unique to Spain, and we tried very hard not to get too upset when red tape and what seemed like overly strict procedures made getting simple things done more difficult. I learned patience and how to laugh more as a result.
I know that not everyone manages to pick up and move to another part of the world - I feel incredibly blessed to have had that opportunity. I'd just encourage you - if you have any way to make the shift from tourist to "I'm here for a while so let me dig into life here" - do it! A six-month internship or education abroad program…a temporary job transfer or project…an invitation from far flung family or friends to "come stay for a while and live as we live"…or a volunteer service stint…go for it! There truly is no money in the world that can substitute for the feeling that you have become a citizen of the world.
Interested in reading more about our wanderings? Check out my blog: Living La Vida Loca