Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you'd like to contribute to next month's Blog Carnival, please get in touch with me, and I'll let you know how you can start participating!
How Living Abroad Can Make You A Better Person
Before I begin to share my thoughts on this topic, I should say that I'm only beginning my third week in Korea. I can by no means preach about the myriads of ways that living abroad has already made me a better person. However, what I can write about is how I hope it will make me a better person, and what I have noticed thus far.
When I was trying to decide whether or not to move abroad, I had plenty of reasons not to leave my comfortable life in the US. However, I knew one thing was for certain. If I didn't go, I would always regret it.
Getting on the plane to Korea was hands down the scariest thing I've ever done. Getting on a bus to move to a town that I had never even heard of, where I knew absolutely no one, was the second scariest.
For a long time, moving abroad seemed like this insurmountable thing that would never actually happen. However, now that I am here, living this life that always seemed so far-fetched, I fully understand that life truly is what you make of it.
We can be (and often times are) our own worst enemies. It becomes so easy to keep ourselves from doing what it is we truly want to do because we are afraid. We let the reasons not to do something, however minor or feeble they are, run our lives.
When you finally cast your doubts aside and take a huge leap of faith to do something that terrifies you, you become empowered.
While coming to Korea felt like something that would never happen, now that I am here I feel like I can go anywhere or try anything. There are very few things that scare me now.
This is the first way that living abroad can make you a better person: it forces you to face your fears. We don't usually like to do things that scare us. In fact, we naturally run away from things that seem out of our comfort zone. But the truth is, facing those fears makes you realize that many of the things we are afraid of are merely figments of our imaginations. We are sometimes afraid of challenges. We're almost always afraid of failure. But when you confront challenges and failures, you learn that through everything, life goes on. When you realize that, you can start to find out what you're really capable of.
The world is a big place. I didn't need to come to Korea to know that. However, knowing something and experiencing something are completely different. In my little time I've been abroad, I have begun to experience the enormity of the world. I have experienced a culture that is very different from my own. It doesn't matter how many books you read or documentaries you watch, experiencing something and internalizing the effects of that experience leaves a unique and indelible mark on your perception of the world that you cannot gain in any other way.
Over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the overwhelming generosity from those I've encountered. Complete strangers have welcomed me to their country and taken time to make sure that I am taken care of. The world is a very big place filled with very different cultures that can fool us into thinking that we are very different from one another. One of the definite advantages of living abroad is that you fully understand that at the center of human interactions is a generosity and compassion that surpasses any language barrier.
This is the second main point I would emphasize about living abroad: the world is full of wonderful people. You will never meet many of them if you don't travel.
Finally, one of the ways that living abroad can enhance your life is by allowing you to find out who you are outside of the context of your hometown, your friends, and your family. When you move abroad, you are stripped of many of the things that have made you you for the majority of your life.
We've all heard the quote "Wherever you go, there you are." I can't think of a better quote to describe the experience of living abroad. The people, language, food, religion, music, and customs change tremendously. You become the only constant in your own life. You are still yourself without your friends, family, and home culture. And because of this, you look at yourself in a completely new light.
I don't think that living abroad automatically makes you a better person. What makes a person "better" is hard to define, and different for everyone because everyone has their own personal aspirations about the type of person they want to be. However, if you enter into the experience with an open, inquisitive mind, you will without doubt grow as a person and learn unique lessons through your experiences.
In my eyes, becoming a "better" person is a process that never ends. There is no end mark, but it is a continual process of becoming a more compassionate and selfless person. In order for me to better myself, I knew I needed to put myself in a completely different situation where I could live and breathe a different culture. One where I could celebrate different holidays, eat different food, and share good and bad moments with people whom I otherwise never would have met.
I don't know what I will be like a week, month, or year from now. But what I do know is that I will have learned lessons that it would have been impossible to learn elsewhere and I will, without doubt, be better for that.