Myths of Living Abroad

Every time I talk to someone about living outside my home country, the U.S., I get a slew of either questions (which I totally welcome!) or blatant disregard for logic. AKA assumptions.

It’s usually the latter. Especially if I’m talking to someone in the U.S. Not because of the American stereotype (that we don’t know geography, duh), but because Americans are geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world. And that leads to being ignorant of life outside the good ol’ U.S. of A  (unless you read or travel with purpose, of course).

I’m here to dispel those myths you’ve heard and often tout as truth. They’re not. They’re utter bollocks.

1. “So do you speak [insert language here] yet? You must be practically fluent by now!”

With the utmost respect for your well-intended words—no, I don’t. Just living in a country, even if you interact with natives everyday, does not automatically equate into language acquisition or fluency. I have lived in Korea for almost two years, and I have acquired a total of… twenty words? And only about seven of those do I use in “conversation” with native Korean speakers with the intent to communicate. Basically I go around screaming HELLO. YES. THANK YOU. DON’T DO THAT! ONE MORE. RIGHT TURN. HERE. YES. GOODBYE. /end convo.

Now, I’ve also lived in Germany and Austria and already learned German beforehand. I was not proficient or fluent or anywhere near fully prepared to converse with native speakers, but I could read, write, and speak the basics and then some. In fact, when I first arrived to Germany in 2010, I hopped in a taxi, and the driver asked, “Addresse?” Which, obviously, means “address,” but it took three minutes and a multitude of repetitions for that fact to finally click.

If I hadn’t spoken a word of German to anyone while I lived there–which was totally possible as all the Germans “wanted to practice their English.” Bitch, Britain is right there! Flights are 20 Euros! GET YOUR ASS OVER THERE TO PRACTICE! … Anyway, if I hadn’t spoken any German, I would not have improved my fluency. Maybe my hearing and reading comprehension, but speaking—the end-all-be-all judge of fluency—would have sunk to the bottom of the sea of language in my brain.

You cannot acquire language by osmosis. You must participate in the language to learn it.

2. “Oh my gawd, your life is just so cool.”

I mean, yeah, but you only see what I allow you to see. Most of these people see my social media posts and assume my life is all sunshine, rainbows, and adventures gallivanting across the globe. And while that is true, it’s not the 100% view of my life.

I don’t travel every day or even weekend. I have hardships and bouts of overwhelming emotion. Life doesn’t just suspend itself while I’m gone from home. My family still struggles with and conquers their own lives. My friends still move on without me into new homes, relationships, jobs, and roles. I’m doing the same, of course, but being an expat can feel like a suspension of reality in that the people around me are always moving on, always hooking up, always temporary. And those feels hit hard sometimes. Especially when your friends move on. Or when your grandpa dies.

All that aside, I have a life, which leads me into…

3. “When are you gonna come home and get a real job?”

All these flavors and you choose to be salty?

Step. Off. My. Junk. I wrote an entire article on this a while back.

Lemme lay this out for all the jealous haters in small words y’all can understand.

1. I have a real job. I am an ESL teacher at a Korean Elementary school at the moment of writing. 2. I make more money than most first year teachers in my home state, Iowa. 3. I pay bills—utilities, phone, student loans—just like everyone else. 3. Home is wherever I am, not wherever you are. 4. Stop stuffing me into a pre-made mold created by your patriarchal society.

I love my life. Thank you for caring enough to judge, but you can keep it to yourself.

4. “OMG you live in Korea/Germany/Austria? You must be a communist/nazi/socialist.”

Nope. This is just plain rude and exacerbated by the current political shitstorm America has placed itself in. Please stop.

5. “Aren’t you scared to be all alone in a foreign country? Isn’t [insert country here] dangerous?”

There is a truth almost every nomad and expat realizes very early on—people are people everywhere. Being abroad itself isn’t so very dangerous (unless there are armed conflicts in the vicinity). The warnings governments issue and media outlets espouse are often inflamed by social pressure, skewed perspective, and, honestly, ignorance.

For example, Britain just issued a travel warning to its citizens regarding travel to the U.S. What do they warn against? The safety of LGBTQ travelers due to the recent (actually continuous) laws being passed throughout the States in regards to discrimination and “religious freedom” and “the safety of our children from LGBTQ predators” or something like that.

I think most Americans would be a bit offended that Britain, an ally for over a hundred years, has issued said warning. Aren’t most of us supportive of the LGBTQ community? Don’t we want them to have equal rights and treatment?

Well, the rest of the world feels that way about our travel warnings.

The people of Zambia don’t want to hurt you. Their mosquitos do (but then I think all mosquitos want to hurt you). The people of the Philippines just want to make a living and offer a smile. The people of China want to stare at you because holy shit, you have white skin and not-black hair. What is this witchcraft?

People are people everywhere. We all have the same worries—money, shelter, food, sickness, family, friends. Only some people’s food requires more work. And some people’s shelter consists of mud and sticks.

The best part about living abroad? I am welcomed into mud huts, boats, apartments, and houses alike. I learn how people built their lives. I understand that I am not so different.


Have you lived abroad? What myths would you dispel? Comment below.


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