The best gift you’ll probably take from living abroad is a better understanding of your own culture.
Packing a suitcase can be quite the ordeal. There’s that dress you just might need for a night out in Bangkok, or maybe you’ll end up with a fancy invitation for a party in Lima and need that third pair of shoes. You can’t just fill it up with black, though; people will think you’re in mourning! Okay, maybe these are just the stressful before-travel decisions that plague me, but what about the things that aren’t quite as tangible?
The heaviest suitcase I carry on any journey is the one filled with the memory of the loved ones I’ve left behind.
Oh, the Things You’ll Miss!
I’d been doing just fine on my own in South Korea for five months, until the day I’d been waiting for finally came. I remember sitting around the table with friends, sipping Soju and eating BBQ Pork, when I got an e-mail from my brother: my sister in law had gone into labor and soon I’d have a baby niece. The day Cecilia was born was one of the best days of my life, but not being present for this big family event was heartbreaking. They hadn’t even made it to the hospital yet and I was already crying.
When you choose to travel long term, missing things is inevitable. There will be weddings, pregnancies, births, deaths, graduations, new jobs, failures, and successes. When they happen, you won’t be able to experience these things in the same way with the important people in your life. You just won’t. There’s a reason the path less traveled (no pun intended) is worth it, though.
Choosing to head out on your own means you’ll have even more memories to return with; possibly even more than the ones you missed. That same week I was also on national Korean television and I got to sing (backup, poorly) with four of my coworkers at an inauguration ceremony.
I could have just stayed home, but those are two big things that have happened in my time as an expat that I wouldn’t have wanted to give up at this stage in my life.
Oh, that homesick belly ache
There’s honestly nothing more comforting to me than vegging out on my couch and watching reruns of Friends for an entire Saturday afternoon. Now I’d like you to go ahead and guess what doesn’t fit in a tiny Korean studio apartment. That’s right – a couch. I miss it so much, but more than anything I miss the comfort it brought me.
When I sat on that sofa I knew I was home. I knew I was in a safe place where I had friends I trusted, a supermarket with food I was used to, and network television in a language I understood.
Comfortable isn’t the word to describe a year abroad; it’s just not. You’ll be poked by elbows, forced to sleep on floors, and use toilets you didn’t even know could be considered toilets.
Complaining is normal, but you’ll be forced to get over it. My perspective is wider, now. I’ve found new things that comfort me: I eat kimchi like a pro, and my squat is extra stable (TMI?). I say those things in jest, but a year ago eating certain Korean food was actually pretty hard, I wouldn’t have dreamed of knowing all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, and I wouldn’t have appreciated a lot of the things I miss about my own culture as much as I do now.
A piece of advice I was given by a speaker at my teacher orientation back in August 2014 has really stuck with me: The best gift you’ll probably take from living abroad is a better understanding of your own culture. I really think this is true and a defining part of the expat experience.
Oh, and Don’t Forget All that You’ll Bring Home
The thing with metaphorical suitcases is that you have to remember to leave room for the experiences you’ll have on the journey. If I had let my suitcase overflow with everything and everyone waving goodbye to me at the airport, I wouldn’t have had space to store all the wonderful things I need to bring home with him.
I’ve been humbled, grown stronger, and become a more independent woman. After all, the memories and lessons you’ll return with (if you ever do return) are more than just souvenirs; they’re a broader sense of the world that will shape you for the rest of your life.
About the Writer:
Neysha is a Dominican-American writer and photographer living in South Korea. She documents the world through her travel blog, Travelsuras.com, from making memories, to capturing them on camera, to bringing them home and encapsulating them with creative DIY projects. If you aren’t sure how to spot her in a crowd, look for the girl with auburn hair, carrying a Canon with paint on her hands.
Are you on Pinterest? Pin these!