Published on July 22, 2015

5 important life lessons you can only learn abroad

1. Learning a foreign language is much harder than anybody tells you

Taking your classroom Spanish to the street likely won’t be the smoothest transition. And that’s OK. Learning a foreign language takes years (and years) of study and practice. Moreover, if you’ve never been in an environment where they speak said foreign language, you’re not used to the spoken language, which is likely quicker and sounds different than what you were taught in the classroom. Moreover, it takes a while to adjust to the different accents and slang you hear on the street.




2. The more people you meet, the more your perspective of any given country will evolve

It’s easy to make quick assumptions about the culture of the country you’re living in. However, the reality is that any one country is comprised of many different subcultures that differ in income, education, race, customs, etc. Each new person you meet in a foreign country will teach you something different about the perspectives and lives of locals. It’s important to realize that even after years of living in a foreign country, you’re perspective of the people and culture will become increasingly nuanced.




3. No matter how many cultural differences you encounter, there’s always a way to find common ground

When first arriving in a foreign country, it’s easy to focus on all the differences from your home country. Your brain automatically tries to compare your current experience abroad with previous experiences. Despite all the contrasts you’ll see between life in your home county and your temporary home abroad, there never ceases to be common ground. Every culture recognizes friends, family, food, love… these lists of commonalities trump any differences between two societies.


4. You’ll become more aware of your country’s international reputation

As you start to see the nuances of a foreign culture through conversations with locals, you’ll also notice that people will also have preconceived notions about you based on your nationality. You’ll learn that people are quick to make generalizations based off of their limited experience interacting with your culture – and it will be frustrating! That frustration is important because it teaches you not to be quick to judge another culture. The people that make up any community are individuals – each one with their own thoughts, beliefs and practices.




5. Every culture has something to offer

While living abroad you will probably start to miss things about your home country. All the while, you’ll also come to love certain aspects of where you’re living abroad. You’ll realize that as much as you appreciate your home country, the rest of the world also has wonderful things to offer. Each country around the globe has practices, foods, customs, celebrations, beliefs, and people that are truly wonderful.



Photo 1. based on Español, by Daniel Lobo, CC-by-2.0

Photo 2. based on 14105-Multicultural Fest-Flag Ceremony-2477, by Texas A&M University-Commerce Marketing Communications Photography, CC-by-2.0

Photo 3. based on Mexican culture, by Mely Cg, CC-by-2.0

The author
Elizabeth Trovall
After short stints in Argentina and Belize, Elizabeth is finishing up her third year in Santiago, Chile. Elizabeth writes about international internships, life abroad and professional development for The Intern Group. She also reports on politics, business and culture in Latin America for public radio and print media. An Austin, Texas native, Elizabeth first left home to earn her journalism degree from the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Besides her friends and family, she misses live music and Mexican food the most.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *