Life abroad looks like paradise.
Just look at any travel magazine, hostel website, airline advertisement or [choose your own propaganda].
You’re promised gorgeous sunsets, sandy beaches, and delectable cuisine, with new, lifelong friends surrounding you at every turn. Laughs, smiles, and warmth abound. In no time, your new culture will embrace you, treat you as family, and give you a home away from home.
As you may have guessed already, reality paints a very different picture.
Before the specifics, a definition: living abroad means living abroad.
Not studying, not travelling, not a monthlong volunteering stint. Living abroad, generally, involves a job, an address, and settling –– at least for several months –– in another country.
Maybe you moved somewhere with a spouse, friend, or organization. Maybe it’s just you and a one-way ticket. Maybe you have extended family there. Maybe you’re in a remote village that no one’s ever heard of.
No matter your situation, you’re going to discover that some things you thought would be true of your experience, just are not. I could spend many-a blog post (and I plan to) talking about all the things you discover when you uproot your life and move to a new country.
Today, let's look at one aspect of this unique adventure: loneliness.
A lot of people misunderstand loneliness. They think it’s simply the state of being alone.
But loneliness is actually something very different. Loneliness abroad, even more so.
It’s feeling isolated not only physically, but emotionally and intellectually.
It’s missing birthdays, holidays, weddings, and funerals.
It’s living an experience that few people can even relate to, let alone understand.
It’s wanting a hug from a family member or friend who’s thousands of miles away.
It’s skipping parties because you’re too tired for the language barrier.
It’s answering the same questions over and over.
It’s your family back home feeling betrayed or frustrated with you.
It’s being stared at or yelled at in the street.
It’s flight price alerts that are too expensive.
It’s trying to explain your favorite food from home to confused faces.
It’s the tears you shed when no one is looking.
It’s poor service at restaurants.
It’s feeling like an outsider no matter how long you’ve been there.
I could keep going.
Loneliness is all of those things and more… some might seem like little things, but without the embrace of your home, take a tremendous emotional toll. A toll that sometimes makes you question everything.
Some days, weeks, or months, the loneliness monsters will gang up on you, so much that you want to start packing your things and preparing for departure.
Depressed yet? Now for some good news, and it’s not propaganda, either.
Surviving the kind of loneliness that comes from living abroad is the most liberating gift you can ever receive.
You learn to take care of yourself in ways you never have before.
You grow and develop emotional toughness and resilience.
You start to understand that tears don’t make you weak –– they help you process.
You build friendships and networks that can be there for you when you’re at your lowest.
You find ways to connect across language and culture.
You ninja your way into other people’s families.
You are no longer afraid of doing things alone.
You dream dreams that other people don’t understand –– and you realize that that’s a good thing.
As a natural introvert, I’ve always relished time alone. Before I moved abroad, I didn’t imagine how that preference would be put to the test. Or the person that I would grow into being along the way.
There are many ways to develop this personal strength –– this is only one of them. And often, you are the one who chose this somewhat uncertain path.
You will not have the life that that the beautiful pictures, but you will have something better: self-reliance.
When I look out my window at night, I don’t see the ocean lapping the shore or a rainforest oasis.
I see the tops of clumsy buildings speckled with glowing lights beneath a haze of smog. If I angle myself a certain way, I can catch the pink rays of sun on the Andes mountain as the day closes.
It can be lonely here, and sometimes it’s a lot to take. Most people I know will never see what I’m witnessing, feel what I’m experiencing, or taste what I’m savoring.
No, it’s only me here on this road –– no navigator at my side. But it’s ok, because I’m drawing the map as I go.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.