Lessons Learned

Lessons from Living Abroad, Part 1

Home is where the heart is, and I am so eager to return home to the USA, but here are some of my observations from almost a year of living and traveling abroad. I hope that “Part 2” will focus on the many positives of being back home.

DSCF87671. Not speaking their language, particularly when you need it most, will change forever how you view “foreigners” and those who cannot speak your own language. When you realize that you are the only person on the bus/train/subway/boat or in the school/building/store/embassy who cannot speak theirs or multiple languages, then you will start to wonder why that is and how that’s interpreted by the rest of the world.

2. When you realize that what you’ve been shoveling in your mouth for years and that those subsequent years of taking X meds result primarily from American marketing and commercialism (aka capitalism), then you will start thinking more about what is going in your mouth and why…and the relationship between ideology and money-making.

3. When you pay less than $15/month for almost unlimited cell phone and data, you wonder what’s up back home. And, when your internet/cable is 4x faster and 4x cheaper, then you also wonder why. And, when depicted violence on that cable is more likely to be censored than language or sexuality…

4. When you realize that you are loved or hated simply because you are American makes you wonder about your own assumptions and stereotypes. (Experience being white as a minority, then you might begin to know.) When you try to disguise your own nationality just so you won’t have to deal with those assumptions and stereotypes… or simply because you cannot stomach yet another futile discussion about politics and politicians…then you might begin to understand the myths of politics, economics, and religion… and, most alarmingly, the myth of American exceptionalism.

5. When you read the American version of CNN and compare it with the international version of CNN each and every day and start to rethink what my/our/their priorities and values are. (And when you see all the many typos and grammatical errors on all pages, you start to wonder about professionalism and the efficacy of our education.) And when you watch BBC America vs. BBC, or RT, or Al Jazeera, or…

6. When you can do all the things that your own country’s media have taught you to avoid and fear, then you know something is up. When you realize that other counties don’t obsess with litigation and that you actually have to take responsibility for your own health and safety, then… When you realize that you are safer abroad than in the USA, then…

7. When you can afford but cannot find any clothes that fit you anywhere in country after country, then you know that your sense of “norm” and “healthy” may not be normal or healthy. When measurements are placating rather than actual, then you (should) know there’s a problem.

8. When you discover the real value of clean water, reliable electricity and enough heat (or a/c) … and you realize the power of your own passport… and you realize that a single word or gesture could stop everything… and you experience the inescapable poverty and hunger of so many others…and you really live and begin to understand the difference between problems and “first world problems,” then everything changes.

9. When you realize that everyone, regardless of nationality, color, and religion, just wants to live happy, healthy, and productive lives and that they care more about their children than anyone’s else’s politics or religion, then your own notions and views about everyone—and the world—will change forever.

10. And, finally, when there is a sit-down toilet when you need it most, and you actually have toilet paper, then you will not give a sh*t about who is in the next stall.