Sorry, this post sat for way too long in my draft folder, hiding behind less philosophical posts like “How to Spend a Day in Bologna” or about my trip to Athens – I think it’s about time to address my past and express a bit of wisdom on the internet!
Having finished my AIESEC “internship” as an English teacher and now building a new experience in Australia, I want to reflect and answer a writer’s favourite question: So what? So, you’re a university graduate who went abroad and lived in Sicily for 8 months. Doing what? Tanning and drinking wine?
I’ll admit, some of the time, yes, but my experience goes deeper than that. I learned how to adapt and become a local in a strange place. I came to realize that life isn’t as complicated as we sometimes make it, and that it’s not the destination, but the journey that really matters.
6 Things I’ve Learned About Life from Living Abroad
1. You’re strong. You can do anything. From travelling alone and forging my own in a new place where I knew hardly anyone, barely a word in a foreign language, and almost nothing about the local customs, I somehow thrived, grew as a person and got through it. I learned that people are kind, and will help you when you need it, but I also learned that no matter what, you can independently make the best of any difficult situation. I’ve made good friends with people who never even knew I existed seven months ago, I’ve made incredible decisions for myself, seen beautiful places and gotten over every problem along the way. I proved myself as an outgoing, independent and determined individual with the ability to adapt to any new environment.
2. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We all make mistakes, embarrass ourselves and sometimes make poor decisions. Life happens. The world keeps turning. Life is too short for regrets or self-punishment. Instead of kicking yourself, laugh and move on. Would you rather your life as a comedy or tragedy?
Country music fans will already recognize my blog’s URL from Kacey Musgrave’s popular single “Follow your arrow”. The lyrics say “damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so you might as well do whatever you want”. I can already hear folks like my father declaring this as the most irresponsible song they’ve ever heard, but interpret it differently; no matter who we try to impress, there will always be someone who thinks we’re wrong. We can never be who everyone wants us to be all the time. We should do what makes us happy, and let everything else fall into place. In other words, not take ourselves so seriously.
3. Have an open mind and open heart. Absorb and learn from everything that happens to you and everyone you meet. Break down your mental walls and unconscious prejudices. You never know who or what can change your life for the better unless you let them.
4. Make the most of every experience. Every minute is a learning opportunity and take nothing for granted. There were a lot of things that weren’t perfect about my “AIESEC marketing internship” abroad; but to say it was a waste of time would be a mistake. A difficult experience is never a waste of time. The secret is to work hard and make it into something useful. Think about where you would be if you had never had to become stronger to overcome it!
5. Get out of your head and go live your life. “Overthinking” is a symptom of anxiety and greatly increases one’s risk of depression (as well as potentially causing memory problems). Even while working an easy job in one of the most beautiful places in the world, I’m sorry to admit at times I still suffered from both. While they could probably be attributed to homesickness, I definitely believe it was a result of simply thinking too much. When we stay within ourselves and don’t express our feelings, it’s easy to get caught up in what we think we should be, should be doing, or should have, or what we think should happen in our lives. These unrealistic “should statements” make us feel inadequate, insecure and further diminish our sense of self-esteem. They’re ineffective standards we’ve made in our heads and only set us up for failure.
6. There’s nothing wrong with the simpler things in life. From pasta to pastimes, the Sicilians live a much simpler life to us Canadians, which for all the reasons mentioned above, I think it could be better in a lot of ways. Sicilians aren’t neurotically concerned about their health, career climbing, buying thank you cards, or the perfection of their front lawns. They’re happier with the basics: good food and good company, a relaxing day at the beach, an afternoon nap. They don’t have the North American obsession with being productive all the damn time. Although this attitude won’t get me too far back at home, it was a refreshing and revitalizing lesson for me, and I feel lucky to have been able to live this way for so long.
Sorry to bring Eat. Pray. Love. into this (#stereotypicalwhitegirlblog), but one quote really applies here:
“Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions on themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks, but that is not the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today..Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their office than they do in their own homes.”
This monologue (however I think wasn’t written like this in the original book) isn’t “too far off” about the differences between Italians and Americans
The character rants about how Americans (Canadians included, guys) know entertainment, but they don’t know pleasure.
Living in another country has been the most exciting, difficult, awesome, eye-opening learning experiences in my life; have you ever lived outside of your home country or are you considering doing so? Please tell me all about it!
Never stop exploring,