Even before we began dating, my husband and I had a deep passion for travel and experiencing other cultures. We both did a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic (although different years), and combined have visited 14 different countries, 3 of which we have stayed in for 3 months or longer. When we decided to move to Korea, we had a slight idea about how overseas travel can challenge and grow a person, but we still find ourselves stretched daily. Not to mention this is our first extended trip abroad as a couple, which throws a whole other spin on things. Living in Korea has brought out the worst, the best, and the worst again in us as we flounder and sometimes thrive in a new environment. Here's a few of the ways we think overseas travel can change you:
Not that our patience was never tried in the States, but living overseas stretched our patience to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. Whether we're trying to figure out how to get around the car that decided to park right in the middle of a tiny street (yep, this happens daily), learning to walk through marriage in different country, or exasperation with not learning the language "fast enough", our patience it tried daily in little and big ways. Sometimes I keep it together, and sometimes I don't (ask the unfortunate taxi driver who refused to give us a ride in freezing weather. My reaction was not pretty, folks). I have to say that our patience is stretched equally with the culture change AND with ourselves, as this time in Korea has really given us time to hash through things within our marriage and our own selves.
2. Learning to ask for help
You guys, this one is a biggie for me. I hate to inconvenience others, and so asking for help is no small feat. Being plopped in a new culture FORCES you to ask for help from locals, fellow foreigners, and whoever you are traveling with. I have to say, this is one thing that we have found so wonderful about Korea. If we even look confused, someone always steps up to offer help, and they stick with us until it is figured out. I hope to take that trait back to the States. I cannot tell you many times we have stood humbly by while someone figures out a problem out for us. While it is humbling, it is also refreshing and has really taught us that asking for help is not only okay, but NECESSARY to get through life!
3. Realizing how big the world really is
No matter where you grow up, if you never travel then it's all you know. I remember when I traveled by myself to Italy, and I couldn't get over how HUGE the world is! It seemed endless, yet totally accessible for the first time in my life. It's full of little pockets of adventure in thousands of places. That feeling is continued here, where we see such a different culture and lifestyle than our own. Folks, the world is SO BIG, and way easier to get to than we realize.
4. How strong you can be
Before every big trip, I have a moment (or five) when I think, "I must be crazy! WHAT am I doing traveling across the ocean to a new place?! What did I get myself into now?!" I panic, but then realize that this is the cost of getting outside of our comfort zone. It takes RISK,and that takes strength! There have been places that I've fallen in love with and never want to leave, and places that I cannot wait to "escape". Yet, in every place we push on and find things to appreciate. Places that the only thing motivating me to get out there is telling myself "You can do this."
5. Appreciation for your home country
It's kind of ironic that before I traveled, I was SO quick to find fault with the American culture and elevate other cultures to a higher pedestal. To be honest, I saw them as superior, because having spent my whole life in the States, I knew the nitty-gritty of the culture and lifestyle, and I was convinced other places were far better. One thing I love about the places I've been is how it's fostered a conservative appreciation for the American culture while still loving the culture of the country I'm traveling in. I'm generalizing of course, but America can be a friendly, diverse country where it's okay to speak your mind, your vote is counted, and there is education available to the all, including the mentally, physically, and behaviorally handicapped (this is unfortunately not the norm in many countries around the world). Our students in America are tested too much, but not burnt out in the way I've seen in other places. While we have a ways to go on equality, I know that if I want a career as a woman, it is totally acceptable.
We have plenty of flaws, yes, but I love taking the things I've learned from other cultures back to the States and combining them with the good aspects of American culture.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether this list echoes your experience as well. What are some things you have learned from traveling abroad?