Don’t get me wrong, I love traveling, but if given the option, I’d choose to live abroad. Here’s why…
I first travelled abroad when I was in my third year of undergraduate study. It was a semester in Sorrento, Italy with some of my closest classmates from home. Nearby, there was scenic coastline, ancient history and vibrant Italian culture. When it came down to it, four months just weren’t enough to really experience Italy, especially since I found it challenging to adjust and had other personal difficulties. Still, I’d gotten a taste of life abroad and wanted more.
A year later, I was offered a job in the Czech Republic. It seemed like the opportunity I’d been hoping for. Somehow, I decided to go to the Czech Republic without knowing a single person there or anything about the country. And maybe that’s why it was so amazing. I seized every opportunity to meet Czech people, learn the Czech language, try Czech food and explore Czech cities and nature. I did everything I could to make the Czech Republic my home.
Of course, time was my biggest asset in connecting to the Czech Republic and its people. After all, there’s only so much you can learn about a culture during a weekend trip or a month of backpacking. It’s usually tourists who are labelled as ignorant and disrespectful of other cultures. The simple fact is that cultural awareness doesn’t happen overnight. When I first arrived in the Czech Republic, locals were skeptical of me. I was a stranger who didn’t speak Czech or know how the postal service worked. Some people thought I was a complete idiot before they heard me speaking English. Then, they thought I was an American idiot. (I jest!) It just took time for me to learn about and show respect for their culture.
What resulted was perhaps the best part of living abroad. When you spend enough time in another country, you naturally grow attached to it, but it also grows attached to you. The friendships I began in the Czech Republic have followed me to Scotland and will likely continue for years to come. My Czech friends and I are patiently waiting for covid to end so that we can eat svíčková, drink pivo and smát se together in the mountains. (Brzy se uvidíme!)
My bond with the Czech Republic goes beyond the people. I now love winter like I never did before living near the Krkonose Mountains. I drink a lot of fruit tea because it’s common in Czech households. I think about Czech history and politics during my studies, admiring leaders like Václav Havel of whom I didn’t know three years ago. The Czech Republic changed me.
(By the way, Barack Obama describes meeting Havel in his book A Promised Land. I highly recommend the book to those interested in American politics and leadership.)
Lastly, it’s important to realise that living abroad is more economically, environmentally and socially sustainable than travelling. For one, modern transportation is destructive to the planet. According to Our World in Data, 81% of aviation emissions come from passenger travel. In addition, those who hire cars during their travels are contributing to further pollution through land transport.
When I lived in the Czech Republic, I often used the country’s bus system which was cheap and could get me anywhere in the country. Now, in Scotland, I often dream about road-tripping through the Highlands but have realised both the impracticality of owning a car as a foreign national (i.e. insurance, petrol and parking) and its effects on the environment. Also, by not buying a car, I have more money to support local businesses which is more important now than ever.
While you can be a conscious traveller, living abroad offers things you can’t get from a week in Rome or a month in Singapore. I’m clearly addicted to being an expat, and I invite you to consider if it’s for you.
This week, I’m thanking Charlie Marchant of Charlie on Travel. Her blog is a treasure trove of eco-friendly travel tips with plenty of adventure stories mixed in. I highly recommend checking out her post ‘What Is Sustainable Travel? (And How To Be A Sustainable Traveller)’ and following her on Instagram. When you finally get to roam free, you’ll know how to do it sustainably. 🙂
I’m sharing my own Scottish adventures, weird lip-sync videos and random poll questions on my Instagram. Hope to see you there!