Why Every 20-Something Should Live Abroad At Least Once In Their Lifetime

by Kasumi Hirokawa

Going on vacations for a week is easy. Room service and free WiFi at the Ritz-Carlton is just a click away, if you have enough money.

You can hire a tour guide and sip cocktails at a poolside bar all you want, but it is difficult to immerse yourself in local cultures and get out of your comfort zone on short-term trips.

An extended period of time abroad, however, can help you grow into a better (and more employable) person. Take it from me: I have lived in Japan, China, the USA and the UK.

Language skills

This one is pretty obvious: Being surrounded by native speakers and being forced to speak a foreign language on a daily basis can make a lot of difference. I learned four languages by living in countries where the majority spoke them.

I interacted with locals every day, watched television shows, movies and read books in local languages.

The best part is that you will get to know the territory beyond what textbooks offered you back in college. You will have an opportunity to observe how locals engage with each other, instead of hearing an awkward-sounding, heavily edited tape.

A bigger food lexicon

You’ll meet dishes you would never imagine existing when you go to another country. I did not know what tagine and bacalhau à bras were until I went to Morocco and Portugal, respectively (neither of them are countries I lived in, but you get the point).

I was glad I did not retreat back into familiar tastes of Burger King grilled chicken sandwiches and soda. It is a double-edged sword, however. After you leave the country, you will crave dishes that are hard to find in your home country. But that’s what local cooking classes are for.

Now, every day I try to cook as many dishes from around the world as I can for dinner and it’s like reliving the fun times abroad.

More empathy, less hate

From interacting with locals face-to-face, you’ll learn that you actually share a lot more in common with them than you thought. You'll learn to treat them as humans with feelings and ideas rather than stereotypes.

If there is an earthquake halfway around the world, a military conflict or an outbreak of an epidemic disease, you call to see if your friends are doing fine. If something terrible happens near where you live, your friends from other countries will return the favor.

Tragedies plaguing many parts of the world will hit closer to home for you. Having friends from different backgrounds and circumstances helps you walk in their shoes. I believe the ability to empathize with each other is the essential ingredient to world peace.

You become more knowledgeable about your home country

Leaving your country can make you a minority. You will be bombarded with questions about your native country from the people in your adapted one. Some are benign and some are offensive; some are adorably curious and some are cringe-worthy.

But there is no need to be up in arms every time someone makes an assumption. These questions teach you something valuable about how others view your country and its people. You will be able to look at your upbringing from another’s perspective.

At the same time, they can be informative for the curious souls who were bold enough to ask you. Don’t discourage questions; believe me, you will learn to handle them better (from constant fact-checking and Googling “US history” 10,000 times). Plus, who has not asked ignorant questions to minorities before?

Leader and team player

Who loves both a complex thinker and an empathetic person? Employers. Research and self-help books by successful folks in the corporate world have repeatedly shown that good leaders connect well with followers, are good listeners and know how to take constructive criticism.

Who are these wonderful individuals? They tend to be people who have spent a chunk of time abroad. They are often people who had to figure out how to navigate daily tasks in unfamiliar environments with upbeat attitudes.

They are bold; they take risks, and they thirst for knowledge and bestow it to those who want to be enlightened. They seek out challenges, they're humble and have a desire to give back to this beautiful world.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It