Today's Featured Contributor is Jennifer McCartney, a recent graduate who is currently teaching abroad in Chile. In her post, Jennifer shares the reasons you should consider living and working abroad.
In my first few months here in Chile, I keep thinking of that game babies play where they fit shapes into various holes. They learn that the circle shape fits into the circle hole, the triangle into the triangle, and the square into the square.
For me, living and teaching abroad is a bit like trying to fit my circle shape into a triangle hole.
We’ve been molded by our upbringings into certain cultures, and then we try to immediately fit into another culture that has been molded in its own unique way.
Anytime you’re abroad, there will be moments when you just want to go back to your own culture and forget about this whole thing. There will be those awkward times when you start crying at the grocery store check-out counter because your credit card won’t work, or when you throw your bag on the ground in frustration because you can’t open the front gate.
Then, there are the culture shock moments, like when someone says something you consider to be racist and you don’t know what to say. Or, when you struggle with the local language and unfortunately end up in the same mundane conversation every day that goes something like this: Hello. How are you? Where are you from? Goodbye.
If going abroad is somewhat unnatural and painful, is it really worth it? For me, going abroad to work after graduation meant leaving behind friends, family, and support systems in the U.S. to take on a difficult job. If I hadn’t come here, I know exactly what my life would be like from the price range of my apartment to who I would see on Saturdays. Your friends may be earning big money working for banks and investment firms, finding a job they love at a non-profit, or making big life transitions. But you may choose to leave all that behind to live and work abroad.
So why do it?
Expand Your Horizons
Yes, obviously going abroad means learning more about the world, cultures, languages, and so on. These are the cliché reasons we all know to study or work abroad.
But that’s not quite what you feel every day. In the everyday experience, you learn small quirks and differences that make you question everything about your own culture and make you change the way you think about the world.
In the U.S., why don’t we greet each other with a kiss on the cheek to show affection? Why don’t we have certain Spanish phrases that express things like “I have ambitions to” (tengo ganas) and “it emotionally costs me a lot” (me cuesta mucho)? Why don’t we put avocado (or palta as we call it in Chile) on everything? Why do we refrigerate leftovers so much and why do we use dryers instead of hanging clothes out on the lawn?
These small reflections may seem like trivial cultural comparisons, but they cause you to reflect on your own culture and see the world not for what it is, but what it can be.
Integrating in Another Culture
If you’re able to learn another culture or another language, you can get to know so many more people. And by that I don’t just mean understand that you will know where they went to school or where they’re from. Rather, you can get to know how they see the world, their country, and day-to-day life.
In other cultures, you may find attitudes that speak to you or things you find repulsive. As a tourist, you don’t have nearly enough time to judge these things, meet people, or truly get to know a country. Working and living abroad gives you an opportunity to see a different way of living life.
Know Another World, Know Yourself
Perhaps the most important aspect of working abroad is the personal development. Sure, you may have great dreams of changing the world or truly adding to your abroad community, but likely you can only make a small dent in your time there.
What will really help change the world is how you develop as an individual and world citizen. When and if you return to your host country, you’ll have a much broader view of what the world can be, and this can help truly change things.
So even when I feel as though I might murder someone for some Pad Thai or indoor heating, I try to remind myself of all of these things. And though my circle shape may never be a perfect triangle, I’m starting to feel a few corners budding.
Jennifer McCartney is currently working in La Serena, Chile at a semi-public school. She teaches 5th through 10th grade classes, coaches public speaking and spelling bee teams, and holds an English drama club twice a week. She also lives with a family, explores the local area, eats many empanadas, and awkwardly tries to make Chilean friends.
Are you an expert when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of a specific destination, how to pack for an extensive stay abroad, or other travel related content? Do you have a passion for meaningful travel and the experience to prove it? Then GoAbroad would love to feature you as a Featured Contributor! Please see the required guidelines here.