11 Lessons Learned from Living Abroad

Life is full of lessons. In fact, that is the main reason why humans exist – to learn and evolve in a forever-changing universe. Life has taught me many lessons. Thanks to traveling and living abroad, the world has been my teacher and taught me more about life and myself than any textbook I’ve read in college.

Living in Germany and experiencing historic Europe re-opened the can of curiosity to question many things in life. People, conversations, culture, lifestyles and food are the educators while abroad. Thanks to Germany, and the various parts of Europe, these lessons are for the world to know.

"Baum in Feld" of Rapeseed field Author - Petr Kratochivl - Germany

“Baum in Feld” of Rapeseed field Author – Petr Kratochivl – Germany

-Life is Short: It’s cliché, but true. Recently, I’ve been waking up and not realizing my age. When people ask, “How old are you?” I hesitate and I want to reply, “26,” but I am 30 years of age. Thirty? Yes, 30, and I spent the last half of my 20’s worrying about work, working six to seven days per week to “make it” as a writer and presenter while worrying about my retirement account. Times are changing and life is getting more expensive, but I caused myself endless stress by worrying about work and money. I’ve come to realize (again) that life is short and when I am near dead I will reflect on life experiences and not how much money is in my bank account.

-There is Time to Stop and Smell the Roses: This notion goes along with the point above. But we create our realities. Our choices reflect how we will spend our lives. Living in Europe and seeing Germans sit at a restaurant for three hours, or Dutchmen enjoying jazz over a glass of wine on a Sunday night makes me want to enjoy life more. My ego has been pushed out the door, not caring if I’ll ever win “Best Trainer of the Year.” Why? Because stopping and smelling the roses is more enriching than having your name published on a website.

Of course, I care about my career and reputation, but I don’t need awards and high-level job titles to dictate my identity and sense of worthiness in the world. Before living in Europe, my happiness and identity were attached to my job titles and achievements.

-Humans are Interesting Creatures – Humans are fascinating creatures with a consciousness to better, or harm, the world. As a specie, we have evolved quit a bit, but yet are still stuck with the same cruel minds. When I saw the Coliseum in Rome, I realized, “We are exactly the same people just more intelligent with more sophisticated devices.” What do I mean by this? Humans have been killing and abusing animals and each other since the Roman era and prehistoric times. Instead of using swords and axes we use machine guns and weapons of mass destruction.

Looking at medieval torture chambers and paintings make me appreciate this era’s sense of humanity, but civilization still has a long way to go to overcome violence.

-There is More to Life Than….materialism, fancy gadgets, shiny cars and big homes. When you’re a vagabond and live off a backpackers budget, you’re main concern is, “How much can I spend on my next meal. And can I afford a place to stay?” I’m not saying I don’t like nice things because I do (and can’t wait for the day where I can actually buy a real couch), but your priorities change when you travel and see the world. You learn to live off the basics and appreciate the opportunity to see the world with a poverty-level income. I moved to Germany with one large suitcase filled with clothes. I actually wear one-quarter of what I brought, which reminds me of how much money I’ve spent on worthless stuff that is sitting in a storage closet in Seattle.

-Life is Unpredictable – All you #YOLO fans will agree that life is best lived to the fullest. Today, life is unpredictable and no one but the universe knows our fate. Humans are emotional creatures and it is ok to have a bad or a sad day. That is a part of life that is not going away. I’ve realized (again) that my mindset and enjoying the best of life is key to my happiness because we never know what will happen tomorrow.

Life is Interconnected – When you live life on the road, you never know who you’ll meet. Living life as an open book is exciting, especially when you begin to write the pages of life. You never know if the person you meet today will change your life tomorrow. Only with time can you connect the dots, but I’ve become better at appreciating the people in my life. I’ve learned to disconnect from the “I’m so busy” notion to stay in better contact with people. All you can do is put yourself out there and hope the other person responds. Throughout many of my travels, when I look back I’ve realized how many moms, dads, brothers, sisters and friends I’ve met abroad. I remember living in Australia at 20 and meeting paternal and maternal-like souls who guided me through life while I was away from my real mom and dad. Or the tour company that scammed me in India actually were my protectors while I traveled through India solo. Life is mysterious and somehow the dots eventually connect.

-Appreciation for the Small Things in Life – Traveling reconnects the spirit (or soul) to the physical body. Those who travel with open eyes see the beauty in everything. I am a city and beach girl at heart. While I am writing this article on the Deutsche Bahn train, I am passing vibrant yellow fields of rapeseed. Normally, I do not find the countryside as a must-visit destination, but seeing fields of yellow flowers integrated with vibrant grassy landscapes makes me appreciate the beauty of something I normally don’t find attractive. I better appreciate the small things in life from enjoying tea at a street side café to a friend emailing hello. Nothing is taken for granted.

-Be Diplomatic, Not Impulsive – In many areas of life, I have been impulsive. I noticed these qualities in college where impulsivity got the best of me. I value and appreciate Germans who are diplomatic creatures and think things through before making a decision. The world (and people) needs more diplomacy. Why? Because everyone has an opinion and ego. I noticed while flowing a LinkedIn trend, 30 adults were arguing online on whether being vegetarian is healthy or not. Did I reply to the thread? No, because I want to be productive with my time and not argue with an ignorant person who claims vegetarians will “die” from a lack of protein. The more we detach from “our way” the more we enjoy life without getting fired up about sensitive topics.

Globalization is Taking Over the World – I’m not sure how to write this segment. One part of globalization is awesome with the ability to Skype or have Mac phone chargers available in Europe. The dark side of globalization bothers me. Why? Because people and places are losing its authentic culture and everything will look and feel the same. I know there are different stroke for different folks, but can’t we operate our lives without trends and getting caught up in the rat race?

-The Younger Generation is…interesting? I am a mid-80’s born child who grew up playing with Barbie Dolls, riding bikes and playing in the woods. I did not get a cell phone or laptop until I moved to college. Each and everyday I embrace being a part of Generation Y and having the ability to disconnect from technology. I’ve noticed much of the younger generation is socially awkward because they are glued to their phones and does not pay attention to authority. Technology is an addiction. Living abroad makes me appreciate where I’ve come from and how I was raised. Everyday I am thankful for having healthy parents who grew a garden and fed me nutritious food where you could still see the white plate bordering portion sizes. I am forever thankful advanced technology did not rule my childhood.

-Value Time & Life Over Money – After walking, biking and using U or S-bahns for commuting, I never want to experience the stress of commuting by car ever again. It’s stressful and is a waste of time. Poor America is built on cars and the inevitable is hard to avoid. However, I will choose my life based on active forms of commuting. Traveling makes me value time and life experience over money.