Why Living Abroad Might be Just What You Need

By Megan Lillick

Illustration by Evgenia Makarova

I was 25. A quarter of a century old. Nausea set in every time I logged into Facebook to see a picture of a spoken-for ring finger, a chubby happy baby, or a house captioned “Congrats to the new homeowners!” Mind you, this is back when the newsfeed had only rudimentary filtering capabilities.

Was it jealousy? Was it FOMO? Or was I genuinely uninterested in these milestones at this point in my life?

After some soul searching, I realized that the uneasiness I got when witnessing friends settling into adulthood with their careers, marriages, mortgages, and newborns was a common symptom of something that affects nearly 75 percent of those aged between 26 and 30. I was experiencing what psychologists and the media alike were calling the quarter-life crisis. The less bald, slimmer waistline, “world is your oyster” version of the mid-life crisis.

It’s that existential dread when you start to ask questions like, “What am I doing with my life? What should I be doing? What do I really want to do?!” Sometimes simply just wondering, “Why?” On the bright side, it’s a time that inspires us to not only look around, but also inward. To evaluate and question things.

My quarter-life crisis was a catalyst for a big change. It helped push me in the direction I knew I always wanted to go; abroad to Spain.

I knew some Spanish, but I wanted to be immersed in the culture where it was spoken natively to get that elusive ‘fluent’ badge. So after saying my goodbyes, off to Spain I went, leaving any sliver of chance for my own suburban selfie behind. For me, there was still adventure to be had!

Living abroad changes you

That year in Spain was quite the adventure. It changed me. Dare I even say, I’m a better person for having lived abroad? Not to toot my horn or anything, but yeah, I’d say so!

From having a couple years of the real world under my belt and a few years on my classmates in my intensive Spanish courses at the university actually gave me a unique perspective. I felt I was able to appreciate the art of learning doing the college thing a second time.

To living in a shared apartment with a mix of locals and expats all from different countries. We hung out often, whether it was cooking dinner together, partying until sunrise in el Barrio, or finding secluded beaches to drink sangria and siesta on. We were friends. We still keep in touch (thanks Facebook!). Through living amongst these people in this full house, I became more patient and open-minded, for the simple fact that everyone had their own cultural upbringing around chores, sharing and personal space.

To trying my damndest to find work in my career of advertising during Spain’s economic crisis. To only find work as an English tutor, which was actually just a glorified title for babysitter while the parents had a child-free happy hour of tapas and wine in the adjacent room. I grew resilient to rejection emails from job applications and more creative in lesson planning. Not only was I the ‘tutor,’ but also the ‘chef.’ I found hands-on activities involving food always got the kiddos’ attentions, and they’d come out of the hour’s lesson learning at least the word for pizza!

To feeling torn up, when I finally was offered my dream job to have it quickly revoked when the immigration lawyers got involved. They told the employer they shouldn’t be hiring foreigners when the unemployment rate for locals was through the roof. My newly acquired resilience helped me through this, too.

To saying my hasta luegos to my neuvos amigos when my student visa was about to expire and I legally had to go back home. To mentally preparing myself for life in the US again. To being in the US again and experiencing reverse culture shock. My patience and resilience helped me through this, as well.

To learning about I Am a Triangle and using its community as a crutch to lean on. Through this, I confirmed the realization that living abroad changes you. You become a triangle, meaning you don’t quite fit into your own home country (the circle country), and you don’t necessarily ever feel settled in your new foreign country (the square country). With all your past and to be had cultural experiences, your triangle peg just won’t fit in the square or round hole.

Vale la pena

Emerging into adulthood with all the stress and internal crisis that comes with it was as the Spanish say, “Vale la pena!” It was worth it. I wouldn’t have chased a dream I always had, one that got buried in life’s post-college happenings. I wouldn’t have gone to live abroad with the sole purpose of becoming fluent in the language. I wouldn’t have become the open-minded, patient, and resilient individual I’ve come to be today if I wasn’t bound to adapt to a new culture.

Having been there with the quarter-life crisis and lived abroad to cure it, I feel entitled to offer up my story as an anecdote for all you mid twenty and early thirty somethings on why living abroad is good for you and might be just what you need. Maybe those of you in the more robust version, the mid-life crisis, can relate, too.

Or perhaps you’re not having any sort of crossroads at all, and you just want a change of scenery. Whatever your situation may be, living abroad will most definitely change you, whether you go at it alone or with a partner, making you a better, more well-rounded and versatile person for yourself in this world.