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Cheers, Planet Awesome! 5 Mind-Blowing Lessons Learned from Living Abroad

Looks like you’re thinking of moving abroad after high-school? What a great idea! The fantastic news is: Your all-in-one source of life-changing information on all the fun stuff you can do abroad after school is right in front of you!

And if you’re not yet entirely sure how you can benefit from a wonderful international adventure, you can take this guide as inspiration. It features my own lessons learned from living abroad. Actually, this one is less of a guide and more of a life lesson, but still. I hope – and believe – you’re going to benefit from the insights of this masterpiece of ridiculously useful learnings. So, let’s get started!

Last weekend, I went through my photo albums from way back in 2011, looking for more images for this blog. Side note: I seem to be running out of pics – but this is a different story. (Help! I need to travel to stock up on pictures! DM if you want to fund me, ha!).

Honestly, what are you waiting for? Sponsor me for more adventures on this planet! :-)
Honestly, what are you waiting for? Sponsor me for more adventures on this planet! 🙂

While browsing my pictures taken in different countries around the world, I wondered: Are there any general insights or universal takeaways from all of my stays abroad? What did I learn that might interest you? Legitimate question, hey! I must have learned at least a little something I thought to myself. And here we are, a week and a half later.

After decluttering my brain, I managed to compile all my learnings from six years abroad and various trips around the globe into this one mind-blowing article, which I am sharing with you right now. As a warning: Not all of them are to be taken too seriously.

But I do believe that the following lessons learned from living abroad will make an easy and delightful read and ideally put a smile on your face. In fact, there is a – sometimes subtle and sometimes slightly more obvious – astonishing truth to all of my learnings.

So let’s go! Here are the ultimate insights I have gained and the lessons I have learned from working, living and studying abroad. Sit back and enjoy!

Believe it or not – Germany is not in all regards top-notch

Alright, girls (and boys), let’s start off with an eye-opening truth and a lesson that is somewhat inevitable for those who decide to step out of their comfort zones to embark on international adventures. If you’ve been reading my blog and following me on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with my personal perception of the world.

I am a strong believer in the beauty of this planet, in the overall kindness of people and that we should seize every opportunity we can to learn from one another. Armed with an open heart and mind, I inevitably came to realize that my own home country is not in all regards first-class when I started exploring the world and comparing Germany on a bigger scale.

What do I mean? When you’re away from home, living your life abroad, you start to notice the things you miss about home. And on top of that, you realize what you don’t miss about home. The learning part of living in another country is: You become aware of both the advantages and the shortcomings of Germany. And to be very frank with you, I often ask myself when I am out of this country: „Why don’t we have this smart thing in Germany (or why is it not working there)?“ or „What if people acted like this at home…“.

Number 1 of the lessons learned from living abroad: I did not miss Deutsche Bahn.
Number 1 of the lessons learned from living abroad: I did not miss Deutsche Bahn.

As someone who grew up in Germany – a country known for its sincerity, insurances, regulations, despicable internet connections and home to a truly pathetic public transportation network – I found myself very much enjoying the exact opposites of these things while living abroad.

I enjoyed a reliable and efficient train network in Bangkok, Dubai, Singapore and all over China. Speaking of public transportation: short and long-distance traffic is better and cheaper pretty much everywhere on this planet. What Deutsche Bahn offers us at exorbitant prices is not at all the norm and should be boycotted by everyone who reads this – I am serious!

Next time you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere, living a nightmare courtesy of Deutsche Bahn, with no seat, no water, rude staff, and no air conditioning, ask yourself if this is actually normal (nope, it’s not!) and if you should continue to tolerate it (nope, you shouldn’t!).

I surfed the happy waves of continuously stable high-speed internet in China, Malaysia and even Vietnam (sorry guys, I wouldn’t have expected it but you taught me better – you’re great!). And I was welcomed and guided by easily understandable announcements in proper English in all of these countries (sorry Deutsche Bahn, another one you just can’t compete with).

Number 2 of the lessons learned from living abroad: Life can be easy and fun! @Changzhou, China.
Number 2 of the lessons learned from living abroad: Life can be easy and fun! @Changzhou, China.

But first and foremost: I fell in love with the hospitality and lightheartedness of people in Mexico, Thailand, Australia, South Africa and China. Meeting people from other countries taught me that life doesn’t necessarily have to be as serious as we take it in Germany. It can be easy and fun. It can be full of laughter and joy, even when – or maybe because – you’re not head-to-toe insured by Allianz.

So here we go, guys! Germany surely has its good moments but by all means isn’t top-notch on every level. And realizing exactly this is quite a mind-blowing life lesson learned from living abroad. Why? Because it puts things into perspective for us and teaches us to be humble and appreciative of other countries‘ achievements.

Yep! German punctuality is real but not always needed

When you’re a German among non-Germans, you suddenly realize how well trained you are at living German values and beliefs. And trust me – our values are strong and rigid! We as Germans (excluding Deutsche Bahn) are known all over the world for being on the reliable, diligent and punctual side of things. Why is this? Because we (mostly) are! Which is great on the one hand. Because when it’s expected of us, we can easily live up to other people’s expectations and meet workplace requirements. That’s a pro.

On the flip side, our stubbornness in living German values is not so great when we push through with them in situations where we actually shouldn’t. After six years abroad I can reassure you: German punctuality is real. Full stop. Germans usually show up on time wherever they’re meant to show up. Whether it’s in Germany – or abroad.

Ever seen a walking tour in Hongkong starting at 3pm with one person hanging around the meeting point at 2:30pm? Yep – that’s a German (ssssh – it was actually me, ha!). Ever observed someone nervously tip-toeing behind Bangkok Airport’s barrier tape at 7:30am when the luggage drop-off is scheduled to open at 9am? Again – 99% chance for a German.

Number 3 of the lessons learned from living abroad: It can be beneficial to drop your own inevitable Germanness sometimes. ;-)
Number 3 of the lessons learned from living abroad: It can be beneficial to drop your inevitable Germanness sometimes.

Ever wondered which friend rings your door bell at 7:59pm for your dinner invite at 8pm? It’s your lovely German friend! And if you’re South African, Colombian or Mexican you will ask this German friend in and make them wait for another two hours until 10pm, because that’s when your dinner is actually cooked and ready to eat (I love you, guys!). 🙂

The point is: German punctuality is great where it’s needed and expected. But the truth is that it is neither needed nor expected in large parts of this world. This is something you come to realize when you live abroad. In Mexico, for example, you’re not really expected to show up at the exact time set by the host. Australians will equally look at you puzzled when you rock up at their doorstep on the dot. I did it multiple times and was made fun of every single time.

It takes some intuition and understanding of where to apply your Germanness and where to simply let it go. When you live abroad for a while you learn how to make this differentiation. Which I believe is quite a healthy learning that can only avoid misunderstandings and expand your mind in the long run. Quite a mind-blowing life lesson I think.

And if you’re reading this and want to find out whether a year abroad would be for you, make sure you check out my article Auslandsjahr nach dem Abi – Bin ich eigentlich der Typ dafür? straight after.

You can survive without bread and coffee if you try

Uuuuh – oh yes! One of my absolute favourite topics and certainly one of those eye-opening lessons learned from living abroad, too! Alright, so by now you should know that I have quite a lot of things that I love writing about. But this one is special. Why? Number One: This one is a food topic and I am a designated food lover.

Number Two: I myself have gone through the process of trying to live without food I really love and guess what? Yep, this one is a tough one. But strangely enough – I managed to survive!

Here’s the thing: When you live in countries like China and Thailand, you have the benefit of being able to enjoy amazing food. Phenomenal food that is, which you should stuff your face with every day and at any time of the day (and night). But to every upside there is a little downside.

Number 4 of the lessons learned from living abroad: You learn to love local food wherever you are. And believe me - you won't miss German bread ever again.
Number 4 of the lessons learned from living abroad: You learn to love local food wherever you are. And believe me – you won’t miss German bread ever again!

The downside of living in countries like China and Thailand for example (but this goes for many more countries on this planet) is that you have to survive without food that you’re very much used to from back home. And there are really just two options:

You either have to pay a fortune and go a long way to find these things in places that traditionally don’t produce and sell them. Or – and this is option two that I choose for myself – you have to try and rewire your brain and body in a way that you don’t miss these foods anymore.

Generally speaking, I consider myself very adaptable to new environments. This is equally true for whatever kind of food is offered to me. I try it, and usually end up loving it. It can be a bit tricky though during longer stays (one year or more) in countries that don’t usually produce and sell two things that I really love: A decent loaf of wholewheat bread and a good cup of coffee – more precisely a nice, strong espresso or cappuccino (I’m not talking about Starbucks fyi).

I noticed that it was not at all easy to find decent bread in the US and in Australia either. Australia loves its coffee and you can get a nice, strong, creamy, tasty cappuccino and all its variations at every corner shop in Sydney and Melbourne. But when it comes to proper wholewheat bread that is not sliced and packaged toast. Hmmm. Not that easy.

Don’t get me wrong, it does exist. It’s just not that easy to get. So you either have to make an effort to find it or you have to fall back on option two, which is making it explicitly clear to your body that it doesn’t need wholewheat bread and coffee for breakfast and should finally stop craving it. And you will notice that, ultimately, something miraculous will happen: Your body and mind will stop longing for it.

And that’s the moment when your organism sets you free to go crazy on local breakfast delicacies. That’s when you start slurping boiling hot noodle soup at 8am. That’s when you consider fried rice dinner leftovers from the night before as a worthy and healthy breakfast option.

By the way: This is the best Chinese breakfast - filled and steamed dumplings in Bejing, China.
By the way: This is the best Chinese breakfast – filled and steamed dumplings in Bejing, China.

That’s when you happily stuff your face with steaming meat-filled dumplings accompanied by ice-cold bubble tea on the way to work. That’s when you fall in love with the fact that you’re not reliant on German things anymore. And that’s when the fun really begins!

So what’s in it for you here? The learning that you should never scrap a stay abroad because you’re worried of not being able to survive without German food. You will. I did. And I can guarantee you: You will have the best experience abroad when you stop worrying and just throw yourself out there. And this truly is a mind-blowing lesson learned from living abroad, don’t you think?

Screw those material things – you really don’t need them

Another eye-opening insight from living abroad is one that had and still has quite a powerful impact on my life. The learning that in order to see the world and collect memories, you gotta let go of stuff that makes you immobile and ties you down to a certain place. Sometimes this also goes for people, by the way. People can tie you down and make you immobile, so you gotta watch out there, too. But let’s concentrate on stuff here.

Material things that shine bright while pinning you down on your boring sofa. Glamorous stuff that whispers in your ear that you’ve made it in life while it sucks you in and almost unnoticeably pulls chains around your legs, so you can’t move. These are the traps of life that you learn to identify when you move abroad for a longer period of time. Why?

The reason is: When you live abroad you have mastered and learned two things. Number one: You have said goodbye to your life back home (at least for a bit) and by doing so you have freed yourself from stuff, things, furniture, apartments, cars, bicycles, clutter in your basement and all other kinds of things that you don’t need abroad. Which is a smart and logical step.

Number 5 of my lessons learned from living abroad: No one needs a whole lot of stuff! Declutter your life now. And thank me later. ;-)
Number 5 of the lessons learned from living abroad: No one needs a whole lot of stuff! Declutter your life now. And thank me later. 😉

Number two: You have come to realize that you really don’t need any of this stuff when you live out there in the world. Because you moved abroad with two suitcases of 30kgs (when you fly a great airline such as Emirates or Singapore Air that is – otherwise 23kgs) and that’s it. You don’t need more and you know what? Most people who move abroad don’t accumulate more when they live abroad. They realize that to have a great time in life and to create memories, you don’t need clutter and material things.

What you need is an open heart and mind, a social circle – meaning new friends – and money for experiences. What you don’t need is the latest fashion, designer handbags or any form of expensive clutter that either wears off, that you grow out of or that you lose at some stage. None of this will make your experience abroad any better or more memorable.

When you’re on a budget, like every average person, you have to make the right decision for yourself, your life abroad and the quality of your stay. For the experiences and memories you want to create and take back home. Material things usually don’t help with that. They will make it harder for you to leave Germany in the first place. And later on, they will again make it hard for you to move around in life as you wish.

The mind-blowing part is: Once you have decluttered and downsized your life to no more than 30kgs, living suddenly feels much lighter than before. Much easier, much more carefree and with a lot less to worry about. Living abroad for some time is the best teacher for exactly this lesson. You just have to open your arms and embrace it.

What you consider normal is not that normal after all

A truly fantastic part of living abroad is the opportunity to see things with fresh eyes and from a new perspective. And this is a really good one! Why? Because you see things that might astonish or shock you first but that you’ll start loving later. Because you learn that something considered „normal“ in your own limited perception is nothing more than a myth on a universal scale.

So, what happens abroad is: You come to learn that whatever we as Germans consider normal or standard back home, is not at all normal to people in other countries. And once you step out of your German mindset you realize that the other countries‘ „normal“ could be quite a great normal for us, too. Let me give you a few examples to make it clear what I mean.

Number 6 of the lessons learned from living abroad: It is not normal to eat and drink on public transport in other countries and it should be clear to us why...
Number 6 of the lessons learned from living abroad: It is not normal to eat and drink on public transport in other countries and it should be clear to us why…

When you use public transportation in Germany, you’re used to eating and drinking on trains and on the metro. Bingeing on a stinky burger in the middle of a crammed train next to people who are just coming back from work, losing sh*t like tomatoes and lettuce and spilling sauce all over train seats might be considered normal in Germany. But it is not at all considered normal or acceptable in many other parts of the world. For a reason.

Let’s take Bangkok as a prime example. Eating and drinking is prohibited on their metro system, including platforms and inside trains. The only exception: You can carry and drink bottled water. No soft drinks, no open drinks in general, no alcohol, no smelly burgers, no crisps, no street food, no smelly fruits.

Nothing that will stink, stain or stick to the floor, nothing that will disturb other passengers on the train. Do people in Bangkok survive their metro rides without eating? Hell yes! Do they think it’s normal to have coke and beer spilled all over the floor of a metro and to stick to that mess with your shoe soles? Hell no!

Do people in Singapore think it’s normal to chew and spit chewing gum all over public places? No, they don’t. But in Germany we do. We think it’s totally normal to buy chewing gum and act like uncivilized brats when we spit it on the street, not giving a damn if other people accidentally step on it. And we really don’t care about the fact that someone else needs to come and clean up after us either.

We stick our chewing gums to chairs and under tabletops, not giving a damn if other people have to touch our nasty saliva-infused chewing gum as soon as they try to pull a chair out. What would a Singaporean think about all of this? I guess you know the answer. And it’s not a pleasant one for us Germans.

Here comes the last example I want to give you. In Germany we consider normal and polite not to make any smacking or slurpy sounds while eating. At the same time we think it’s absolutely normal and acceptable to first blow our noses at the dinner table and then put our used disgusting tissues right onto the table. Next to the cold meats and butter. Then we touch and break a loaf of bread with our wet hands. Hmmm.

Number 7 of the lessons learned from living abroad: Different countries, different table rules. And: Those who live in glass houses should never throw stones.
Number 7 of the lessons learned from living abroad: Different countries, different table rules. And: Those who live in glass houses should never throw stones.

Now, let’s look at China. What people in China consider normal at the dinner table is pretty much the opposite of what Germans consider normal as in the little story above. Do people in China think it’s normal to slurp your soup and smack your noodles? Hell yes! It’s considered a sign of appreciation for the food you’re eating. Do they think it’s normal to blow your nose at the dinner table and disgust everyone around you with your nasty tissue? Definitely not.

So there you have it. What you consider normal is not that normal after all. What we as Germans think is normal is certainly not universal law. And this is one of those valuable lessons you get when you live abroad. You learn that slurping your soup is not under all circumstances rude or impolite. And you learn that we as Germans don’t always behave our best when we compare ourselves to people in other countries.

And you realize that some of other countries‘ normalities and standards would do us good in Germany, too. It wouldn’t hurt to make our trains food-free. It wouldn’t kill us to get rid of chewing gums. And it doesn’t hurt us to widen our horizons in order to see what we can learn from others on this fabulous and diverse planet. Would you agree?

What are your lessons learned from living abroad?

Now, if you have lived in the world for some time, I’m curious: What are your lessons learned from living abroad? Please do share your experiences and insights with me. I am pretty sure there’s lots more to it than what I have covered in this article. Actually, I also have a few more astonishing learnings to share with you. Stay tuned – I’ll dive into them with new amazing stories next time.

If you haven’t read Part 2 with more lessons learned from living abroad as a German, check it out right away: More Insights from Living Abroad: 5 Eye-Opening Learnings that I had Globetrotting Planet Awesome.

I hope you can benefit from my insights from living abroad. Looking back, I do find all of them mind-blowing. Because they shake up our own perceptions and beliefs, they help us to stay grounded and humble.

They also make sure that we remain curious and keep our minds and hearts wide open at all times. And I am convinced that keeping an open heart and mind is the most valuable present you can give to yourself in life. It’s time to go and grab it!

Starte ins Ausland nach dem Abi

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