Changing Your Life By Working Abroad: The Fun Stuff

As I mentioned in the first post of this series: Changing Your Life By Working Abroad: The Financial Benefits, there are some challenges associated with being away from home.  Last year was really the first year that I began to “settle” since my divorce in early 2009.  With this settling came the reality of living day-to-day life without all the excitement that comes with constantly being on the move.  When I was in Afghanistan my life was lived out of a small backpack.  I was constantly moving from camp to camp and learning new things, never a chance to get bored or reflect on the life altering event I had survived.  Anyone who as lived through a divorce and the financial peril that comes with it can tell you what an uprooting, heart wrenching experience it is.  2011 was the year things calmed down.

It was the year I paid off my debt and became fiscally responsible for the monetary resources fortune had bestow upon me, but it was also a time in which I began to feel homesick .  I share this with you because I want you to know that even though emotionally I was experiencing some pretty strong feelings and contemplating returning home, I was also enjoying some pretty amazing experiences as a result of choosing this path.  It is those experiences I want to share with you today.

A picture doesn't do it justice.


Prior to leaving the U.S. in 2009 to work in Afghanistan I had never been outside the U.S.  OK, that is a tiny lie.  I had been to Canada.  Traveling to the Middle East for one’s first experience abroad may not have been the best choice I ever made.  To say it was culture shock is a gross understatement.  Arriving in Dubai on my way to Afghanistan I quickly realized that I was a long, LONG way from home.

Afghanistan was an experience all of its own.  Maybe one day I will write more about it if anyone really has an interest.  It is something I will never forget and to see a small example of what our military personnel have to contend with gives me a whole new appreciation for their service.  If you are in the military and you’re reading this, THANK YOU!

I had always wanted to travel.   I guess many of us have a longing to see more of the world in which we inhabit and I have not been immune from the desire.  I’ve seen the pyramids in Mexico as well as the ones in Cairo.  I’ve seen the beauty of the underwater world while diving in the Red Sea.  I’ve been rock climbing and camping in the mountains of Oman.  I’ve walked along the incredibly carved out tombs in the ancient city of Petra and experienced the unique buoyancy of the Dead Sea. I’ve marveled at the Colosseum in Rome as well as the breath-taking scenery of the Vatican City.  These experiences have enriched my life more than you can imagine and I sit here with a profound sense of gratitude having had the opportunity to experience it.

Petra, Jordan

Bucket List achievements

Absolute terror at 10,000 feet!

We all have some kind of list of must-do items we want to experience before our time on this earth is over.  My list was long, but it never seemed to be getting any shorter.  Much of that is my own fault.  When you have so much consumer debt your current income goes to paying for immediate needs and past wants, you have no room for enjoying current interests.  It sucks and I have no one to blame but myself for those actions.  Once I came overseas I began attacking that list.  I went skydiving, learned to SCUBA dive, started rock climbing, experimented with Taekwondo , all things I had wanted to do for years.  I had the time as well as the money to enjoy these things and I did.  I still have several things on this list such as learning to play the piano, learning a language (Arabic is HARD) volunteering, earning an advanced degree and many others.  Each year I hope to add to the list of things I have accomplished.

The Challenges of Adjusting to a New Culture

This may not seem like much of a benefit to some, but for me, as challenging as it can be, it is.  How often do we get the opportunity to uproot ourselves and replant our lives in different soil?  Learning about Arab and Islamic culture has been at times overwhelming, but ultimately enriching.  We hear so much negative news connected to this part of the world that we miss the value of a people with a rich heritage and deep family ties.  This is one of the things I envy about many of the cultures of non-European descent; their tight bond with family members.  I see this in the Middle East, India, and SE Asian cultures.  Many of the people who I work with who are from these countries routinely send back most of the money they make to provide for their families.  Many of the men I work with provide not only for their immediate families, but their in-laws as well.  Coming from a culture that prizes individuality it is nice to see a different approach.

Chichen Itza, Mx

Don’t get me wrong, as interesting as it is  learning about a new language, religion, political system and people there are still things I don’t agree with.  This is to be expected as anyone who is exposed to new ideas different from his/her own will want to push back against what is different.  Although I still hold tight to my own values, I have a better understanding of the world around me, a world much different from my own.

At the same time I value exposure to this new culture I find myself being more grateful for my own.  It is easy to bad mouth the U.S. and its inefficient political system, foreign policy, and social problems.  It is easy to villanize any superpower for all it has done wrong thinking that the alternative could only be good and down playing the possibility that it could also be mush worse.  I have a deep appreciation for how much I have been blessed with by merely being lucky enough to be born in a particular time and in a paticular nation.  We have it so much better than we realize, but should never let that stop us from improving ourselves as well as our country.

The man who started this journey is a very different man than the one typing these words.  If we let them our experiences shape us and add to the very essence of who we are.  I’m very thankful for having the opportunity experience life the way I do now and I hope you have enjoyed a small glimpse of that life I’ve attempted to share here.

Look familiar? Sunset over the Dead Sea.

Have you lived abroad or traveled to places that had a lasting impact on your life?  Please share them with me and the other readers in the comment section.

22 thoughts on “Changing Your Life By Working Abroad: The Fun Stuff

  1. I have never lived abroad, but have traveled to some of the places you mentioned, Vatican City and Rome. I learned to SCUBA dive when I was 15, and have taken a couple trips with my dad as my dive buddy, we took our open water in Grand Cayman. I’d like to retire early and travel to some of the places that this couple has been. Check it out 🙂 They just went to the Galapogos Islands! AMAZING!!

    I enjoyed your post and am glad you are doing so well enjoying your experiences.

    • MSS– I had always wanted to learn to dive and took my open water in Playa del Carmen, Mx. I’m hoping to get to Belize this year and dive there as well.

      Thanks for sharing the website. The pictures they have are amazing. Reading their story make me realize that it really can be done. Simple, but not easy right? I mean the strategy they used is not complex, but consistently doing it is the hard part. I think if I ever begin losing motivation I will visit their site.

      You had asked when I wrote the first post if my routine was much different now compared to my life back home. I would say the biggest change is a lot more leisure time. In the beginning it was hard to get use to. The American way of life is a very frenetic one. People are always moving about, places to go, things to do. Here it is very different. The pace is much slower. There is an Arabic expression, inshallah, that means “God willing” and it’s attached to anything that is referenced to the future. Things may get done, they may not. For a Western mind entrenched in deadlines and timetables this can be extremely frustrating. After awhile you just go with the flow. Now when I come home for visits I love spending time with family and friends, but the nonstop pace wears me out.

  2. Awesome story and really great pictures! I’m really happy to see that making this change in your finances is having such a profound and wonderful effect on your overall life quality. I definitely can say “I know exactly how you feel”.

    Have you ever mentioned exactly what you do? And, how is it possible to do what you’ve done? Is there an easy “career path” that could take you overseas?

    MSS-awesome site! I’ve never come across that blog before. Those two are travel aficionados to the nth degree! Amazing that they went FI and really decided to live it up!

    Best wishes!

    • Thanks DM. I did a lot of the traveling when I first arrived, before I really began to get serious about my finances. I’ve trimmed the travel down a bit from last year, but still would like to do a little while I’m leaving over here and able. I consider it another benefit 🙂

      I work in emergency management. I’ve come across teachers, docs, nurses, IT professionals, engineers, CPA and many others. I think it comes down to knowing what your skills and education are and then doing a lot research to see what is out there.

  3. Cool story, didn’t know that about you. I studied abroad in college in Budapest and had an amazing time. I traveled to many different countries, studied a little, and just enjoyed living in a very different culture than what I was used to.

    At the same time, I came across a lot of people who had been backpacking for 6 months up to a year. I don’t think I could do this, because to me it all starts to blend together. I really liked my situation because even though I was traveling a lot, when I would come home to my flat in Budapest, it felt like I was coming home.

    I still love traveling, but can’t do it as much now that I’m working full time. But I still find time to squeeze in some big trips here and there 🙂 Next one will be to South America.

    • I once dated a girl who did the same as you, study abroad while in college. I always admired that about her and hoped that one day I would get a chance to do the same. Although it has happened later in life for me, I’m glad it happened 🙂

      Where in South America are you planning to visit? I’m thinking of Belize and possibly Peru as options for my vacation this year.

      • Thinking about Argentina, Bolivia and of course Peru(~2 weeks). I have a few friends who had an awesome time a couple years ago there. I also love traveling places where the power of your dollar is higher than normal.

        Belize is a great spot too, I will definitely go there some day.

      • “I also love traveling places where the power of your dollar is higher than normal.”

        This is one of the reasons I give serious consideration to overseas retirement.

      • we are also headed back to South America this summer.

        Last year we rented an apartment in Quito and wandered about Ecuador. We engaged a spanish tutor we met in a chocolate shop.

        She then came to visit us in NH in the fall. She knows Peru and Bolivia very well and will be taking us around for six weeks or so.

        very much looking forward to it!

      • That sounds like a great trip! I’m looking forward to hearing more about it on your blog when you get back. You had mentioned once before about traveling while retired. Are you thinking of moving overseas for an extended stay or just yearly visits? Either way sounds like a lot of fun to me.

      • since my wife still enjoys her job we’ll be here in the US for a couple more years. fortunately working for the school district she has summers off.

        Once she decides to hang it up we’ll move, but who knows where!

  4. A sense of calmness or peace of mind comes out in this post more than in others. Travel and emergency management will probably give you enough exposure to write a book, let alone a few articles on the blog.

    The part that captured my attention was the big thank you to the military. Would you share an episode or two which were particularly telling of what they go through in their daily lives? I am guessing that for them such episodes may become a routine not worth mentioning, while for you (and us) who are not in the military those things stand out.

    • AverageCFA… That calmness and peace you mention is one of the main reasons I’m staying here. I’ve made great strides in my financial life and most would say I’m crazy for even thinking about leaving a job with such great pay and benefits. Honestly though, it’s the work I’m doing on myself that is most important. Trying to calm my mind and accept what is without constantly thinking of what’s next. This is a hard habit to break.

      It would be hard to narrow it down to a few specific instances of why I’m so grateful for our military. I suppose being there and seeing for myself the conditions, dangers, and impact that war has on people made it seem more real. You can see it on t.v. or read about it in a paper, but it doesn’t seem real until you have seen it first hand. You can hear about soldiers (from all the NATO forces) being killed, but until you attend a ceremony on a cold, winter morning watching these men and women being loaded on the plane to be returned home, it doesn’t seem real. These things had a profound impact on me and I know I only experienced a small sliver of what it is like for them.

  5. Pingback: You can eat my Vindaloo, mega lottery, Blondie, Noa, Israel Kamakawiwo ‘Ole, art, film and a ride on the Space Shuttle « jlcollinsnh

  6. I had the opportunity to live abroad as a teenager, I was an exchange student in Denmark when I was 17. To say the experience was life changing is an understatement. There’s the obvious part of trying to learn a new culture an language while attending highschool, but that wasn’t the biggest eye opener for me. 2 out of 5 days a week I attended a language school for foreigners. I was surrounded by immigrants from Afghanistan, Romania, Russia, China… all over the place. It took a few months before we had a stong enough grasp of the language that we could converse with each other, but once we did we told each other about our respective lives. Some of the stories were absolutely heart breaking. I talked to a former coach of the Afghan national soccer team who had been chased out of the country for fear of his life. He had not seen his wife of son in 15 years. I talked to a young woman who was pregnant with her first child, who did not know what the concept of “playing” was. I watched blatant racism as my fellow classmates were eyed suspiciously by the locals after class, while I wasn’t given a second look because I could pass for a local. It was sickening. This was during 2001, immediately after the twin towers collapsed. Things that I had taken for granted, or never given a second thought, came to the forefront: I’m caucasian, I speak English as a first language, I grew up in a first world country, I’m educated, I have the right to make my own choices… all of these things have made my life easier in their own way. If I hadn’t spent that time abroad, I might have continued to take these for granted.

  7. Pingback: You can eat my Vindaloo, mega lottery, Blondie, Noa, Israel Kamakawiwo ‘Ole, art, film and a ride on the Space Shuttle

  8. I have been to India (twice…stayed a month both times), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Ireland and Canada. I think it’s amazing the paradigm shifts one gets going outside of your “normal” surroundings. I took the kids to Central America, and I think it has helped them to appreciate their blessings.
    But, there is much to be said for the simplicity and peace that most other cultures have…they have their needs, many of their wants, and now they are at PEACE. I don’t see that so much in my neighborhood…most around here are constantly dissatisfied with SOMETHING.
    I love this post. I love the perspective. I love the gratitude for the experience you share.
    Nice work.

  9. Pingback: Changing Your Life By Working Abroad: Returning Home | The Stoic Investor

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