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.
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.
Bucket List achievements
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.
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.
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.