Living in another country will change you. It’s as simple as that. When I moved abroad for the first time, I knew it would be a personal milestone. I had secretly dreamed of living in England since I was fifteen – and suddenly, there it was, an acceptance letter from the University of Leeds. I still couldn’t believe it when I arrived in Leeds in September 2013, breathing the cold air and watching the first leaves fall. Many black cabs, Student Union parties, student accommodation kitchen sessions, tiny bathrooms, cupcakes in small cafés, visits from friends, proper pub burgers and shitty fast food burgers, cold day trips, and cups of tea later, a different person in the same all-weather clothes got off the plane in Stuttgart. Living abroad has taught me a lot…
1. Being fearless pays off
Before I went, everyone asked me whether I was afraid. All I could do was shrug – I actually wasn’t afraid at all. I was excited. I’m not saying this to appear brave, I just didn’t have any fear because I couldn’t see any bigger problems. And really, there weren’t any. If you’re able to communicate in the given language, roughly understand the local system and have someone you can call in an emergency, there’s literally nothing that can happen to you (that couldn’t happen at home). Leaving home with that attitude is going to pay off: Of course, there will be struggles with bureaucracy, there will be misunderstandings due to culture or language, there are things you’ll hate because they’re different from what you know, but if you’re not over-anxious, you’ll be able to overcome all those obstacles (despite the occasional emotional outburst). Especially when studying abroad, you will have many new friends who will either be in the same situation or able to help you out. And once you’ve mastered your cross-cultural challenges, you’ll get an ultimate boost of confidence: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
2. It’s okay to make a fool of yourself
Seriously: You won’t be able to avoid looking like an idiot. There are things you just don’t understand. Like the automatic till at the supermarket or a cake recipe in ounces. I cannot say that I didn’t have a rage blackout once or twice. It’s stressful and embarassing when everyone but you seems to get things. But people are helpful. And nothing is better than having a bunch of new international friends who will laugh behind your back when you trudge around the kitchen, cursing like a sailor about all the bloody stupid shit English people do. Except the moment when you start laughing with them.
3. You bring more cultural heritage than you thought
England and Germany are Europe, so basically, they’re the same, right? That thought was one of the reasons why I wasn’t afraid of living abroad in Leeds. After a very short period of time, I could say: Nah! I can’t even count the times I started a sentence with “In Germany, we (do it differently)”. Suddenly, I started to recognize all the little everyday customs and cultural rules of my home country – and how much they influence my life. It’s not only about feeling a bit homesick because I love those things about Germany – I also recognized parts of my identity that I had simply assumed as ‘normal’ before. More than that, you can always import customs you love about your new country. Lastly, you can never completely drop your heritage and I think that kind of tension between the old and the new is what makes living abroad extra exciting.
4. Open borders are a privilege
Living abroad for the first time made me aware of the endless possibilities our generation has. Within Europe, the borders are open. I can book a bus today and be in a different country by tomorrow morning. I have the freedom to travel almost anywhere, I can easily apply for jobs in many countries if I want to. European life is an incredibly privileged life. And although I don’t have to take all my chances, I should still appreciate them very much.
5. There’s always a road home
There are still countless places I want to see, some of them I might even want to live in. But living abroad also made me aware of a sense of home I seemed to miss before. I know now where my roots are – and they’re in more than one place, though different in their strength. I have made three main homes so far: My home town, Tübingen, and Leeds. And I can always come back to either of those places. Or add another one.