Living Abroad

I was 15 years old when I did my first solo trip. I was an exchange student in Fairbanks, Alaska. Ever since then, travelling has become a key component of my character but also; it became the most valuable experience for my education.

Yes, I have travelled as a tourist and yes; I have enjoyed those experiences like any of you I am sure. I will probably be the first one to encourage you to jump on a plane/boat/car/donkey or anything to go on an adventure. But, there is one kind of travelling that I encourage even more: living in a new country!

Travelling to a country or living and working, studying or volunteering in a country will show you a completely different face of a destination as if you were travelling as a tourist, not to talk about the impacts the experience will have on your life.

It will always depend on your goals. But if you are worried about your career and you have that unstoppable passion of traveling, then you should know the advantages and disadvantages of traveling as a tourist or traveling as part of your education/career.

So before signing up for a semester in Italy or backpacking through Asia, you should consider a few things.


1. Experience the destination and don’t pass by

As a tourist your time is limited. You need to put together the best itinerary to make sure you fit everything you want to see and do. There are so many options sometimes that is hard to pick, right!? The idea of travelling independently is appealing because you actually escape from any kind of daily obligations – you have the freedom to go and do whatever pleases you (That sounds pretty good… but just bare with me here).

When you are studying abroad or doing an internship in an exciting city, it is clear that you don’t have the same kind of flexibility that those tourists do. You will have some sort of timetable and you will be expected to be in places; and more often than not, you will have responsibilities to meet. However, the advantages of all these is that you will have more time to truly get to know the place you live in and you won’t feel pressure to do everything ‘right now’. You will take things slow and your travels will be spread evenly throughout your time abroad. It is perfectly fine to stay in one weekend watching a movie with your flatmate because you know you have plenty of other weekends to tick something off your list. (That feeling of not having to rush through a destination is priceless).


2. Let’s make this place a home

It is well know that when you travel as a tourist, you jump from one hostel to a couch surfing to an AirBnb to any kind of temporary option. This is okay when you do it for a short period but after a while, your body is begging for a better option. Although, a great thing about this is that you never stop discovering new things along the way and you get to speak with new people at every hostel. (That sounds very exciting I know but…)

When you travel as part of your education, your living arrangements are more likely to be in a share house, an apartment, university campus, or a host family. By using this type of accommodation you get to build long lasting relationships with your flatmates or neighbours. You stop feeling like an outsider and you feel like you actually belong to somewhere and someone, which is a wonderful feeling. In a way, you find that homey feeling rather than just a place you stay at. You can’t take a photo of feeling like a local –I’ve tried it, it’s not easy- but it’s a sensation that will more certainty stay with you for a long time, even after you eventually leave. Actually, when you go back home, you will miss the housemate that took care of you when you were sick, you will miss that friend that become your ‘to go person’, and you will miss that boyfriend that become your weekend get away.


3. Discovering the city with local friends while you master a second language

When you are passing by a destination, you probably find a travel buddy along the way with similar interest. You may actually run into the same people that are doing a similar trip to yours. However, because the time spent with each other is so little, you won’t have much time to actually develop a long lasting relationship. Something similar happens with your language skills. I am sure you will be able to communicate with simple gestures and some awkward conversations. You will get by for sure, but you will never immerse or try hard enough to communicate because you are just passing by. Google Translator will become an extension of your hand. 

This will depend solely on the kind of person and type of travelling you like to do. If seeing the sights is your main goal, you may be happiest by being a tourist. But if you are interested in making connections with local people, if you are interested in building long-time friendships, the options of study abroad or internships will give you far more opportunities to do so. At the same time, when you are using travelling as part of your education, you are going to need to know more than “where is the bathroom?” Living overseas is – at least to me- the best way to learn a second language. Today’s world has become more competitive than ever, and master a second language is a skill that will set you apart. Your colleagues will become your friends, and local people will teach you how to improve your language skills in a better a faster way.


4. Expectations and Accomplishments

Let’s be honest. When you travel as a tourist, your goals are completely different than when you travel overseas to do an internship. Keeping in mind your goals are key for making any travel arrangement. If you want to tick off your list as many things as possible, then definitely don’t hesitate and jump on that plane right now. But if you are looking for something more, something that will perhaps enhance your career, then options like an internship is more accurate and those require a bit of more planning.

The key thing about the long-term program abroad is to absorb your new surroundings gradually. This doesn’t mean you won’t have time to see the main attractions or discover those hidden places because you will be too busy studying/working, but it will require more planning and more time to organize those scapes.

I know that sitting at a desk is not as photogenic as the Blue Mountains, but the experience it self is a completely different kind of accomplishment entirely. You might be on a 4 months internship in Sydney and never make it to the Blue Mountains, but having a complete and fluent conversation in English with your colleagues might feel like even more of an important landmark moment. Maybe that conversation actually landed on a job? Maybe!

It is understandable why most people hesitate to go on an extended tour – that scary thought of your peers are busy getting ahead, while you just ‘wasted’ the past year travelling gets to you sometimes. But programs like international internship are just in between that… satisfy your travel bug while accomplish something that your CV will appreciate. So, why do so many people avoid it? Why do they think they have wasted their time? No idea.

I strongly believe that it is possible to travel and have a great career, even if social pressure says otherwise. Opportunities to interning abroad are huge and I am sure you can find one that fits what you are looking for. So, before you make any decisions, just make sure what you want to gain out of your experience abroad and then decide what styles is more of what you want/need. Always think of what will make you happier, if visiting the country as a tourist or through a structured program.


Daniela Ruiz - Journalism - Chile


Published on by AI.