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Whether you’re looking to study abroad for a year or just take a gap year, living and studying in a new country can be exhilarating and full of challenges.

After one year abroad myself, I learned that there are many ways to experience the culture, languages, and people of another country. Here are some things I learned during my first year living internationally.

Plant growing in lightbulb. Photo by Singkham
Plant growing in lightbulb. Photo by Singkham

Life is multi-faceted and stories are one-sided.

Multiple stories can describe the same phenomenon. One story can have wildly different interpretations.

It’s easy to come up with a general story in your head about how things work or what someone’s life might be like, but when you actually meet them, their lives could be very different from what you initially imagined.

Tired people. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Tired people. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

We accomplish things collectively.

One of the most important things I learned from my first year abroad is that large goals are accomplished collectively. Living abroad, it’s easy to feel isolated and homesick.

But I quickly realized that life abroad is filled with opportunities and experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.

To take advantage of these opportunities, we have to work as a team—not just as an individual.

Life is much easier with fewer things

Call me a minimalist apologist but life was very simple with a small wardrobe, living only out of my suitcases. I brought this back home with me. Having fewer items has opened up avenues to invest in other parts of my life.

Attached hands
Attached hands

Friendship can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Traveling can feel lonely. You are many times different from the people around you. You often need to ask for help and being in a new environment can be overall challenging.

Because life abroad can be challenging (at least at first) you may start to pay close attention to facets of people that you might not notice in your previous country. I made many friends from many different backgrounds.

When I studied abroad I lived in a region known for its conflict. I was able to make friends from many different facets of society, coming from many sides of the conflict.

Man looking out airplane window. Photo by cottonbro
Man looking out airplane window. Photo by cottonbro

Our core programming is the same

No matter how much we think we know about a country, there are always borders and cultural differences to be learned. The region in which I studied was complex, but what was very clear is that no matter how conflict ensued, people wanted to have the same things.

They wanted to make sure their family was safe, they wanted to move about freely, they wanted to be heard. They wanted to see their grandchildren happy and safe.

Likewise, our flaws are also quite similar. We all deal with greed and selfishness. No one is immune to such things.


Learning other languages is worthwhile.

Learning another language reprograms your brain. We have different processing capabilities in other languages. For example, sometimes there are words present in languages that are not present in others.

There can also be a world of difference in language structure. Your new language may have different pronouns available for example. A year abroad was a great opportunity to learn the language and really understand how people think.

working holiday

You don’t know what you don’t know

Many of my conceptions of other countries and my own home country changed. I couldn’t have imagined how much nuance I missed about the world simply living at home. It is always best to stop and learn and get out of your box.

Make international friends, wherever you go! Discover InterNations, the community for global minds with over 4.2 million members worldwide. Enjoy events, join groups, and more!  

Do you want to travel abroad? Find more inspiration in our articles below:

Author Bio: Sandy Page is a life-long adventurer. In her free time, she reads and consumes copious amounts of hot beverages.

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