Since I graduated in 2010 in Ireland, I’ve worked for one company there to date and have otherwise worked abroad for the entire rest of the time. From Ireland I went directly to Malaysia, then to Germany, back to Ireland and back to Malaysia. I enjoy living and travelling in Asia and at this stage, there’s probably a certain degree of ‘familiarity’ kicking in.
That said, living overseas still brings new lessons on a near-daily basis and if nothing else, my ability to communicate entire paragraphs using hand signals and hashed English is at a near chart-topping standard. But recently I got thinking, what has living abroad really taught me?
Being Home is Dangerous & Goodbye’s Don’t Improve
The first time I headed out for my first trip abroad solo, I was 16 and I went off to London for a few days. It was nice, though I found the people (and have more or less continued to do so) quite unfriendly bordering on fear – when I just wanted to ask for directions. Notwithstanding that, travelling overseas solo (even if it was just to the UK) seemed to represent a real potential threat and/or challenge and/or risk of not making it home somehow.
Now of course, no such thoughts enter my mind at all and I’m almost sure I’ll see home and my family again, whenever that may be and whenever the chance comes up again – but therein lies the problem. Living abroad carries with it the knowledge that, while you’ll all see each other again, you really have no idea when. Maybe if you’re allowed holidays for such and such period and the flights are reasonable, or perhaps X can come and visit – it’s all ‘ifs and buts’ as my mother would say. Every time you leave, living abroad, you know you’ll be back – but who knows when and, unfortunately, under what circumstances.
The first time I came out to Malaysia to live (not holiday, which was only a few days and fine), I was shocked by how my body reacted to the perpetual heat; for the first month, there was nothing but intense, non-stop sweatiness and a general shine coming off my face like a sweating soggy mirror. Looking around, I notice this same shimmer off many other Irish and British tourists visiting now, which is great because our lack of regular sun makes us easier to spot to our fellow comrades.
After the first month though and with all the going between air conditioning in the office, then at home, then walking in the blazing heat and so on, I began to develop with frightening regularity, a nasty throat followed by a chest infection roughly every 4 – 6 weeks. That also lasted a few months before finally, I settled and only had the ‘sunshine shimmer’ to contend with; until of course I moved on to Germany in March, where I pretty much repeated the entire process in reverse again. My point is, you’d be absolutely shocked how our bodies become so ‘stuck’ on a certain temperature range. And don’t even get me started on sunrise and sunset times.
Food, Medical, Phone, Everything will be ‘A Bit Different’
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all – it’s not, and we could do with more of it and less health and safety back home – but eating in Asia generally has to include at least a few times a week of eating from street stalls or in some cases, metal boxes with wheels (pictured). What I can tell you is that in my experience, while the first few approaches to one of these ‘eateries’ might not be very comfortable, the price will be great, the food probably delicious and to date I haven’t ever had one responsible for a bad tummy in spite of what many guidebooks will tell you.
Similarly, Germany’s medical system in my findings was top-rate – far better in fact, than what we put up with back home in Ireland – but it does take a bit of getting used to and a slightly more hands-on approach. What I’m saying is that, while no system is right or wrong, expect differences and expect to be frustrated by them when you most need something done – here in Malaysia for example, a passport is a pre-requisite for the purchase of so many things, some you wouldn’t even think was necessary. In Myanmar I was shocked to see food deliveries being loaded onto the Yangon Circular Railway to be delivered in the city; to the detriment of any passengers wishing to get off in between.
What are your thoughts on living abroad? What differences and lessons learned did you find?