5 Awkward Things About Living Abroad That Will Make You More Successful

by Maria June 30, 2017

Moving abroad and starting from scratch in a new city is a minefield of awkward situations ready to blow up your sense of adventure. What do we say to those situations? “Not today!” Every mild inconvenience you face in a foreign country will make you harder, better, faster, stronger. Here’s how such mishaps make you more successful at life.

Hitting language barriers

Nothing makes you more creative than being in an un-walk-awayable situation with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Delivery man arrives and your family has accidentally (or so they say) locked you in the house so you can’t open the door? But you’ve already tried the door handle so now he knows you’re home and you can’t pretend not to be? Can’t summon up enough French to respond to his “Ça va, Madame?” with anything beyond “Non, ça va pas!” and furious handle-jiggling?

But wait! You have an idea!

  1. Google Translate “The door won’t open! Please come back later!” into French.
  2. Slide a post-it note through the mail slot!

Congratulations, the language barrier has given you the gift of instant genius-level problem-solving ability! And a story to tell at parties.

To whom it may concern: I’m locked inside. Please just leave. This is very embarrassing.

Getting on the wrong bus

It will happen—guaranteed. There will come a moment sometime in your first weeks when you cheerfully get on a bus, things start looking less and less familiar, and that sinking feeling of oh crap, oh crap, oh crap tells you you’ve messed up.

You have no idea where you are, no one speaks your language, and all the signs seem to be designed with maximum unhelpfulness in mind.

A O F I sounds great. Let’s go to A O F I. (Photo: Liisbet Lamp)

No big deal. You’re a strong, independent adult and you know just what to do:

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Cross the road to the bus stop that’ll take you back to where you came from.

Well done! Your uncertainty tolerance has just gone up a notch! You are a master of rolling with the punches.

Figuring out how the showers work

(Note that I’m using the showers as shorthand for the way things in general work in other countries—the showers themselves aren’t even the worst offenders.)

Have you seen those bathrooms in the UK? The ones with a separate tap for hot and cold water that make absolutely no sense to anyone else?

Excuse me, what even is this? 

Along a similar line, have you ever totally lost your mind when faced with the prospect of having to use a squat toilet?

Oh no, no, no, no, please, no. 

And then, of course, there are the fiddly showers, the bidets, the door handles… Welcome to the wild and crazy world of “This isn’t how we do that where I come from”! How do you deal with such culture shock? How do you cope with a thing that looks or functions differently in your place of origin?

  1. Try, to the best of your ability, to use the thing.

Amazing! You’ve just mastered, at micro-level, the skill of adapting to unfamiliar environments! Now try it with entire cultures—it’s pretty much the same process.

Standing out in any crowd

Ever feel like you must literally be the tallest/shortest/palest/darkest person in an entire country? Do people stare at you wherever you go? Does the attention make you feel like a celebrity without any of the perks?

No autographs, please. 

What you’re experiencing is others adjusting to your unexpected presence. So, quite counterintuitively, being stared at isn’t about you at all—it’s about the people around you. So what can you do to avoid feeling self-conscious in these situations?

  1. Get over yourself.

When you find yourself sticking out like a sore thumb, the best lesson to take away is one of humility. You’re not special. You’re just new here. And don’t worry—that’ll wear off.

Navigating bizarre flavors

Everyone loves the amazing culinary experiences that come with traveling, and no one ever really talks about the bad ones. But those disappointing foods are out there too—the overly squeaky, the suspiciously crunchy, the unexpectedly soggy, the shockingly bland…

It can be enough to put you off trying new things. How can you avoid what we at Jobbatical call surprising foreign food fatigue?

  1. Whatever you do, for the love of cod (hehe—get it?), don’t just go to McDonald’s instead.
  2. Seriously, don’t go to McDonald’s. You’re better than this.
To be fair, if my only other option were the durian, I might think twice about it. 

Take a day off from trying new things, if you must, to rest your palate. But don’t give up the culinary exploration—you’ll learn so much about yourself and the world.

Bonus globetrotting foodie pro-tip: don’t always trust locals—they don’t necessarily have your best interests at heart when recommending things to try:

May we offer you some delicious meat jelly? It’s… an acquired taste. Hahaha. HAHAHA.

Ready to embrace the awkwardness and level up in life? Find a career adventure abroad on Jobbatical.

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