Where to Begin?

Okay! You’ve made the decision to pick up and move abroad… Now what?!

The most successful and longest lasting expats I’ve ever met all had one thing in common: curiosity. The apt amongst you will realize the chronology of this article is all wrong. How is someone supposed to be curious when they don’t even know where they’re headed yet? But I bring up curiosity because it’s something to be used to your advantage before you ever even leave the house. 

Travel, like business, works best when combined with passion. Of course passion manifests itself differently for everyone, so beware advice like, “You just have to see hanami (cherry blossom festival) at the Takada Castle…” or “Spring in Paris is something every young woman needs to experience…” Generally, people say these kinds of things to be heard saying them aloud, to brag basically and invite questions about their own travels. But everyone– and I mean everyone– hates a tourist. That’s not you, and that’s not what you’re trying to do.

What you should be thinking about instead is what motivates you to travel in the first place. Are you fulfilling a primal urge to explore? Is it the opportunity to experience new cultures and meet new people? Is it the idea of living a life less ordinary? Or perhaps the vision of doing what your daddy did makes your skin crawl? Don’t answer right away. Think about that question: Why do you want to travel?

As one who’s spent the vast majority of his life stuck inside his own head, I would urge you against satisfying fantasies. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. You’ve always wanted to see hanami at Takada Castle, so why not teach English in Japan? I only caution you against such things because fantasies exist for the sole purpose of escapism. They’re great to daydream about, but like that crush at work or school you’ve fantasized about for the past months, once you actualize the experience it doesn’t tend to live up to the fantasy. What you have ahead of you will be day-in-day-out reality.

 And I brought up Takada Castle in Japan, because a friend had had that fantasy since she was a young girl. But after joining the Navy and jumping through hoops to get stationed in Japan, her taste for all things Japanese withered, along with her enthusiasm for travel. She lives in Georgia now, which for a Cosplay kid stands in glaring contrast to everything I knew about her when we were young. I, too, have taken up destinations to fulfill fantasies, and in my personal experience they never really panned out.

So let’s say you are into Asian cuisine, it’s better to shoot for somewhere in the same hemisphere, then vacation and see if Japan is the place you want to be. While sushi and kabuki might spark your smallmind Americana interest, the traffic, expense, and lack of personal space might turn you off to Japan. But if you were to Teach English after getting a peerless education from the good people at TeachAfar, you might enjoy the pastoral scenery and slower pace of life in Thailand or Cambodia more. Your dollar would certainly stretch further. (Metrically, of course) And while in theater, you can always hop on a flight and live out that childhood fantasy during a vacation. 

You should examine yourself closely for ‘why’ you want to leave, not just where you’d like to go. I hate to say it, but if you’re most interested in partying around the world you’re not going to last very long. Still, there are no participation badges in life, so maybe a six month stint in Rio will perfectly pluck that wild hair. But if long term is your goal and a career is what you’re after, I’d suggest settling on your second or third choice first. You want Mongolia, try Ukraine first. Outside Dnipro you’ll get an introduction into what teaching abroad professionally is like. You won’t have anything to compare against your expectations, and you’ll be able to focus on the professional aspect of the lifestyle while developing your personal life.

BUT KEEP THAT CURIOSITY! It’s always a damn shame when I find out someone has lived somewhere for years without ever trying to pick up the language. (And those are most often the people who complain about amazing experiences.) Learn the language, learn the folk dances, get into super obscure regional cuisine that’s going to blow minds on your infrequent trips home. Avoid other expats and tourists and recreate yourself into a Ukrainian version of your best self. And then, after two years make that move to your dream destination. If your curiosity about the world remains open, you’ll only build yourself into a better global citizen.

For death threats, hate mail, child support requests, and family reunions, Raymond Lee can be contacted at waxnfax@gmail on IG, FB, etc, you know the deal.

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