1. You will find yourself.
This one always feels a bit like douchey code for: Let’s get wasted in another country. Often this pursuit is financed in part by parents who believe their young adult children are indeed selflessly immersing themselves in another culture and ultimately growing into better humans.
Back in Ohio, said parents will proudly display photos of little Jimmy or Jenny cuddling parentless babies or building a lopsided house. What they won’t see are the photos of Jimmy or Jenny getting trashed on local hooch, trippin’ on shroom shakes, losing their shoes, and hooking up in hostels. They may find themselves all right, with a questionable rash on their nutsack or equivalent female part.
2. Future employers will be impressed with your experience abroad.
“So what is it you’re actually qualified to do?” asks the lady at the temp agency.
“I can teach English.” I answer.
“Everyone here already speaks English.”
I see her point. She looks through my spotty resume some more.
“What are all these gaps? What did you do for six months between Japan and Spain? And again for four months between Korea and… Really? Korea again?”
“Finding myself?” I try.
She quickly jots something in her folder.
“We’ll see what we can do.”
And I never hear from her again.
3. Traveling will enrich your social life.
Or it could make you socially awkward. When you live in a foreign country and everyone sounds like a grownup in a Peanuts cartoons – wah wah woh wah wah — it’s perfectly normal to spend the whole day not speaking to anyone. Instead, you walk around talking to yourself in your head. I’m really good at this. Sometimes I’m funny and I make myself laugh. Other times I’m sad and make myself cry. Often I hear a corresponding musical score.
The good thing is nobody thinks you’re a freak for the animated facial expressions and spacey, zoned-out quality you emit. They just think you’re foreign! Then they take you home for dinner, make you sing a song, and cut off a lock of your silky, golden hair as a keepsake. Heck, that’s not weird. They’re foreign!
The worst is when you come home and you’re no longer sheathed in a protective condom of foreignness. The next thing you know you’re in the checkout line at Albertsons. You glance at the magazine rack and notice you’re somehow eight American Idols behind. What ever happened to Taylor Hicks? You place your ice cream on the moving belt thingie – your vocabulary has atrophied while abroad – and continue a lively conversation with the people in your head.
“How are you today?” asks a voice from not in your head. It belongs to the checkout guy. Why is he talking to you? What kind of shady shit is he trying to pull? You should probably say something. Anything. But you feel like Ralphie when Santa asks him what he wants for Christmas. The whole situation is awkward, except that it’s not. It’s just you. You are awkward.
4. You will experience a bygone era.
You want to trek through untapped virgin rainforest, visit indigenous peoples, and experience a way of life that no longer exists in the modern world. Who wouldn’t? It’s time travel without all that pressure of inadvertently fucking up the space-time continuum. I’ve had A Brief History of Time sitting unread on the back of my toilet for a year, so I know what I’m talking about.
I once visited a hill tribe deep in the jungles of Thailand. There were satellite dishes attached to all the huts and native teenagers playing on smartphones. Our guide invited us, the huffy and puffy red-faced tourists, to take photos with some of the locals dressed in traditional costume over their traditional jeans, t-shirts, and Nikes. They kindly charged us for this privilege. Next, a little girl approached me and tied a handwoven (in China) friendship bracelet to my wrist. Aw, cute. She also wanted money. Then all her friends wanted money. Then a mob of child hustlers broke out, and they all knew the words to Kesha (previously known as Ke$ha.)
Later, over a lunch of green curry and sticky rice, some jackass complained that the beer one of the local guys carried in on his back from the nearest village wasn’t cold enough. Weren’t we there to embrace a traditional culture? We didn’t travel all this way for refrigeration and other modern-day perks. Seriously, what is wrong with people?
Okay, that jackass was me.
5. It will be a nonstop adventure.
Except when it’s boring. I was bored in Borneo. If only I could’ve procured that orangutan sidekick. While it’s true that Borneo has much in the way of adventure travel, from scaling the peak of Mt. Kinabalu to cruising the Kinabatangan in search of horny large-nosed monkeys, my time was mostly spent working in the “big” kampung of Kota Kinabalu.
“Kota Kinabalu’s a great town!” travelers passing through would say en route to better places. Their time in “KK” – as we denizens called it – consisted of one night getting plastered off Tiger beers at the Irish pub on the waterfront. The next day they were gone, and I was back at the pub. What can I say? It was like Malaysian Cheers, and I was girl Norm, sweaty pits and all.
Alternatively, I could be found engaging in one of these other nonstop adventurous things:
- 1. Perusing one of the many identical ice-cold hyper malls, which generally left me cold and anxious.
- 2. Watching an entire season of Mad Men, which generally left me craving whiskey and a nicotine addiction.
- 3. Lying on the floor of my flat in my best contorted neck-breaking position to freak out my roommate. I had a lot of time to perfect this death pose. He rarely came home early. He was usually at the Irish pub.
This post originally appeared at Medium and is republished here with permission.
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