Where in the World?
So you think you might be up for changing country codes? Sweet. Let's start by figuring out where to go. You can't exactly play the spin-the-globe-and-stop-it-with-your-finger game that so fascinated you as a kid. Although that would be pretty awesome and bold of you, you might end up in the middle of a blue body of water, where there is no job to be had, let alone any civilization to share in. Your decision process in choosing an international destination will have to be a bit more pragmatic than it would for a U.S. location, since employment opportunities are narrower and conditions so varied.
Msehiorfhqwjfelknjjiowoqd. Didn't catch that? Unless you are sticking to England, Canada, Australia, or a handful of smaller countries, language is an important issue that you will have to consider. If you know a foreign language, even just a little, go ahead and choose a place where that language is spoken. With solid fundamental knowledge and full immersion, you'll be speaking like a native in no time and will return home with a useful and marketable skill. If you don't know a single verb of the language of the country that your heart is set on, don't let that discourage you. You'd be amazed how much higher the learning curve is when you're actually living in a country where the language is spoken. Yes, it will be tough and frustrating at first, but you'll make up for lost ground rapidly. One way to get your feet wet (for both the language and the new surroundings) is to start with an intensive language-training course. If you are planning to just fall back on your mother tongue, don't assume that you can get by everywhere. Be realistic and find out where English is a common second language (Germany, India) and where you will likely be a lost soul (China).
Me, Sleep in a Mosquito Net?! The classifications "developed" and "developing" may sound like vague terms thrown around in political dialogue, but they shape a resident's experience tremendously. If you choose a developing country, you will most likely experience a whole gamut of changes, challenges, and inconveniences like power outages, cold showers, and overcrowded buses (the expression "packed in like sardines" will come to have new meaning to you!). A developing country will demand greater personal adjustment, but it will offer you a reality that few Americans get the chance to experience firsthand. Understanding how the majority of the world lives is invaluable. A developed country, on the other hand, will provide you with many of the same daily amenities (drinkable water, high speed Internet, peanut butter!) you have in the U.S. The question is not "Can you hack it?" but rather where you want to be at this stage of your life.
"Look Mom! I'm On CNN!" Another factor to consider when choosing your distant locale is political stability and safety. Civil unrest can cut short even the most well-planned overseas experience. Be sure to do your homework and read up on any turmoil in your country of choice. Women especially should talk to people who have lived in the area and inquire about street safety.
Souvenir Central. Many young people enjoy the ethnic diversity and vibrant nightlife of large international cities. But since you are going to be living in your chosen foreign destination, mass tourism is an important factor to consider. While a view of the Eiffel Tower from your apartment window would be divine, throngs of tourist groups asking how to get to the Louvre everyday wouldn't be so cool. Be careful not to underestimate the influx of foreigners in popular destinations, particularly if your heart is set on a capital city. You may find that the fewer tourists there are around, the easier it is to slip into the local culture and uncover the genuine essence of the place. If immersion is your goal, give a country's second biggest city a shot. It usually retains the pleasurable aspects of a main center, but with a quieter, quainter feel.
Escaping the Golden Arches. Very few countries have not yet been permeated by U.S. culture. If you are looking to get away and escape your mother country for a bit, seek out the more remote and culturally distinct regions of the shrinking globe. As you contemplate this issue, give anti-American sentiment a thought. If you love talking to locals and appreciate a warm reception, think twice about going where your jeans won't brand you a cultural untouchable. On the other hand, if your goal is to broaden your perspective, a country far from America's reach will help you do that.
Stepping Out. The geographical position of the country you choose can facilitate or limit your travel opportunities immensely. If you are the type of person who likes to see everything, don't put yourself in Japan without the financial means to hop around by plane a bit. It's a long swim to the Great Wall of China. Positioning yourself smack in the middle of continental Europe would allow you to visit a different country every weekend. You may, however, need a whole year or more to reach every corner of one country. It's a matter of priorities and personal preference.
Home Cookin'. If tasting the local cuisine, sharing in holiday traditions, and conversing in the native language are your priorities, definitely consider living with a local family. In certain countries this option will be more readily available than others. Homestays are sometimes so much cheaper than independent living that they can make your abroad adventure financially feasible. If safety is a major concern, placing yourself among people who know what daily precautions should be taken (and who might be a bit protective of you until you learn to be) is another benefit. On the other hand, if moving abroad is a long-awaited declaration of independence and you put a premium on personal space, solitude, or wild late nights, stick to a bachelor or bachelorette pad. You might find some foreign students from different countries to share an apartment with. In Havana, I ended up living with two Germans, two Italians, two Dutch folk, a Mexican, and a Bolivian. Quite a bunch we were! It was an added treat to learn about European and other Latin American countries while absorbing the culture of Cuba, and now I have great connections for future world travel.
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