5 LESSONS LEARNED ABROAD – GUEST POST WITH KATIE WEE
This week on the blog Katie Wee, my cousin and fellow expat is here to share her reflections and musings on lessons learned while living abroad. Katie currently lives in London and has so many interesting thoughts and stories to tell when it comes to facing the incredible experiences and challenges of living abroad! -Emily
My name is Katie, and I have lived in London since New Years’ Eve of 2018 (one of the most insane evenings of my entire life, but I’ll save that story for another day).
I moved to London to work for a theatre company I interned with during university. I loved my time in London when I studied abroad, and I had especially loved my internship, so I knew I eventually wanted to come back. I’ve lived across the US, in big cities and small towns, and I am very lucky to currently call London – the best city in the world – home.
Living abroad has punched me in the face, humbled me, made me both incredibly independent and very dependent, and expanded my world in a myriad of ways. These are a some of lessons I’ve learned since moving “across the pond”:
1. Anything can be solved with a good, strong cuppa
One of my first weeks here, I cried in the bank as I was trying to open a UK bank account (are you truly living abroad if you haven’t cried in a foreign bank?). The teller kept telling me that I couldn’t open a bank account without a UK cell phone number, but I had been told I couldn’t get a UK sim card without a UK bank card, so we just went around and around in circles until I finally burst into tears. I can’t remember how we rectified the situation (except to say I did eventually open a bank account!), but he did give me a cup of tea with three sugars to help me calm down – my first actual foray into the British mantra that anything can be solved with a good, strong cuppa.
I’ve learned I respond well to treats and have since ardently encouraged myself (and friends, flatmates, coworkers, etc.) that when you’re having a bad day, a fancy coffee, a bun from the local bakery, or a sweet from the corner shop will, if not turn your day around, definitely alleviate some stress.
2. Learning to be comfortable on my own
A lot of my time in London has been spent by myself. I moved here alone, so even though I was lucky to have such great, supportive friends here right away, I’ve still had tons of time alone with my own thoughts. So much of my time has been spent learning to be comfortable with me and only me since, so often, I’m all the company I have.
I love that I can go into a theatre an hour before the curtain and see if there are any single return tickets (Hot Tip: There always are, and the seats are always great). I can walk into a new restaurant and see if there are available seats at the bar, I can wander through a museum at my leisure, and I can get lost and only be annoyed at myself. This has been one of the most liberating lessons I’ve learned since moving across the world.
3. Just ask!
While finding my own independence, simultaneously, I have also learned to ask for help. I avoided using my oven for a year and a half because I thought it was too confusing. Then one day I needed/wanted chicken nuggets, so I (finally) asked my flatmate for help. Now I use my oven all the time… because, spoiler, it was super easy. Listen folks, just ask.
I have been comforted by shop owners after I’ve tripped and fallen in front of their store, I have had to ask bus drivers for directions after riding their bus for an hour, I’ve asked for clarification a thousand times on words I just don’t understand (a “handbag” is a purse, a “purse” is a ladies’ wallet, a “wallet” is a mans’ wallet, “pavements” are sidewalks, and do not even get me started on a “vest”). I’ve had to Google, more than once, how these showers work (convincing me forevermore that “home is where you know how the shower works”). Despite my pride, I have learned to lean on this giant community of friends and strangers here in the city.
4. I can do hard things
Living abroad, even in a place like London, where the language and cultural practices are so similar to my own, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I’ll be wandering along, having the time of my life, and it’ll just hit me that I am 5,000 miles from home, and it’s overwhelming! Living abroad is exhausting and expensive, but is also oh, so empowering.
Knowing that forever, when I am worried or anxious about something, I will be able to say, “Wait, chill, I’ve done something way more difficult,” is an incredible realization. Taking an exam? Psssh, piece of cake. I’ve opened a UK bank account. Have a scary job interview? Ah, easy. I applied for a British work visa in the midst of Brexit and major upheaval. I have done (and am doing) something extraordinarily difficult, so I know I can do more hard things.
5. I see the world in a new way
I am a better United States citizen and a better world citizen for living in a different country. I have become more engaged with my local politics, and I’ve become more aware of the complex societal structures that prevent so much change both here and at home. I see the injustices in the US and become angry when they are seen as “only American problems.” Injustice and intolerance are here and there, and ingrained narrow-mindedness exists everywhere.
Expanding my world has reminded me how important it is to build bridges not walls. By living in community with people of different cultures, I have been reminded how similar we all are. I may be a real product of the USA (catch me crying at the Women’s World Cup when the USA wins gold or complaining again that the dill pickles in the UK are bad), but first and foremost, I am a citizen of the world. I have a responsibility to engage in conversation with and find space to learn from everyone.
One of my good friends who has also lived abroad in the UK said to me, “London is mine in a way that natives cannot comprehend and in ways a tourist will never understand.” And I completely agree. This weird mix of tourist and homebody, foreigner and local, means that I have a list of things to do a mile (a kilometer) long and the time to do it all. I can’t wait for lockdown to be over so I can go back to visiting my favorite (favourite) spots in my favorite/favourite city.
To connect and hear more from Katie, follow her on instagram and twitter!