Foreign Countries: Living In vs. Traveling Through

It’s a no-brainer that to live in a foreign country is a completely different experience than to just travel through.

This past week I returned from my 10 days in Asia, where I was able to go back to China, visit the Philippines, and spend a few days in Hong Kong.

Now that I’ve been able to visit other new and foreign places for a few days here and there, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t get a full feel of a place unless you spend an extended period of time there– or live there. There are certain benefits to living in a foreign place, rather than just passing through.

Let me try to explain: Imagine you have a delicious, rich bar of milk chocolate. (MILK, not dark, because dark is for weirdos and old people- no offense nana). Pretend you haven’t eaten for about 27 hours and you’re a recovering chocoholic- then someone hands you this amazing bar of creamy, delectable chocolate. They tell you, “You’re allowed one single lick. You can’t have more than one, and you certainly can’t take a bite… Enjoy!”. Your heart falls to the floor and you probably throw a bitch fit, right? That’s how it feels to travel to a new place and spend a short, limited amount of time there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than grateful to have the opportunity to experience these new cultures, languages, and people from different countries, but I need more time to understand them and make my time there 110% matter and take something more meaningful than touristy pictures from my experience.

For example, I spent three days in the Philippines. I was able to derive a few impressions of the country, culture, and people; however, I wasn’t able to entirely understand them, their way of living, and why they do what they do. My mind wasn’t able to pick up on the language and ingrain a few phrases of their native language. I wasn’t able to notice all the differences between my own home country and theirs.

When you spend an extended amount of time in a foreign country, you’re able to do all of that and more. When you live in a foreign country or go about your daily life as the locals do, you have the opportunity to really immerse yourself, understand, and know a place and their people. Instead of going to the most beautiful parts, or seeing the most iconic and famous landmarks of a certain country or city, you’re exposed to the not-so-beautiful aspects of where you are.

Every place has good and bad. When I was in China, I was hit by culture shock hard my first couple days and if I had gone home a few days after I arrived and experienced life there only for a short time, I can genuinely say I probably would have hated it and never would have wanted to return. It took months for me to truly understand the people, the confusing culture, and daily life there, but once I had a firm understanding of the culture I was experiencing, China stole my heart and there will forever be a piece of it remaining in that country. I loved it enough to return back on my own less than a year later.

While I’m ecstatic and appreciative to have gotten that small taste of the Philippines and Hong Kong, I wish I could’ve gotten a better understanding of the place and people a bit more. I now know for the future to spend more than a couple days in the places I travel to in order to allow myself the opportunity to take in as much as I want to.

If you have an interest in traveling or experiencing new cultures and people, I strongly urge you to also allow yourself enough time to really take in where you’re going and the lifestyle there. Even better, if you have the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time actually living there please take advantage of that and do so. If there’s a will there’s a way, and if you really want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

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