The top 5 things I’ve learned after spending a year abroad.

Today marks one year since I left my hometown of Iroquois Falls, Ontario with a one-way ticket to Cancun, Mexico.

I had a lot of mixed ideas about what traveling was, is, and needed to be before I left. And to be honest I’m not sure I have any viable answers after a year. What I do have; however, are my own experiences and the things I’ve learned through the things I’ve done.

I’ve worked as a bartender, gardener, social media manager, receptionist and housekeeper. I’ve done work trade and I’ve also been paid peanuts, barely making ends meet. I’ve written slogans, product descriptions, website content, biographies, articles, blogs, personal essays and edited grant proposals, manuscripts and newsletters. I’ve found a way to make a life for myself in a tiny Caribbean town that I’m madly in love with, and despite the sunny weather and general ease with which we choose to live down here, there has been an inordinate amount of struggle as well. But I know those struggles have only helped me in the long run.

After a year living abroad, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. One person’s opinion about a place will not necessarily be your opinion. I high tailed it to San Marcos, Guatemala because the description of it in my travel guide sounded fantastic, and a couple of people had referred to it as a ‘hippie hot spot.’ But when I arrived something about the place just didn’t feel right. The only way I can describe it was that I didn’t feel called to stay there even though I had secured a volunteer opportunity. However, I know for a fact that my opinion of it was scattered because I just had no idea what I was doing in the beginning and was completely focused on getting to a volunteer position so I could save money. I would absolutely go back to Guatemala and San Marcos now, but there’s really no way to tell if you’re going to like a place or not until you arrive.
  2. People really will take care of you if you let them and know when to ask.  I never even thought of myself as a person who had a hard time asking for help, but I think we all are simply because of the societies we’re raised in, which value self sufficiency and independence. Before leaving I got a bit of a cold and was laid up on the couch at my parent’s house.”What are you going to do when you get sick down there,” my Mum had asked me.”Then I guess I’ll be sick down there,” was my response. But inside my anxiety was rising. What WOULD I do? Who would help take care of me? How would I take care of myself in a foreign country? And while I’ve most certainly gotten sick, (in fact I have food poisoning as I write this) I’ve learned that being independent and able to take care of yourself means that you don’t have to take care of yourself all the time, because you know when to reach out for help. And you’d be surprised at the support you can get when you’re in the traveling community.While I’m definitely more independent now then I ever have been in my life, I’m also more aware of the importance of community, which leads me to my next point.
  3. Travel has taught me the true value of community and to be grateful for all the different kinds of people that make one up. When I first left on this trip I was very much focused on ‘the spiritual path.’ I felt that there were two paths on the road, self-discovery and self-alienation, meaning the yoga path or the party path. Though after veering back and forth rather wildly on that road, I now know that things are never so black and white. As my lovely friend Jeff always says, “as people we always muddle in the grey area.” Now, I’ve found my way into a yoga teacher training with the Caribe Yoga Academy here in Puerto Viejo, with every intention of teaching sometime in the near future, but I also am well aware of the fact that that doesn’t mean I’m going to meditate for 6 hours a day and never drink a glass of wine again. In fact, I love the vibe at a couple of our local bars here, and while I definitely avoid the crowds for the most part, I’m pretty happy having found a way to straddle the line, so to speak.
  4. Money is just an exchange of energy and you don’t need nearly as much of it as you think. I came down here with $3,000 CAD and that ran out in about 4 months. During that time I also did work/trade, but not having any control over where I slept, or what I ate really started to get to me. I do need my own space, and I like to be in charge of what goes into my body, so even though (some) work/trade opportunities are fantastic it never felt like quite an even energetic exchange for me. Instead, the more casual trades that I’ve set up over this past year have always felt better. An hour or two cleaning, to use laundry facilitates, working reception to get free yoga classes, or offering my editing and content services to be able to participate in a ceremony. People send me question a lot asking how they can do something similar to what I’ve done, so I’m here to tell you the key: you have to be willing to be extremely uncomfortable. You have to be willing to fail, to fall down, to get hurt. You’ll have to face the fact that you may be broke, hungry, stressed out and exhausted. It may take a while, but you’ll figure it out. If for no other reason than you have no other choice.
  5. Tears are strength. Pain is growth, and struggle is triumph. I’ve experienced some seriously life altering events while on the road, and even though sometimes I felt (and do feel) like maybe I should go back home, I also feel like my opportunities to overcome these challenges have been so much more potent because I’m away from all things familiar. We already know that pressure makes diamonds, so once you figure out how that bright, glittering light of yours can be accessed, the best thing you can do is shine on. ❤  
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2 thoughts on “The top 5 things I’ve learned after spending a year abroad.

  1. Hey Emma Kins….Auntie Kathleen here…I have read EVERYONE of your Blogs….laughed….cried…smiled….been inspired….and have left a reply to most….hope you received my comments?…never heard back?….what an AMAZING writer you are!…..did you get that from your DAD’S side?…HA!. Always good to hear you are safe…having FUN…and learning LOTS luv Ya Lots xoxo..K

    • Hello Auntie K!! I have definitely received your comments, and I usually try to respond in this way! I hope they have been coming through okay! If they haven’t know that I appreciate the support SO SO much and miss you all up there in Southern Ontario! I think of you all often! ❤ Can't wait till we can all reunite someday soon! Sending all my love from the Caribbean to Canada ❤

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