Living Across the Sea: Stories from Living Abroad

Living in one place or community your whole life can mean you get to know the world around you: the culture, traditions, and habits that influence your beliefs and perspectives. Living abroad exposes you to a variety of different viewpoints and interpretations of life, which helps you understand a new perspective, and perhaps even question your own pre-existing ideas.

As an American living abroad, it can feel like you are an outsider looking into what is happening in America. History teacher Marjorie Brimley lived in Japan during events that were critical to the U.S. “Living abroad showed me that the rest of the world is looking at America. They look and see what we do here, in a way that I don’t think I really fully understood until I had lived through 9/11 and the Iraq war, both in Japan and traveling around,” she says. People interpret politics and events through their own cultural lenses, which can be different in a foreign country and can open up a different perspective for someone like Brimley, who saw firsthand the impact of American events through Japanese eyes.

To live abroad opens you up to two types of education systems: local schools and international schools. Unless you are already comfortable with the local language and culture, it can be hard to integrate into the local school system. “The system is just really different,” recalled Marjorie, speaking of her time teaching in a Japanese local school. “Every time I entered a classroom, every single kid in the class would stand up, and I would say good morning in Japanese and they would all say back good morning and bow and sit down. That doesn’t really happen at GDS.”

In comparison, international schools are mainly based on American or British school systems, which can be a more comfortable environment to ease into. It is common for the curriculum of the school to have more of a focus on the history of the location of the school. For example, sophomore Dora Hauache, who moved here from Brazil last year, recounted, “Instead of U.S. history, I took Brazilian history and world history, while science and math were the same.” In terms of language classes, Hauache reported that besides everyday Portuguese grammar classes, English was the only main world language offered.

In an international environment, one is likely to find a much more diverse group of students because people come from all over the world, and bring their cultures and ideas with them. You not only have friendships that stretch across the globe, but you also have kids who move a lot, and therefore are much more open to meeting new people. Sophomore Asta Jorgensen, who used to live in Israel, commented that living abroad made it easier for her to make friends. “New people were coming in each year,” Jorgensen says, “and they all moved [like] every three years, so they all just came with different cultures and it was really interesting to see people’s different perspectives on the world.”

Though living abroad can expose you to new people and ideas, there are also some downsides. Hauache says that the public school education in Brazil was poor, while in the United States, public schools provide some of the best education in the country. Another big thing about living abroad is that some countries around the world are not very safe. “I couldn’t go out in the streets to hang out with friends because it was really dangerous,” Hauache explains about living in Brazil.

Living abroad goes hand in hand with making new friends and memories, maybe ones that would not have been possible in another place. These friendships create a connection that that last regardless of what continent you are on. Every person coming from a different part of the world brings a different culture and idea, exposing everyone to these new outlooks on life. New soil means new experiences.

By: Jessica Kamin and Asia Rinehart