Why “Be Yourself” Is Awful Advice

I recently listened to a podcast by my favorite relationship expert, Matthew Hussey. In it, he claimed that “be yourself” is terrible advice.

Why?

Because “be yourself” is just an excuse to be mediocre. It’s an excuse to keep doing whatever you’ve been doing. It’s an excuse to not take risks. It’s an excuse to not grow and improve upon yourself.

And we should all be trying to be better versions of ourselves. Because everyone has things that they can work on.

Think about it this way: Who is the person that you want to be? Who are the people that you envy? And why? Bthat person.

What are the things that you’ve always wanted to do? Do those things.

Let me give you an example. I’ve always been a pretty shy person–at least around new people. But it’s something that I’ve been working on, and I think over the years, I have become less shy. If I just accepted the advice to “be yourself,” then I could just as easily have stopped trying to strike up conversations with complete strangers and stopped stepping outside my comfort zone. And as a result, I would have missed out on a whole lot.

So instead, I try to do what my mom always told me to do: be more outgoing. I try to be more like my mom, who was not only outgoing, fun, vivacious, adventurous and funny, but incredibly thoughtful, generous, and kind too.

So here’s my two cents: Don’t be yourself. Instead, try to work on yourself. Try to become the very best version of yourself that you can be. And you know what they say…fake it til you make it. If you keep “faking it”–or keep practicing being the person that you want to be–eventually you will become that person.

You feel bad because you think you aren’t altruistic enough? Don’t be yourself. Instead, do more volunteer work. Or try doing one kind thing for someone else each day.

You think you’re someone who doesn’t have an ounce of rhythm and just can’t dance? Don’t be yourself. Take a dance class! And make a fool of yourself in the meantime. Who cares! And who knows, along the way, you might just discover that you have a hidden dance talent that you never knew you had.

Are you still single because you’ve always been scared to talk to people of the opposite sex? Don’t be yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Face your fear of rejection. Get the courage to talk to that girl (or guy) that you’ve been crushing on.

Practice being that person that you want to be, whoever that may be. And in the end, you will become a stronger, more capable and better version of yourself. Guaranteed.

Do You Have a Growth Mindset?

Generally speaking, people who travel a lot tend to be pretty open-minded. They tend to be curious and have a strong, innate desire to learn and grow. They tend to have a growth mindset.

Someone with a growth mindset embraces failure and sees it as an opportunity to grow and improve. They embrace challenge and enjoy trying new things. They experiment. They are curious.

Someone with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, thinks that their character, intelligence and abilities are fixed and cannot change. They will do whatever they can to avoid failure because they see it as a reflection of who they are and who they will continue to be. They hesitate to try new things and do things outside of their comfort zone because they don’t want to fail or look dumb.

Okay, so why does it matter at the end of the day?

Because mindset is everything. The way that you look at life will affect everything from your travels to your career success to your personal relationships and overall happiness.

If you think that you have more of a fixed mindset, the good news is that this is something that can be changed. You just have to be willing to change.

If you want to develop more of a growth mindset, here are a few ways that you can do that:

  1. Think of yourself as a “work in progress” or an “experiment”
  2. Don’t take yourself or life too seriously
  3. Be curious and make sure you are continuously learning
  4. Value the journey–not the finish line
  5. See each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow
  6. Face your fears
  7. Learn from each failure
  8. Celebrate the success of others

Of course, all of this is a lot easier said than done.

If you want to develop a growth mindset, you will have to step outside of your comfort zone.

You will have to constantly question and shut down that inner voice that tells you that you can’t do something or that reprimands you for your failures.

You will have to essentially train your brain to rethink everything that you have grown up thinking.

But eventually, if you work at it, that growth mindset will become a part of you.

Why You’ll Only Regret The Things You Don’t Do And Never The Things You’ve Done

After college, when the majority of my friends and classmates were entering the “real” world with “real” jobs lined up, I packed my bags (well, overpacked them!) and moved to Toulouse, France to teach English for the year.

Even though I was going alone and didn’t know a single person in the city where I’d be living, I was determined to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany before starting my adventure in France.

So, my copious amounts of luggage and I ended up couchsurfing (staying on the couch of a total stranger) with a German guy. I spent Oktoberfest with him, other couchsurfers and random people we met along the way. Even though I spent the weekend with complete strangers, those few days will go down some of the best of my life.

See photo below for proof:

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After those wild, insanely fun Oktoberfest shenanigans came to an end, I headed to France, where I had to find an apartment, set up a bank account and get a cell phone contract all on my own with no tools beyond my rusty, high school French. (Believe me, France does not make this stuff easy for foreigners!)

Not knowing a soul, this process seemed scary and intimidating (and I learned that the Internet can be your best friend when it comes to making friends in a foreign country). But I ended up having such an incredible time that I decided to go back for a second year.

More recently, after completing my master’s degree in Paris, I once again packed my bags and, relying on some money I had saved up, moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to try to find a job. Living in Brazil had been my dream for a while and I was dead-set on somehow making it happen.

Many people thought I was crazy for doing it, but I never once doubted my decision. “Are you moving for a boyfriend?” Nope. “Do you know anyone there?” Not a soul.

While some people are more practical, I have always been entirely heart-driven; if I have an urge to do something, I make it happen.

I knew that moving to Brazil without a work visa or a job was maybe not the most practical choice, but I also knew that if I didn’t give it a shot, I would have regretted the choice forever and would have wondered for the rest of my life what could have been.

I like to live by the famous Mark Twain quote, “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

While in the time I’ve been abroad, my friends back home have advanced in their careers, gotten married and settled down, at 27 years old, I am just now trying to start my career. Even though I am behind the majority of people my age, I am so happy that I made the choices I did. I have gained irreplaceable life experiences (while also having the time of my life).

I know that I can move to a foreign country, without knowing a soul – and I will be okay. I have become even more independent than I used to be; while I prefer to share experiences with friends, I also feel totally comfortable doing things on my own.

I see the US (and the world) differently than I used to. I understand the good and the bad of my home country and now see the weird and unique aspects I never used to notice or once took for granted.

I have friends all around the world. I now speak nearly fluent French and Portuguese, which would probably not have been the case had I stayed in the US and taken the same path as most people my age.

Over the years, so many people have told me that they envy me for my abroad experiences. But here’s the thing: If I can do it, anyone can do it. You just have to be willing to take a leap of faith.

It’s not just in life that we should “sail away from the safe harbor,” but in our careers, as well. So many people stay put in careers that do not fulfill them, challenge them or make them happy. They choose the professions that their parents wanted for them instead of what they really desire.

Sure, choosing the less secure occupation or leaving your career and starting something new is a scary and risky choice. However, if you never take that plunge, you will probably always wonder “what if…?” and remain stuck in a job that does not truly satisfy you.

If you are passionate about what you do, you will be more motivated to do a better job. It’s a win-win situation.

Whether in regards to your life, your career or your relationship, it is so important to follow your intuition and take risks. Your intuition is there to guide you.

I’ve found that oftentimes, the things that scare us end up being the most worthwhile. Think of it this way: When you’re 90 years old, what do you think you will regret more: traveling the world or being cooped up in an office job that you despise?

Want my two cents?

Step outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s one small step or one gigantic leap. Take that belly-dancing class you were always too nervous to try. What’s the worst that could happen?

Scared of heights? Go skydiving.

Book a trip around the world and travel for six months… or a year.

If you hate your job, quit; find one that fulfills you.

If you want to move abroad somewhere, just do it. 

Don’t make excuses. Sure, it’s easier said than done. But, life is just too short to not do the things you want to do.

And hey, if nothing else, you’ll probably get some killer stories out of it… I know I did.

Want some help taking your next big leap? Get in touch. I’d be happy to help!

*This was originally published on Elite Daily on June 9, 2014* 

3 Realities of Being a (Digital) Nomad That Nobody Ever Talks About

While I’ve technically only been a “digital nomad” (for lack of a better word) for a year, I’ve always been a bit of a wanderer.

Over the past ten years, I’ve moved around a lot. To give you an idea, I’ve lived in Winston Salem, North Carolina (for college); my hometown of Greenwich, CT; Toulouse, France; Paris; Rio de Janeiro; Delray Beach, Florida; Los Angeles; San Diego; Buenos Aires; Medellin, Colombia..and now Florianopolis, Brazil.

Have I had unforgettable experiences in every one of those places? Absolutely. Would I trade those experiences for anything? Not a chance.

But here’s the thing: When you enviously scroll through your Instagram feed or are overcome with wanderlust reading through all those travel blogs, all you ever see and hear about is how incredible the “digital nomad” lifestyle is. And don’t get me wrong–it is. I could never go back to the corporate, 9-to-5 life, and having the ability to live anywhere in the world is something that I truly cherish and am so grateful for.

But I’d be lying if I said that the nomad lifestyle doesn’t have its downsides. For all of you out there who are considering being a “digital nomad,” make sure that you consider these three things first.

1. It can get lonely 

One thing that I love about traveling and living abroad is how easy it is to meet other people–especially gringos. You automatically share this special bond with other foreigners, being together in this foreign land. You also have some things in common with them (a love of travel and, hopefully, an open-minded outlook on life).

Personally, I love working from coworking spaces and coffeeshops, because a) I need to escape my house or I would probably go a bit crazy and b) It gives me the opportunity to meet other people.

My point? Sure, it’s easy to meet people. But you will miss your friends and family from home. You will also inevitably miss out on things like weddings, birthdays and baby showers.

And picking up and leaving every few months (or however often you travel) makes it difficult to establish meaningful, lasting connections. You might meet some nice people, but many of them are transient too. And, like anywhere, finding real friends–who are there for you through thick and thin–is not easy.

So unless you have a traveling companion (and sometimes, even if you do), the nomad lifestyle can get lonely…really lonely at times.

2. It gets tiresome 

Rather than constantly be on the go, I prefer to “slow travel” or spend several months in one place at a time. Not only is it less exhausting, but it allows me to get a bit more settled and it gives me the opportunity to really get to know the culture, language and country that I’m in. It’s also easier to make friends when you’re situated in one place for longer than a few weeks.

But even so, starting over somewhere new every few months can be emotionally draining. Just when you start to feel settled somewhere, you have to pack up and leave again. You’ll have to continuously adapt to totally new environments and start new routines.

And don’t get me started on the stuff. You’ll find that you don’t need–or use–nearly as much stuff as you think you do (which is why many “digital nomads” are also minimalists…I, myself, am not yet one of them…but #goals, right?!).

But still, whether you have 10 possessions or 100, having to pack up every few months can get tiring.

It’s for those reasons that, at the ripe old age of 31, I’ve found myself craving more and more a “home base.”

3. Dating is difficult 

Unfortunately, when you live a nomadic lifestyle, nobody takes you seriously in the dating world. After all, it’s hard to take someone seriously who moves to a new country every few months.

The reality is that many people are scared of getting hurt. And it’s easier to just not get involved with someone who has had an unconventional lifestyle than it is to take the chance on something (or someone) that could be the real deal.

Side note: Here’s why you should date a digital nomad.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of ups and downs to the nomad lifestyle. You will miss home. You’ll struggle to adapt to new environments and communicate in languages that aren’t your own. You’ll get frustrated with things like power outages and bureaucracy issues (oh hey, Brazil).

But then you’ll get to experience all of the amazing things that come with traveling and living abroad. You’ll become a more open-minded, well-rounded and interesting person.

Having the freedom to live anywhere in the world means that you can also pay off all your debt by living somewhere like Bali or Chiang Mai for under $1,000 a month. You get to perpetually chase summer and work from the place that you are most productive.

So yes, there are some downsides to the digital nomad lifestyle. But you might just find that all those upsides make it worth it in the end.

18 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in My 20s

I just turned 29.

While it’s hard to believe that my 20s is nearly over, I will say that I’ve had a pretty awesome decade. And while in some ways, I wish I could be 23 again, I am also grateful to be where I am today and excited to enter a new decade.

One of the privileges of getting older is that, as the old saying goes, you also become wiser. I know so much more about myself and life than I did when I was 20. I know my strengths and I know what I need to work on. In many ways, I’m a completely different person than I was even six years ago.

Here are 18 important life lessons that I’ve learned in my 20s:

  1. Live in the moment 

Human beings spend about 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing at that moment.

And contrary to what you might think, all this thinking makes us unhappier–not happier. Thinking about the past often makes us depressed…and thinking about the future makes us anxious. Living in the present moment is what makes us happy.

It’s easy to get lost in our own heads sometimes and forget about what’s going on around us.  But life passes by so quickly–and the older we get, the faster it goes.

Try to set your worries and thoughts aside and just focus on what you’re doing in the present moment–practice mindfulness. If you can achieve that, trust me, you will be a much happier person.

2. Don’t overanalyze 

Many of us (myself included) have a tendency to read into things a bit too much. Our minds have a tendency to jump to the worst case scenario. We take things personally and make everything about us, when oftentimes, it has nothing to do with us at all. The problem is that overthinking can be self-destructive.

So instead, train your mind to develop more positive narratives. Is your roommate giving you the cold shoulder? Maybe he just had a bad day! Is your friend not responding to your text? Maybe she’s just been busy! If you catch yourself overanalyzing something, stop, and ask yourself if what you’re thinking about is really rational. And then try to focus on what you’re doing in the present moment instead.

3. Claim your own self worth 

Probably more than any other generation that preceded us, we millennials tend to seek validation in every which way. We count Instagram likes and followers, as if those numbers define our self worth.

And I’ll admit–It’s easy to get caught up in seeking such superficial validation. But seriously…who cares?

What matters is how you think of yourself. Who cares what everyone else thinks? Be confident in yourself and know that you are great–without needing to hear it (or see it) from other people.

Treat yourself and talk to yourself like you would a good friend.

Did you not get that job you really wanted? Don’t take it personally. Move on. Did that guy you really like never call you? Clearly he didn’t realize just how special you are. His loss. You’ll find someone better who does appreciate you.

Rejection is not easy to deal with. When we get rejected, it’s so easy to get down on ourselves and question ourselves. Which is why it’s so important to believe in your own self-worth and not let others define it for you. If you always seek the approval of others, you will never truly be happy.

So remind yourself of all your wonderful qualities–and love yourself.

4. Don’t care what other people think

No matter how hard you may try to be nice to everyone, there are always going to be people talking badly about you and people who don’t like you. It’s just the reality.

Try and forget about the negative things that people say about you, and focus on the positive instead.

And…

5. Don’t remain friends with judgmental or negative people 

They are toxic and will always find a way to bring you down. It’s not you–it’s them (even though they might try to make you believe otherwise). But it’s up to you to get rid of them.

6. But do keep the good people in your life

Good friends are hard to come by. I mean the really good friends. The ones that don’t judge you when you tell them your deepest, darkest secrets…the ones who will tell you if that dress really doesn’t look that good on you (tactfully of course)…the ones you can call at 2AM when you are crying over that guy or girl who broke your heart…the ones who come to your house and keep you company when you are feeling bad and can’t get out of bed…the ones who are always there to support you, no matter what.

Those kinds of friends are few and far between. As you get older, you will inevitably go through difficult situations. Some of your friends might stick around. And others might abandon you. It’s the sad reality.

Plus, you change so much in your 20s, so you will grow apart from some friends, as sad as that may be to think about. People change–and so do friendships. But the really strong friendships will be there for life. 

7. Learn from your mistakes

You are going to mess up and do things that you regret. You are going to fail. It’s part of life.

What matters is how you handle it. Don’t dwell on your mistakes or let them bring you down too much. Learn from them, pick yourself up and move on.

8. Never stop learning 

In college, we’re always learning new things. We’re reading and soaking in new information on a daily basis.

But when we finish school, we have to make more of an effort to accumulate knowledge. We have to be intentional about our growth.

Whether you prefer listening to podcasts, reading books or watching videos, find ways to keep learning on an everyday basis. Pick up a new language. Read about the history of mankind (I recommend Sapiens for that!). Watch TED Talks. Whatever you do, just keep learning.

Not only will this increase your own self-worth and confidence, but it will make you a more interesting, smarter individual. And a better conversationalist!

9. Stand up for yourself

Is your boss not paying you what you deserve? Speak up!

Is that guy you’re seeing only texting you at 11PM at night? Don’t put up with it!

Did some punk cut you in line at the grocery store? Politely tell him that he is behind you.

Not totally satisfied with your meal at the restaurant? Say so!

For people that aren’t very assertive, this can be hard and take some practice. But the older you get, the easier it will get to stand up for yourself.

Train yourself to say “no” and put your foot down. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

10. Take risks 

Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been a result of risk-taking. Life is just too short to not take risks! Period.

11. Treat your body well 

When I was 20, I didn’t think too much about my diet…I would party multiple nights a week…Let’s just say that I wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle.

My two cents? Be kind to your body. Your habits now can dictate your future, so start developing positive habits now. Exercise regularly. Eat a healthy, plant-based diet. Drink alcohol in moderation. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. And wear sunscreen!

Your body will thank you in the end.

12. Open your mind 

Just because someone has a different or unique way of doing something doesn’t mean that it’s wrong—or that your way is right.  To think that your way is or should be the only way of doing something is the definition of close-minded.

Living abroad and traveling has really helped to open my eyes and learn to be more accepting of differences, even if they may differ from my way of doing things.

13. Fake it till you make it. 

Let’s say you really, really want this job…but your confidence is wavering a bit and you are worried about the interview, not quite sure that you can handle the workload…What do you do? Fake it!

Pretend like you have all the confidence in the world, act confident, pretend like you believe in yourself and you can handle it all–and my guess is, you will get the job. And you will succeed at it too.

If you act like you believe in yourself, other people will too. And the best part? If you fake it, eventually, you will actually believe in yourself too– eventually you will “make it”. Guaranteed.

14. Relish singleton.

Most of us get married at some point in our 30s. So live it up in your 20s. Move to some exotic country. Live in a house with a bunch of friends and throw house parties on weekends. Party on a weekday when you have to work the next day. Go on bad dates and moan about it to your friends after. Go on good dates. Kiss many, many frogs before you settle down on just one.

Do all the things that you won’t be able to do (or will be much harder) once you settle down and start a family.

15. Know what you want – and go after it

My mom was the definition of go-getter.  If she wanted something, whether it be a job, a pay raise or a doctor’s appointment in a jam-packed schedule, she would go after it–and almost always get it. She had a way of being able to convince people to do just about anything she wanted.

Over the years, she taught me how important it is to go after what you want. Know that things will not be handed to you on a silver platter, so don’t expect them to. If you want something, you’ve got to give it your all and chase after it.

16. Don’t plan things out too much 

When my dad goes on a trip, he writes out the exact day-to-day itinerary. He buys the travel guidebooks and highlights the things that interest him. He knows exactly where he will be staying and what he will be doing.

Let’s just say that I do things a little differently.

Personally, I think the beauty of life is not knowing what is just around the corner. I like that I don’t know where I will be or what I will be doing in two years–or even one year.

If you plan out your life too much and set too many timelines for yourself, you are likely to either a) rush into something that you aren’t ready for or b) end up disappointed.

17. Spend your money on experiences–not things 

It’s funny to think that I used to place any sort of value at all on material things.

I went to a high school where you were looked down upon if you drove a beat-up car or wore non-designer jeans. It’s laughable now, but at the time, I thought that those things were important.

But think of it this way: What do you think you’ll remember years down the road? That Gucci handbag or that incredible vacation you took with your friends? I think you can probably guess the answer to that one.

I definitely don’t live a completely minimalist lifestyle now–and don’t get me wrong, every now and then, I still like to go shopping just as much as every other girl. But I’d much rather spend my money going skydiving or jetting off to Bali than on a few material possessions.

18. Value your time 

In our 20s, we tend to think that we have an endless amount of time at our disposal. At least I did. I would do things here and there to maybe save some money–but would end up wasting my precious time in return.

Over the years, I’ve learned to place much more value on my time than money. For example, if I go to the grocery store 10 minutes away and end up buying what turns out to be some rotten fruit, I probably won’t spend the time to return it.

If someone that I’m not totally crazy about wants to hang out, then I will most likely decline. If a job wants to pay me below what I know I’m worth, then I won’t accept it. If it’s going to take me 1.5 hours by bus to get somewhere…and 30 minutes by taxi…then I’ll take the taxi (assuming it’s affordable).

Time is our most valuable commodity. So treasure it. Make the most of it. And don’t waste a single second of it.

10 Reasons Why Moving Abroad Alone is One of the Best Things You Can Do

I was 22 when I moved abroad alone for the first time.

I had finished college a few months earlier and had decided that I wanted to take a gap year before entering the “real world.” So I chose to teach English in Toulouse, France for the school year.

Well, I loved it so much that one year turned into two. Then, after spending another six months at home trying to figure out my next step, I decided to move back to France–but this time to Paris to continue my studies.

A year and a half later, with one Masters degree under my belt, I once again moved abroad alone–this time to Brazil–and this time, without a job or Masters program lined up ahead of time. I spent nine months in Rio looking for a job, teaching some English and doing a bit of journalism before I ultimately decided to move back to the U.S. (it was too hard to find a work visa in Rio for the type of career that I wanted to pursue…and this was before I even considered remote work as an option).

I have found that it’s one thing to travel – but living in a foreign country is a completely unique and life-changing experience. Here is why moving abroad alone is one of the best things you can do when you are young, free and independent:

1) You will become a stronger, more self-reliant and independent individual.

If you can face the challenges that come along with moving alone to a foreign country, then you can do just about anything.

Moving abroad alone has made me far more self-sufficient and independent than I used to be.

For starters, I am now totally comfortable doing things on my own – going to a cafe by myself with nothing and no one but my own company? No problem. Going to the movies by myself? Sure! Couch surfing solo in the apartment of a total stranger? Check.

Whether you move abroad thanks to a job transfer or with no job and only a few hundred dollars in the bank, you will inevitably encounter problems along the way that you will be forced to solve on your own (especially if it’s the latter).

I know I dealt with my fair share of stressful situations, especially that first year in France…here are a few examples of some situations that I had to deal with and solve on my own:

Problem #1: When I got to the airport to check my luggage, I found that I would have to pay some ridiculous fine, like $500, due to my overweight bags (I did try to weigh my luggage before going to the airport, but clearly that didn’t work out so well!). Luckily, some nice American guys, who were standing in line behind me, overheard the situation, and offered to carry my belongings in plastic bags as their carry-ons for me. A bit of creativity, resourcefulness, and kindness from random strangers helped save me $500!

Problem #2: So I got to Germany (I was stopping over in Munich for Oktoberfest before heading on to Toulouse) without an international phone and realized that my couchsurfing host still had not gotten back to me with his address. For those of you who don’t know, couchsurfing is a website in which people host travelers in their home–free of charge. Lesson learned: always make sure to get the address and phone number of where you are going before leaving the country (duh).

I still clearly remember this scenario: I ended up, with all of my ridiculous amounts of luggage in hand, on the streets of Munich, trying to figure out a game plan.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before I spied an Internet cafe, where I was able to look up the phone number of my couchsurfer who I then called using the phone of a random, kind German guy (thank goodness for nice strangers!).

That nice stranger then helped me haul my luggage down the stairs of the subway. Why in God’s name I decided to take the subway and not just hail a taxi is still beyond me. The things you will do to save a few dollars when you are 22…

But I finally made it. And proceeded to have several of the most memorable days of my life.

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Prost! While I had a rocky start, Oktoberfest ended up being totally worth it.

Minor Issue: In France, I was teaching in a small town called Lannemezan, in the middle of nowhere, about an hour and a half from Toulouse. I chose to live in Toulouse and make the commute three days a week, because for me, commuting costs and waking up at 5AM once a week was a small sacrifice to make to live in La Ville Rose (Toulouse).  The other Chilean teaching assistant from my town chose to live in Lannemezan. I am so glad that I lived in Toulouse, because I know that I would have had a completely different experience had I chosen to live in that little small town.

Problem #3: I moved to Toulouse not knowing a single soul. That quickly changed when I joined the Facebook group dedicated to Teaching Assistants in Toulouse (thank goodness for Facebook!). Before moving abroad, I have to admit that I was totally closed to the idea of meeting people online. This was before couchsurfing and meetup.com were really popular…before the advent of dating apps and the like. But when you move abroad not knowing anyone, you have to meet people somehow!

One of my first nights in Toulouse, I ended up going out with some new friends I made through that Facebook group.

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One of my first nights out in Toulouse, with some new friends

Before arriving, I had also started speaking with an Irish girl from the Facebook group and we even talked about living together. In the end, it didn’t work out since she had to live in the small town where she worked (and commuting wasn’t an option for her).

But we met up in person when we were both in Toulouse and ended up becoming good friends. We even went traveling together during one of our many vacations — and just last year, we met up in Toulouse for a mini three-year reunion.

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Toulouse reunion at Café Pop – one of my favorite places to go out in Toulouse (only on Monday nights though!)

If I had come to Toulouse with a friend, I wouldn’t have been forced to get out there and use the Internet to my advantage like that – and I may never have made all the wonderful friends that I did.

Problem #4: When I moved to France, I also arrived with nowhere to live (Airbnb didn’t exist then and, well, good luck trying to find a permanent living arrangement from another country). I ended up getting lucky and living with a friend, who I had met upon my arrival, for several weeks…before finding an apartment. The problem in France is that, in order to get an apartment, you must have a bank account set up. But in order to set up bank account, you have to have an apartment/address. You can see my predicament…In the end, I sorted it out and ended up living with an Italian girl that I met through another friend I made on couchsurfing.  Let’s just say that it did not end well…

Problem #5: Due to some serious miscommunication over an apartment guarantee (thank you language barrier), I found myself suddenly apartmentless in the middle of a trip to Spain.  My roommate, who had made plans to move out, informed me, via a Facebook message, that I would have to leave the apartment immediately – despite the fact that she knew I was out of the country! Since flying back to Toulouse right away was out of the question, my friend and I spent the entire day trying to sort out how to get all of my belongings packed up within the next few days — without me being there (I had a lot of stuff too).

Problem #6: After getting kicked out of my apartment at the last minute, I was so desperate to find a new place that I ended up living with an older French lady — bad decision. It’s amazing how deceiving appearances can be. One minute she would be coddling me, saying things like “Ahh tu es très mignon” (you are so cute) and the next minute, she would be yelling at me for accidentally leaving one broccoli crumb on the kitchen counter or for flushing the toilet while she was sleeping (yup, true stories).

Ultimately, the situation was just too difficult and I decided to look for another place to live, but I knew that if I informed her of my decision, she would go ballistic and probably kick me out of the apartment right away (needless to say, she was a bit crazy).

I had already paid for the entire first month’s rent and didn’t have anywhere else to live, so getting kicked out wasn’t the most favorable option…I decided to wait until I had another apartment lined up to break the news that I was going to move out. Sounds reasonable right? Not to her. Two weeks into my stay, she found out about my plan by sneaking into my room while I was gone and snooping through my things (this was also something that she did on a regular basis…yet another reason why I had wanted to move out). Crazy, right?

After finding out, she said that I could stay there until the end of the month….then a few minutes later, she changed her mind, ordering me to leave her place that very minute. Amidst yelling at me, she started throwing my stuff out of the apartment – “Tu t’en vas” (you must leave) she repeated over and over.

But I told her that I would not leave until she gave me back the money I had paid for (two weeks worth of rent). Initially, she refused and I actually had to lock my bedroom door to keep her from literally throwing me out of the apartment. It was a pretty frightening situation and in retrospect, maybe not worth it (this woman could have been dangerous for all I know).

The neighbor also ended up getting involved and finally, she reluctantly handed over my money.  But not before cornering me against the wall and grabbing my ear – physical abuse, I tell you!

Once again, I was left homeless. This time, I went to a nearby motel where I spent the night. And I still managed to make it to a friend’s party that evening!

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I then spent a few days with a friend before landing my third apartment that year.  I swear that I am actually an easy person to live with! Luckily the last situation ended on a good note. Sure, the guy I lived with left his nail clippings on the living room floor and smoked cigarettes in the apartment (not sure which is grosser)…but otherwise, no problems there.

Problem #7: Anyone who has lived in France knows about the infamous, nonsensical bureaucratic system that can cause extreme bouts of frustration amongst expats. If you can deal with this insane bureaucratic system, you can deal with anything. I learned that “no” does not actually mean “no” in France; it means, push me some more and I will say “yes.” You learn to be both patient and persuasive living in France.

I could go on but I won’t bore you with any more of my tribulations.  For more on my adventures in France, you can click here.

What’s my point in all this? Moving abroad alone (especially the first time around) was so incredibly exciting–but it did not come free of difficulties.  Dealing with all of these issues, both minor and major, made me a much more confident and braver person. I now know that I can cope with pretty much anything as it comes along–and I can do it all on my own.

How’s that for problem-solving skills, future employer?

2) You will gain a new worldview 

When I was 16, I went to New Zealand for a one-month exchange. I stayed with an awesome kiwi girl and went to school with her, attended parties, traveled a bit. It was an eye-opening experience for me. Coming from an all-girls prep-school where everyone was so concerned about piling their workload with Advanced Placement classes and getting accepted to Ivy Leagues, here were people who looked at life a bit differently.

Getting into a good college was not the only thing that mattered. I was fascinated by how different the classes and school were from my own, as well as the lifestyle. Even through this short three-week immersion, I came to realize how different the US was from the rest of the world. I left craving more.

It’s impossible not to see the world in a new way after living abroad.  I also see the impact my home country has made on the countries in which I have lived.  And I see the US itself in a totally different way than I used to–for both the good and the bad.

I was lucky enough to have a privileged upbringing. Growing up, and even in college, it’s not something that I thought about too much. But when I moved abroad, and saw how the majority of the world lives, I began to realize just how fortunate I really was.

In addition to greater appreciation for the things that I have, there are little things about the US that I value more now.  Like the wide grocery store aisles and unlimited options (I forgot how overwhelming it could be to go grocery shopping in the U.S.!); the efficiency and how fast things move; the good customer service; the friendly people; the high salaries and good jobs; the ease of starting a business; the unlimited water (and soda and coffee) refills at restaurants; the healthy food selection; American breakfasts etc..

And of course there are other things that make it hard to readjust here…like the overall lack of culture/history/beautiful architecture…poor healthcare and education systems… mediocre/nonexistent transportation systems and how spread-out everything is–no longer can I just hop on a train and be in a totally different country and culture in a few hours.

What also bothers me are all of the rules in the States. No drinking allowed on the middle of the street? Why should this matter if you are of legal drinking age? Since I’ve been back in the U.S., it feels like the cops are always out to get me.

For instance, the other day I was driving in a lane that is apparently closed off to less than two passengers during certain hours of the day. I literally could not have been driving in that lane for more than two minutes when a cop pulled me over. He was about to slam me with a $150 ticket, but I luckily talked him down to giving me a $10 fine (thanks to my persuasion skills partly acquired in France!).

Ant he week or so before that, I was driving and stopped at a red light.  I never run through red lights, but this one time, I thought to myself: why not? there is nobody here? In Brazil, people run through red lights and stop signs all the time. And so the Brazilian in me went through that light. Of course, cameras caught it all on videotape, so I received a nice surprise in the mail one day: a $160 ticket.  After living in Brazil, where things are just so much more relaxed, all of these strict rules are a bit hard to put up with.

Other things are simply surprising: the ENORMOUS portion sizes and the massive drink sizes. A medium here is easily the size of a large anywhere else–and maybe even bigger than that. Or the American flags everywhere — definitely never saw this kind of thing in France or other European countries.

Talking with foreigners also helps you to see your country through another set of eyes. Quite a few French people have told me that they found Americans to be fake and superficial–that they were just so nice to everybody but then would fall off the face of the earth.

They found the ties between Americans to be very weak. Whereas in France, people are generally not friendly. They have their friends and do not care to branch out much; but when they do make new friends, those are meaningful ties that they wish to preserve for life.

In what seems to be direct contrast, the Brazilians see Americans as cold because of the lack of physical contact (no PDA, we don’t kiss each other on the cheek upon greeting, we’re not as affectionate…), the fact that Americans are incredibly independent (in contrast to the dependent Brazilians, who live with their parents until they get married) and are not as welcoming.

Sure, you could learn a bit about these things by reading or by talking to French or Brazilians in your home country–but living abroad, you can actually see the difference yourself. You will likely return home with both a newfound appreciation for your own country, as well as disappointment in how you feel things should be or wish they were.

Traveling is like having a fling with someone. It’s more superficial and surface-level. You see all the wonderful things from the tourist perspective, but probably not how things really are. Living abroad is like being in a relationship…you are able to actually soak up the culture and experience the true depth of a country; you will see it for both the good and the bad.

Now, I see France as so much more than just the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and baguettes – I see Brazil as so much more than just bikinis, beaches, soccer and Carnival…I understand all the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of these incredible nations…and how the US compares.

3) You can learn a new language 

“To have a second language is to possess a second soul,” Charlemagne once said. And I truly believe that. Speaking another language changes your way of thinking.  Like your understanding of the country in which you reside, you will become someone of greater depth.

At first, being thrown into a culture where you have to speak the language will be challenging. You will struggle to express yourself and find the right words. And when you are frustrated or angry, you will find it even harder to get words out. Getting into an argument or fight with someone in a language that is not your own is really not fun (I have fortunately only experienced this several times, but it was very frustrating to say the least). But if you can learn to put your foot down in a foreign language, then it will be that much easier to do in your native tongue when you need to.

Need I add that it is great mental exercise (and being multilingual has numerous cognitive benefits, like the prevention of Alzheimer’s, for one).

Learning another language also helps you truly understand the culture you are in. You will discover new words that have no English translation–words that make sense given the culture. For instance, the French phrase “la douleur exquise” is a phrase that describes that gut-wrenching pain of wanting something you can’t have.  As a whole, the French are a pretty gloomy, pessimistic bunch (this has been proven on more than one occasion). Knowing that, this depressing phrase seems to make a bit more sense.

I found the relaxed, melodic Brazilian Portuguese sound to fit perfectly with the laid-back Brazilian lifestyle. “Fique tranquila” and “relaxa” (relax) people would often say to me when I looked the slightest bit stressed about something.

I took French for many years in middle school and high school, but I never really learned it until I moved to France. Only after living abroad and speaking with natives did I really learn the slang and how to actually speak like a French person (or try to anyway).

I remember, at the beginning of one of the first English classes I taught in France, one of the students requested that I say something in French. So I said “Je ne sais pas” — pronounced just a typical American would – “je neh say pah”.  They all laughed and thought it was the funniest thing ever and I had no idea why…I thought it must have been my cute accent perhaps. Despite my many years of French and even having taken a French course at the Alliance Francaise in New York that previous summer, I still sounded like a total idiot. I would later find that I was actually supposed to speak it much faster and blend the words, so it sounded a bit more like “Shay pah”.

Another example: In French class, I always learned to say “nous.” But when I moved to France, I learned that few people actually say “nous.” In colloquial speech, most people say “on” instead.

You get the picture…living in a country, you get to learn things that you just don’t learn in a normal language course.

Personally, I think that learning a new language is one of the best things about living abroad. I loved being surrounded by French when living in France, Portuguese when living in Brazil and Italian when in Italy (I spent a semester of college in Rome). One of the worst things for me about coming back to the US is having to speak English on a daily basis — I now miss speaking French and Portuguese so. much.

4) You become a more interesting, well-rounded person

Coming back to the US after nearly five years abroad (on and off), I may not have all of the professional experience as my peers, but I have something a lot of other people don’t have: experience living abroad and a unique worldview.

Good stories and amazing memories? Got plenty of ’em.

5) You get to be the gringo.

Okay, this is obviously not one of the principal reasons why you should live abroad. But personally, this was one of many reasons why I loved living abroad. I admit it: I loved feeling a bit unique and special.

Sometimes, you can even play the dumb gringo card to your advantage. Say, if you are trying to do something a bit sneaky, like boarding a train without a ticket (confession: I’ve done this). You can just say “oops, sorry! I’m American…I don’t really speak French”…Works like a charm. Hey, you might as well use it while you can!

I also loved being surrounded by foreigners/non-Americans all the time. And then when I was around other Americans, I felt a special bond — simply for sharing the same background in a foreign land.

Plus, being the outsider is an invaluable experience that everyone should go through. Once you come back to the US, you will emphasize more with foreigners in the US, as many of them struggle to adapt and speak this foreign language called English.

6) You meet people from different cultures and create lasting friendships around the world. 

When you move to a foreign country by yourself, without the comforts of friends and family close by, you are forced to branch out and interact with people that you would probably never meet otherwise.

Having friends from various countries will also encourage you to look at things with a more wordly perspective than you would if you were with your American friends back home.

It’s the blessing and the curse that comes with living abroad. I love that I now have friends all over the world; but at the same time, it means that I only get to see some friends once every five years or so — if I’m lucky.

7) You get to date a foreigner. 

Dating someone from another country opens up your eyes to an entirely different culture and background from your own.

When I dated a French guy (in Toulouse), he took me home to meet his family and friends several times to a tiny village in Provence. While there, I was introduced to some of the most amazing food I had ever had in my life and was able to further enhance my understanding and appreciation of French culture.

Your partner will help you to look at your native country with a new set of eyes.  You will have so much fun teaching each other things (such as your respective languages) and sharing national pastimes and traditions.

Whether you are casually dating several guys at once or whether you have fallen in love with a local, you will quickly discover that the dating rules are different in each country. For example, Swedish and British men do not tend to strike up conversations with people they don’t know…Brazilian men are pretty much the opposite….You will be forced to adapt to the new dating scene, however it may be.

Sure, at times dating a foreigner can be harder and more frustrating than dating someone of your own nationality, but it is well worth it. You will become a more open-minded person and a better partner overall after cultural conflict forces you to compromise.

And if you eventually get married and/or have kids with your foreign partner…the list goes on! Like raising multilingual, cultured children.

8) You get to share your traditions and adopt new ones. 

During my second year in Toulouse, my American friend and I held a Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment (or the apartment I shared with an Italian guy). About 30 people ended up coming, all squeezed into my (or our) tiny living room.

Some people brought wine, others brought baguettes (always good choices in France) and others came with homemade dishes to represent their own cultures. The funniest part? Despite the fact that we were celebrating Thanksgiving, me and my co-host were the only Americans present.  I loved that we were sharing one of our major cultural traditions with a bunch of non-Americans.

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Some of the Thanksgiving crew (representing Spain, England, France…)

During my second year in Toulouse, my roommate and I threw a lot of parties at our apartment. They would get absolutely packed with people – suffice it to say that they were a lot of fun. See photos below for proof:

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A crémaillère at our apartment

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The parties chez nous (at our place) were legendary.

We liked to throw theme parties – which didn’t seem to be very common in France.  Most people would not dress up, but occasionally people would and there would be some pretty awesome outfits. Like that 80s party we had…

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Introducing themed parties to France (this one was 80s)!

We also introduced the wonderful games of flip cup and beer pong to our French (and other non-American) friends.

9) You will become more open-minded. 

I remember when my French boyfriend told me that his parents were still together–but they were not married. I wasn’t sure that I had understood him correctly. Why would they not have gotten married? Coming from a conservative, WASPy town in Connecticut, where all of my schoolmates’ parents were married (or divorced), I had never known anything else.

I would later find that it’s actually quite common in Europe for a couple to stay together many years and raise children together–but never tie the knot. While I used to see this as strange, I now see absolutely nothing wrong with it. It made me realize that so many people in the US see marriage as the ultimate end goal. So many people put pressure on their relationships and feel that they have to get married by a certain time.

But why should people have to sign a bunch of papers and declare their love under the law in order to be together forever? Why should it be the ultimate end goal?

Don’t get me wrong, I do think marriage is a beautiful thing and I would love to one day get married myself. But I also recognize that it’s not for everyone and now have equal respect for those who choose to never get married.

I also remember the first time I heard about couchsurfing (from a fellow teaching assistant, just before going to France). What?! You are going to stay on the couch of a random stranger?? I thought the idea was absurd. But once testing it out myself, I realized that it was generally quite safe, as long as you use good judgment and pick someone who has good reviews.

Bottom line? Living abroad has allowed me to try these new experiences and meet people from different backgrounds, which has made me a much more open-minded and less judgemental person.

10) You will learn more about yourself. 

I learned that not everyone loves change, adventure and spontaneity.  But that I do – I live for it.

I learned that I am not someone that likes to plan things out too much; I think the beauty of life is letting the unexpected happen and just going along for the ride.

I learned that while I am a relatively shy and reserved person, I also love meeting new people and socializing. I may not be the loudest person in the room, but I no longer feel that I have to apologize for that–and I will definitely stand up for myself if I am being treated like a doormat or with disrespect. So don’t mess with me!

When you step outside of your comfort zone and encounter tough situations (which tend to be inevitable when you live abroad), both your strengths and weaknesses will emerge. Not only will you get to know yourself better, but you will also grow up much faster and likely evolve into a different person than if you were to have just stayed put in your home country.

Finally, you are sure to acquire one trait that will increase your overall happiness and prove to be useful your entire life: adaptability.