6 Life-Changing Lessons I’ve Learned Living in 3 Countries
It has been almost a decade since I left home in Poland and moved to Vienna, Austria. My journey had many up and downs so I decided to write down those lessons life taught me over the last 10 years.
Your first language is an asset
You have a great handicap If you grew up in a country where the primary language is not English. You might disagree and insist your life would be easier if you were born in the UK or US. But that is not true. English native speakers rarely speak any foreign language. Many schools in the UK and US require their students to attend language courses but the majority of students fail to learn any language. Literally, they cannot express a single thought in another language. They don’t need to learn it because the entire world speaks English. But is it that good for them?
Learning a foreign language at school is hard. But you will learn a new way of thinking. It is not about memorizing words but learning how to glue them into sentences. You are learning a new thought process and your brain creates millions of new neuron connections otherwise you would not have. You are becoming significantly smarter.
Everybody struggles to learn a foreign language even when it is a simple language like English. You might have a strange accent after many years of practising. Sometimes native speakers might not understand your phrasal verbs. But it doesn’t matter - you are not a news anchor. Your communication skills are probably imperfect but if you can express yourself, you are ready to conquer the world.
People are asteroids
Sometimes we hear the news that some asteroid or comet is passing near Earth. This astronomical body will be visible for a few days and leave us to return a few decades later.
I had this observation that we can say the same thing about some people in our lives. They come and stay for a while until they are ready to depart. It is sad but not everybody is meant to spend their entire life with us. The only permanent thing in life is change and that’s an integral part of life.
Sometimes we make a bunch of new friends on vacation. We have chemistry and spend a remarkably great time together. But once the summer is over everybody returns home to their regular lives. It might be the last time you have seen those people in your life and you need to get over it.
Some people pop up in our lives to teach us a lesson. Sometimes they bring pain, sometimes joy. Enjoy the moments you share, and learn the lessons they bring with them. Nothing lasts forever.
Don’t burn bridges
Sometimes circumstances might force you to leave your job or cut ties with your friends. If you need to leave someone behind you should always do it in a way that allows both parties to keep their faces. It takes years to build a reputation but only a few words to lose it. The world is small and the people you are leaving behind might play deciding role in your future.
It is easy to be professional when you are thriving and hard to remain one when you failed and being let go. It does not matter if you believe it was justified or not. The professionals always remain professional not only when it suits themselves. There is no reason to make the situation worse than necessary. Bite your tongue and hold your ego. A few words might cost you future opportunities.
A few years ago, I applied to one company in Vienna. I had a job interview with 3 hiring managers and never heard back from them. About 2 years later, one of these hiring managers joined my team and we started working together. Our beginnings were tense but we clarified this situation and I did not hold any regret to them.
In the end, people are asteroids and they might return to your life a few years later.
Do it yourself or it won’t happen
I have a bunch of friends I met a long time ago. We went to the same class in elementary school so I can say we know each other for almost our entire lives. When we were in high school, we wanted to go on summer vacation together. We even planned it every year. Unfortunately, life isn’t always perfect and within 10 years we travelled together about 3 times. Also, our travel group never exceeded 4 people and the original group was larger.
Turning 25 years old, I understood that I need to look after myself and decided to travel on my own. I booked tickets for my first solo adventure. I found flights to Tokyo for $480 both ways. It was a bargain! I remember how excited I was like it would be last week. The trip was amazing and since then I went on more than 20 adventures just by myself.
It was one of the best decisions in my life. It taught me that I need to take initiative and cannot wait until others make up their minds. I understood I do not want to live with the regret that I could do something but never dared to. That’s one of the reasons I lived in 3 different countries and worked for more than 5 companies until now.
Decide when to pull the plug
I lived in Vienna for 5 years and I never felt at home there. Today I understand it was way too long. I always had this feeling that I will never fit in Austria but I was fooling myself that my situation might get better later. It didn’t.
I had a comfortable life but I felt like I was suffocating. Despite Vienna being the most livable city, Austrians don’t like foreigners. They rarely integrate expats into their social circles unless they studied together. It leads to the situation that most of expats feel like outsiders. And don’t get me wrong, I had friends (also foreigners), a decent software engineering job, and rented a tiny studio apartment. Technically, I was in the 88th percentile of earners but I couldn’t effort to buy a reasonable flat. If I would get a loan I would work for my entire life to pay it off. I felt like a failure but at the same time, my basic needs were fulfilled. Something was wrong and I could say what.
For my 29th birthday, I went to Australia and something changed in me. Suddenly I realized that the world has so much to offer and I need to dare to reach out for it. I made up my mind and decided to move out of Vienna. A few days after I return from my vacation, I got a DM on LinkedIn. A head hunter asked if I am interested in relocating to the United Arab Emirates. I said yes. I got this job and decided to give up my soul-crushing life. I moved to Abu Dhabi 3 months later.
Now I am living here for almost 4 years. To be frank, I feel more at home in the UAE than in Austria. I am welcome here.
You will never return to the same place
If you ever left your hometown, even for a few weeks, you spot small changes that happened when you were away. It might be after a longer vacation, internship or studies in another town. Even if you left your place for a month you will notice some small details. Either one of your neighbours painted their fence or a new billboard was installed. You thought nothing changes in a small boring town like yours but you see differences.
I left my hometown at the age of 24. It was almost a decade ago. I visit my mother every year and I am always intimidated by how a small town can change within just one year. There are plenty of new houses and businesses. Also, a new kindergarten and clinic. Many foreigners decided to settle down and made our town their new home. It is a change for good.
Even I considered to move back for a moment. I wanted to buy a house and continue to live my life where I left it. But I realized there is not much left from my former life. Many people I knew are not there. Some moved to other towns, others started families and they do not have time to hang out with me. Everybody advanced in their lives and that is great. My hometown seems familiar but also it has some missing pieces and little things make it no longer mine. I do not fit there anymore. It comes to my mind what Heraclitus said:
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
I am a different person and also hometown changed. Even my mother has a new dog and I barely remember the old one. Nothing is like I left it. The world is in constant movement whether I like it or not.
If this resonates with you feel free to drop me a DM on Twitter . It would mean the world to me if you share this story with others.
Thanks for reading.