At a temple in Sri Lanka

Have you ever noticed when speaking about other countries how many Americans express living in another country as overseas or abroad?  While both those terms in a literal way make sense, they also create this connotation of “away from” something else.  I doubt many people born and raised in these different countries see themselves as “away from” anything.  And I rarely hear those terms outside of a North American context.  This idea made me think about what I have learned in my different travels and I thought I would share this with you.

Please note: These comments are a direct reflection of specific experiences while traveling and living outside of the United States (my home country).  This does not mean to be an academic cultural analysis of each country and its customs.  These lessons are particular to me and my experiences.  I’m sure it doesn’t reflect an entire nation.

Bahamas –> Just say no to spring break!  It is fun getting to know people through traveling together.  I should see the tourist traps but also make trips off the beaten path if I want a real sense of a place.

Canada –> I want to be Canadian (I am now an unofficial Canadian according to friends and colleagues)  🙂  How to be friendly to everyone .  A love of mountains and landscape.  What a Nanaimo bar is and how fabulous it tastes.  How to play Settlers of Cattan and yell obscenities in front of people I want to impress (good job, I know).

Egypt –> Alexandria has a new library and it’s not too shabby.  People have pet baby lions.  People can take their picture next to these lions, for a fee.  Some hotels in Sharm El Sheik are entirely filled with Russians.  What an East meets West wedding might look like.

France –> I love art (okay, maybe I knew this already). My inability to speak French is a fault I can work on.  Paris is a big city.  How to see 3 museums a day and still not see everything.  What Buddha Bar looks like on the inside. I want to go back to Monet’s Gardens and see them every season.  I love gargoyles.

Germany –> Dirndls are sexy.  Beer can be served by the liter.  How to mix a radler.  I love German food.  Cities can be clean and orderly.  We can ALL learn from the past and we are all equally responsible for the future.

Greece –> Teachers can act like students.  You can’t always flush your toilet paper.  What tear gas smells like.  I love history.  Where the first Olympics were held and what it looks like.  Buses can drive up tight roads along cliff-sides and you won’t fall off and die. 40-something teenagers is too many. Never supervise students on school trips where bars and clubs might be in the vicinity, it makes your life hell.

Italy –> Hospitals don’t drug you for endoscopies.  Doctors say things like, “swallow it like a piece of spaghetti” and will ask you questions about the book The Great Gatsby.  Cities filled with history make my heart sing. The Pantheon Midnight Mass is pretty.  There is such thing as a hot chocolate that is too chocolatey for me.  I love cities mixed with contemporary and ancient structures all in one!  Walking everywhere is lovely.  I miss rain.  Trips are more fun when special people are with you.

Jordan –> I float in salty water.  Small cuts in highly salty water = much pain.  The generosity of Jordanian hosts.  What the dead sea scrolls look like.  Petra is a lot larger than I ever imagined and riding a donkey to its highest point makes you think things like, “The donkey wants to live, the donkey wants to live.”

Oman –> Arab nations are filled with friendly, kind people.  I don’t like camping.  I am a bit scared of boating.  Seeing dolphins out in the ocean is loads better than Sea World.  Making Indigo dye is a difficult process.

Sri Lanka –> It’s a country.  Baby turtles are the cutest creatures ever.  How to make a mask out of Balsa wood.  How some people survived the big tsunami several years back.  What a Buddhist temple looks like.  How group trips aren’t as scary as I thought, especially when the group consists of quality people.

Sweden –> Jag älska du Sverige. Swedes like my dark, curly hair.  How a country can use taxes to see actual results.  How people can share personal responsibility for those taxed “products.”  (Old ladies will yell at you and hit your feet if you put them up on the tunnelbana/ subway because they have paid for a nice subway system).  How to respect nature.   I have left a part of my heart here.

United Arab Emirates –> Arabs and Muslims are NOT scary mean people.  Abbayas can be beautiful.  Brand names aren’t as monstrous as I have made them out to be (yes I kinda want my own pair of Manolos).  The desert is beautiful.  How expats can use living “overseas” as an excuse for behavior.  How expats can use living “overseas” to live a more open-minded, culturally aware existence.  The constant struggle of being happy with more for yourself but acute awareness of how social structures can dictate life opportunities.  How architecture can really be everything you imagine it to be.

Vatican City –> What one of the most ornate churches in the world looks like.  How to appreciate other people’s devotion to a faith.  For Christmas Midnight Mass you have to walk home from the Vatican as all the public transport has closed.  It’s a really small country/city.

Me at a Sri Lankan Turtle Rescue Center

I hope I am fortunate enough to add many more countries to my list!  I’ve started a list of new places to go.  This includes: Argentina, Cambodia, Chile, Czech Republic, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Maldives,  England (Scotland), Thailand, and Turkey.  I’m sure I could add many more to the list but I figure it is best to keep it shorter and add more countries as I take some off of this list!

BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: How many times have you heard yourself say, “Someday I will go here,” or “When the kids are grown I will do this?”  Do you always want maybes in your life or is it time to start planning for a trip?  Pick one place you have always wanted to see and start creating specific goals to help you reach for your maybe!

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