5 Ways I Grew As A Person Just By Living Abroad

Growing up, I never really thought I’d become the nomadic type. I had always felt that life back home was as good as it was going to get and I was completely fine with it. Then came an opportunity to live by myself in sunny Spain and did I cling to it for dear life. The rest, as they say, is history. Living abroad, however, is by no means a regular feat. Behind some of those (wander)lust-worthy photos I have shared on Instagram are desperately dreadful moments I would never wish upon anyone. Believe me when I say those are stories for another day.

In the not-so-distant past, whenever homesickness crept in undesirably like guys trying vainly to talk to me in a discoteca, no remedy proved better than countless packs of instant pancit canton. Nowadays it seems I have flown between the Philippines and Spain frequently enough to essentially get over that sensation and ultimately notice that in the last two years alone I have become a completely different person. So much has changed due to the sheer fact that I have divided my time as efficiently as possible between two places close to my heart, both of which I now consider home.

As I start yet another year in Spain, this time in the city of my dreams, I feel it is an opportune time to celebrate the culmination of my continued growth thus far, if that sentence even made sense. All other factors being equal, it seems living abroad has truly been the prime catalyst in this journey to self-transcendence.

1. I learned the true meaning of independence.

No better feeling than conquering a city on my own in Mirador de Artxanda, Bilbao, Spain

I don’t know about you but the feeling I got after graduating from college with honors doesn’t even compare to the one I got after gathering my first successful batch of laundry. In Spain I have never had anyone to hold my hand, which in turn makes accomplishing anything at all that much of a bigger deal. It was even trickier the first few months when I barely spoke the language. But I pulled through and never gave up. Now I am living in arguably one of the best cities in Europe and nothing makes me happier than doing my weekly groceries, preparing all of my daily meals, and cleaning my flat to no end.

2. I realized that the world is both big and small.

Where old meets new and big meets small is where you will find me in Casco Viejo, Bilbao, Spain

Travel upholds a reputation for opening and broadening horizons the world over. Living abroad adds to this a wholly different dimension. When you stay long enough in a place to know its nooks and crannies by heart, to speak not just the language of its people but also the language of its streets, you realize how oddly familiar and unfamiliar life there is as opposed to wherever you came from. You come to appreciate the similarities and the differences and that in order to maintain a nuanced balance, both should be present. Our lives are the same in the ways that they are different. That is an insight best formed from experience, especially when away from the comforts of home.

3. I appreciated the value of anonymity.

No more unneccessary headaches from keeping up appearances in San Francisco, Bilbao, Spain

No sooner had I left Manila in October than I started to sense that I was, finally, once again a nobody. Despite the fact that I stick out like a sore thumb in Spain, what with my jet-black hair and accompanying soft features, I have always basked in my anonymity; something that for some reason I just cannot be warranted back home. Living in a place where everyone minded their own business is definitely something I was not accustomed to but could very well get used to. It is something that I seek in other ways every time I’m back in the Philippines (read: I usually stay off social media and just hang out in my room with my cat for the most part).

4. I became better at setting goals for myself.

Walking at night and pondering the beauty of life in Uribarri, Bilbao, Spain

Living abroad has allowed me to zero in on what’s truly important and focus entirely on my own personal growth and self-transcendence, which means I have been able to set realistic goals for myself without the influence of anyone or anything else. And it has been nothing short of incredible. The circumstances that have been made available to me have in turn allowed me to position myself on a creative plane where competition is an alien concept. As a result, the rate of my growth in the past two years has been exponential. Instead of sulking about the difficulties presented by living in a foreign country alone, I am excited by the challenges.

5. I accepted all the versions of myself that I have and will become.

No time for judgement, just acceptance in Playa de Ereaga, Getxo, Greater Bilbao, Spain

With all the transformations that I have gone through in the last couple of years, it really isn’t too much of a stretch to conclude that I have seen myself in every state of being possible. The worst of the worst and the best of the best; I have been on both ends of the same spectrum. What I realized is that when you live abroad you are given an opportunity to curate a life that is completely your own. You can therefore either make the most out of it and grab every opportunity you can: learn a language; make lots of friends; travel to other places, or you can do the exact opposite: avoid using a language you don’t speak; don’t go out to meet new people; stay at home on every occasion. I can empathize with versions of myself that have been on either side of the fence and in fact strive to move swimmingly across the limits. Living abroad teaches you that there is no black and white; only grey areas perfect for growth.