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Should I live abroad in my twenties?

Beware the comments that suggest only Fancy People get working holiday visas.  If you’ve done it, you know that you’re more likely to find an assortment of middle-to-lower-class kids at Australian backpacking hostels hustling for work because there was nothing for them at home.  It’s true that some locations are trustafarian beacons – it’s surprisingly expensive and a pain to volunteer in most African countries, and it’s a great place to fall off the map when you’re tired of instagramming your Rolex collection (one would think). 

A lot of people aren’t really suited to living abroad and have trouble admitting it.  The messages home will be nothing but beaches and beer, but the reality is a lot more complaining about the food/heat/bad internet connection/locals/working conditions.

How do you know if going abroad is something that might work for you?  Here’s the Empty Suitcase four-question test, which is 100% accurate, forever.

1) If you are living in a place with any measure of diversity (socio-economic, cultural), do you have any close friends who are not like you in every way? 

2) If someone offers you some kind of food you’ve never had before, and cannot quite recognize, do you eat it first and ask questions later?

3) When things suddenly stop working (for example, your computer, the public transit system, your bowels), do you avoid panic and instead cross reference a variety of solutions and rationally pick the best one?

4) You start dating someone who speaks English as a second language.  Is your natural inclination to practice whatever language they speak so as to romance them and charm your future inlaws?

If you answered “of course!” to the above, living overseas is potentially for you.  A lot of what seems to trip people up is that they can’t adapt — because the truth is, there is no place in the world that is likely to adapt to you (even if you read the bucket drinks on Koh San to be a sign from God that the world, was, indeed, adapting to you).

That article also isn’t wrong about the cost of distance.  You’ll find out who your friends are, what kind of friend you are.  I’ve also seen people get trapped, there’s part of the expat machine that says “quit your job, get a tan, never look back” but it’s easy to spend a decade having a good time and to wake up to the day your body (and teeth, always the teeth) start to give, and you haven’t really built a life, because the coming and going of people in the expat communities can make everything seem temporary, until it’s not.