I’ve Lived Abroad for 6 Years: My Journey & Reflection

For what feels like a long time now, I’ve been primarily living abroad. 

In 2016, I embarked on my study abroad trip to Grenoble, France which I loved so much that I extended it for the rest of the academic year. I loved living in a culturally different lifestyle and exploring the surrounding area and different European countries. I knew I’d have to go back even after the extension.

Mikaela holding flag on Grenoble mountain

In 2018, I pondered my post-graduate plans and stumbled across the TAPIF program, or Teaching Assistant Program in France. I minored in Integrated Education Studies and wanted to live in France again, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. After graduation, I couldn’t really afford to live there on the teaching assistant salary so I decided to pair the program with being an Au Pair, another dream of mine in the making. Technically it was two jobs, but it had been done before and I thought it was the best of both worlds. I stayed in Montpellier, France with a French host family until June 2019, almost a whole year, and having learned a whole lot about France at a deeper level, I knew maybe I needed a change but also would certainly go back.

Even before I left France, I was looking ahead for my next step and was on the lookout for a masters program, abroad. I perused through many universities in the UK, France, and Portugal. There were some really cool programs relating to business and marketing studies and they weren’t nearly as expensive as American schools. Still not being able to pull off those costs on my own, I looked to a program I had at my disposal through the Horatio Alger Association, the organization that led to my Bachelor’s degree scholarship. It was a tri-continental program based in Canada and you could pick 2 other countries to study in for 3 months. If I received the full scholarship, I would only have some additional expenses that I could certainly manage. Turns out, I got it and I worked at home in the US until it was possible to go. 

In January 2020, I made it to British Columbia, Canada, not Europe this time, and started my master’s program. It was a super international program, and great academics that would help me choose the next step in my career. I still had no desire to work in the US, but I thought after going to Austria and Peru for the program, it could help settle my direction. In March 2022, covid-19 hit the world, and I didn’t get to go to these places. Classes went online and I stayed in Canada, for a total of 8 months. Aside from learning and academics, one thing that came from my master’s was meeting my German boyfriend. It quickly became clear to me that I would go to Germany and experience a new country in Europe.

At the end of September 2020, I landed in Germany and started my 6-month internship. I officially graduated from my masters program, with the internship requirement completed, in June 2021. Thereafter, I decided to stay and work in Germany.

Alas, here I am, still living abroad, with only a few short stints of being home in America since the fall of 2016. That’s almost 6 years of being an American student, worker, and expat abroad! I suppose I am not surprised, as I have been fascinated with living abroad ever since that first trip. I always thought why live in America, where I know the culture so well, when there is this exciting new land to explore! I could not be held back once I got the freedom and means to always return back, always another opportunity to feed into this life abroad in my 20’s. It’s really been quite a journey, and I am still living it.

Each chapter abroad is a totally different experience, and equally holds special places in my heart. I’ve primarily experienced these different places alone – besides my sister visiting me in Montpellier, France, as my family has only been part of this journey from afar. They live vicariously through my travels, and indeed support my globetrotter ways, but for a long time I have been at a distance with my family and where I come from. 

I think it’s important not to forget your roots, and it was even mentioned in the induction ceremony in Victoria, Canada when my masters program began. You cannot forget where you came from, and must hold tight to your values and morals even through traveling the world. It’s an important lesson, yet challenging at times when you must keep an open mind to experience life genuinely abroad, but stay true to who you are.

I am proud that I am American, and give the country credit for my phenomenal education and opportunities to grow and be the person I am today. If it weren’t for the uniquely American opportunities, like those presented in scholarships to attend college, I wouldn’t have even been able to study abroad and forge this life abroad. I would never give up my American passport, for it holds me to where I come from and shows that I will always be a foreigner or expat outside of it. My accent is true, when I speak other languages, and people love hearing about my life in the USA. Sometimes it feels like I am just here for cultural exchange, because of people’s curiosity and their desire to learn English. Others that live abroad understand this struggle too. You sacrifice quite a bit living abroad, but there are so many benefits that outweigh the costs. 

You may be wondering, what now? Where to next? As you can see by how my story unfolded, there’s always a way. Each chapter led to another in its own unique force. I do not know what comes next, but I do know I don’t have to worry about that, as my path will unfold itself. Sometimes America is calling me back, for life is certainly easier there, but other times I find my worth and passion for living abroad and I’m destined to stay. As long as I stay true to who I am, and what I want in my life, I see no barriers to where I live, whether it is on the beach in California or in the mountains in Germany, or beyond. What matters is every day, what you do with it, and always having a vision for the future, to get you to that next step, that next chapter, that new opportunity. I feel blessed for all my opportunties abroad, and never want to take it for granted. Not everyone can have these kinds of opportunities, so I try to stay humble.

 

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