I arrived on this ship full of energy to pour into the lives of others and I was so psyched to live abroad on a ship for a full year (although it turned into 3 years). It wasn’t a huge sacrifice for me; it was something I couldn’t wait to try. I heard so many people say, “I could never do that. I’d never be able to live far from family with no steady source of income.” I totally get that, but if only they knew what they’re missing! Would they say that if I told them what it’s really like?
I’ve learned things that would have come in really useful two years ago. I’m not talking about the fluffy, spiritual benefits that are hard to relate to secondhand. [I’ve had plenty of fluffy, spiritual moments; I love those.] I’m talking about experiences that make you feel epic and everyone deserves to feel epic once in a while! Here are the unexpected perks; you’ve gotta try it!
You’ll have fuel for small talk.
When you go to a neighborhood BBQ or a networking event, small talk with strangers is inevitable. You know those initial encounters where you bounce a few questions back and forth, but still have no idea what the other person is talking about? Or you realize they are the most boring person ever? You will now be ready. My time overseas volunteering has given me fodder for quite a few BBQs to come. I’ve learned about so many more states and countries. I can make a very accurate guess as to whether your accent is from Australia, South Africa, Canada, or Great Britain. I can tell you that I’ve been an electrician, dental hygienist, and nurse! I’ve had lemurs steal bananas from my bag and I’ve run out of water while climbing Table Mountain. Travel and volunteer work gives you context for endless life situations.
Some friendships get better.
For me, this resulted in part due to building relationships with my supporters. I don’t get paid; we are volunteers living off of donated funds. This decreases my sense of independence and increases our sense of gratefulness. It’s such a blessing to see who steps up to support us and I love learning more about what drives people to reach out in this way. Additionally, the friends that don’t support us financially but check up on us and love us from afar give me fresh steam to keep going when I feel discouraged. I have a few friendships that have blossomed while I’ve been abroad. That is one aspect that people don’t mention often, but these precious friends fill a crucial role in a balanced life for me and my husband.
temporary escape from our madhouse country.
I keep reading about all the Americans who want to leave the heart-warming, endearing U.S.of A. Can you believe that? Oh, you can? Trust me; me too. I certainly relate and it’s a relief to have some literal distance from my country. No matter how patriotic you are, you cannot tell me you haven’t fantasized about moving away from our madness-saturated “home of the free”. If there is a spectrum of volunteers overseas, ranging from, “I volunteer abroad because I can’t stand the U.S.” to “I’d prefer to be serving my fellow citizens, but for now I’m abroad,” I fall towards the latter. I love my country and I know there are many who need someone to fight for them in my own neighborhood, but it sure can be nice to not have to deal with American politics, negativity, and drama in it’s unadulterated, full-strength form.
Even if you’re still not sold on the idea of leaving your comfortable home and stable job, I hope I’ve sold you to the bright side of traveling. It’s not all sacrifice and homesick, lonely nights. We haven’t even touched on the rewards of volunteering itself! When you combine all these elements, you might understand why I’m so glad I took the plunge two and a half years ago.
For those of you who never needed any convincing in the first place, maybe these reasons are what you need to show your mom when she asks you for the 18th time why you’re throwing your life away. My mom never asked, but I have lots of friends who get the question again and again.
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