Do you have what it takes to live abroad? 3 vital questions to determine the answer
Thida Ith | November 17, 2016
I’m a traveller. This is probably my number one passion (yes, even more so than food). Travelling allows me to explore new territories, meet new people, and open my mind to new ideas. It inspires and invigorates me.
Of course, I love food too (I wouldn’t be a dietitian otherwise). I love food not only because it can help protect health and it tastes delicious, but also because it connects me with people.
I’ve been a registered dietitian for 15 years now and I’ve been fortunate to have a diverse career so far. I’ve worked in pediatrics, food security, media relations and communications, marketing and international development.
My path has allowed me to develop some skills that have enabled me to live or study abroad. My first international experience (besides short holidays), was in Burkina Faso where I did an internship while still completing my undergraduate degree in nutrition.
I’ve studied for a summer in the Netherlands, worked in Honduras for two years, and studied for a year in the UK. Every one of those experiences taught me invaluable lessons. But my experiences in Canada also prepared me to be able to thrive outside the country.
When I talk about living abroad, others often say something like: “You’re so brave. I wish I could do that.” And my response back is, “So why don’t you?” I’ll admit that making the jump to move abroad is scary. You are uprooting yourself, breaking ties with your comfortable life, and throwing yourself into the unknown. It is risky at all levels: personally, financially and professionally. But I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks.
I think many of us have that desire for adventure but fail to recognize that we have the skills to go for it. If we look closely though, we realize that there are some moments in our life that have prepared us to do it.
So, do you have what it takes to live abroad? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Are you interested in politics and do you have some basic knowledge in geography?
Although I was quite a nerdy teenager, I have to admit that I wasn’t the type of person who was particularly interested in politics or world affairs. We didn’t talk politics at home at all. However, looking back, I think the 1995 Quebec Referendum was probably the first trigger that pushed me to become the political enthusiast that I am today.
I was 15 years old at the time. Even though I didn’t have much knowledge about politics, I wanted to understand, so I started reading about political history and I looked at comments from analysts. That political curiosity was reinforced even more when I was doing a certificate in public relations.
As a young dietitian, and as a daughter of immigrants myself, working with multicultural communities in Canada has given me the opportunity to interact with people from all around the world. When I meet individuals from other countries, not only am I curious about their dietary habits, but I want to know more about where they come from. Can I find these countries on a map? What is the climate like? What were the political and economic situations that made them leave their countries to come to Canada?
Having an interest in politics and foreign affairs is essential when you want to live abroad. The same way we check the climate for a destination, we should also have some basic understanding about the political situation of the country we are going to visit. It helps explain the psyche of a population, the current discourse, and the issues people are facing.
2. Are you curious?
This brings me to my next point: curiosity. As dietitians, I think this trait is innate in us. We are connected to people and we want to understand what people eat and why. We ask questions because we want to understand.
Being curious allows us to imagine what it would be like to live as someone else. What are their beliefs and values? What language do they speak? What’s their routine? How is family life? The objective of curiosity is not to simply gather information but it is to obtain information so you can try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
Curiosity allows us to open our eyes to new worlds. When we ask questions we acknowledge that things are not necessarily just as they seem; we recognize that we have information gaps. Curiosity makes us humble; it promotes learning and growth.
The important thing in this process is to show empathy and not judgment – an easy trap to fall into if you’re not careful!
3. Are you flexible, resilient, and patient?
There are many moments in our life that push us to be patient, flexible, and resilient: moving houses, starting university, starting a new job, a broken bone, or a broken heart.
These skills can be transferred when living abroad. It takes patience in order to understand a new system or a new language. Being flexible is key when you must adapt to a new lifestyle. Moving countries is stressful. All of our senses are targeted; all of our references are being challenged. Being resilient is essential to be able to bounce back and move forward when things get tough and stress gets high.
I’m not going to lie: Actually preparing yourself to live abroad can be quite tedious, time consuming, and stressful. Don’t hesitate to speak to people who have ventured outside of Canada, get inspired, and start small if that helps you. But the first step is to realize that you have the qualities to make that move and there are so many moments in our lives that have prepared us to do so! What will your next adventure be?
Thida Ith is a registered dietitian from Montreal with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from the Université de Montréal. She also completed a certificate in public relations management at McGill University and a master’s degree in anthropology of food at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London in England. Since February 2016, Thida is the manager of health promotion for the Canadian Forces (Department of National Defense) in Toronto. Thida speaks French, English, and Spanish fluently. She also speaks Cambodian at an intermediate level and Portuguese at a beginner’s level. She loves to travel and cook (of course!). You can follow her on Instagram or reach her on LinkedIn (she only accepts new LinkedIn connections if you write a message though!).