Why I prefer working abroad over travelling the world

Do not be mistaken, I still would love to travel the world. Or at least part of the world, mostly the countries inhabited by Muslims (well, you either are a Middle Eastern Studies major, or you are not), but places like Canada or the US are still on my list as well. If my contract does not get extended next year, I consider it very likely that I will take some time off to visit at least some of the countries I have been dreaming about for years. But for now, I prefer working abroad.

Working abroad was not a conscious choice for me. Sure, I did apply for jobs abroad, and I accepted my job in Hamburg fully knowing that it would involve a move to another country. But I would have been just as happy with an offer from the company around the corner (or even better, one of the Ministeries just a stone’s throw away). I never imagined myself abroad long-term, and yet here I am. 15 months later I am still in Hamburg, with no plans to go anywhere else in the foreseeable future.

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Some other time I will get into the details of the darker side of living abroad. For now, I would like to concentrate on the good things. Not because I am a naturally optimistic person, but because I believe living abroad for a while is good for everybody. It makes you a more tolerant and flexible person – or at least that is what it does to most of us. In today’s polarized world, there can never be enough people who have seen life beyond their own comfort zone.

Travelling the world is great, working abroad is even better. Staying in one country for an extended period of time allows you to develop a deeper understand of a country and its people. To be sure, when you are travelling through a country you can also meet locals, make an occasional friend or two. But that does not compare to the deeper friendships that can only develop after a considerable amount of time spent together. Understanding a culture that goes beyond ‘lunch is the main meal of the day in Germany’, and ‘on King’s Day in the Netherlands we all wear orange’ is not something that develops in two or three weeks’ time, it takes months or even years. Staying in the same city, in the same country, allows you to acquire such an understanding.

As a historian, I am always looking for new stories. Coming here a little over a year ago, I was not particularly impressed. At first sight, Hamburg does not seem to offer the historian too much: pretty much the entire city center was destroyed during the war. But once settled somewhere, you start noticing things you maybe otherwise would not have. The stolpersteinen under my feet, the WW II memorial at Stephansplatz, the plaque in Planten un Blomen, another memorial around the corner from where I live, several bunkers. There is history everywhere around me, but passing through you only notice the obvious: the rathaus, Neuengamme, the museum ships in the harbour. But when these sources are exhausted, you are forced to look beyond them. That is when you end up at the Fuhlsbüttel prison, a lesser known concentration camp, or when you discover the Jewish cemenery at Ohlsdorf. Did you know there is a Commonwealth War Cementery as well? I probably would not have, had I only had a few nights to spend in Hamburg.

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Living in a city for a larger period of time allows you to cover more than just the main sights. Had Hamburg just been a city trip, I would have walked around the Alster, maybe went on a boat tour around Landungsbrücken, spent an evening at the Reeperbahn and strolled through the Speicherstadt. But it is unlikely that I would have gone to a lesser known museum like the Archeological museum in Harburg, which is somewhat outside the city center. Instead I would have gone to the Kunsthalle or the Maritime Museum, like so many others do. I would never have gone to the Stadtpark for grilling, because I was too busy in my rush to see everything there is to see in just three or four days. But as it is, I do happen to live abroad, and I do happen to be based in Hamburg. Being here long-term, I hope to develop something of an understanding of the history, present and future of this city that is so both much deeper and completer than any world traveller could ever hope to get, because they are simply not long enough in the same place for that. And that is why I prefer working abroad over travelling the world. For now at least.

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28 thoughts on “Why I prefer working abroad over travelling the world

  1. Great post! I don’t see many bloggers that write about this. Most of them rave about traveling the world, but that may not work for everyone. I think I would rather live in another country fro a while.

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    • It depends what your goal is! Travelling abroad can also teach you a lot, but if you don’t stay somewhere for a longer period of time you won’t experience many things that actually make you realise what your values are, what is important to you, what you value in your life most, what you miss when you’re away from home… I also chose to live abroad for longer just for that exact reason – to experience everything that goes with it. I still do travel and I find it great though 🙂

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  2. I agree with you 🙂 While I am now traveling full time (although now stationed for the winter in Turkey), before I lived and worked in Colombia. I loved the insights in the culture I got that way! Living somewhere and dealing with everyday life is a very different experience than being a tourist for a few days.

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      • It is tough. Lira fell down badly, it is now at 4TL for 1€! Tourism dropped as well so many people are having trouble. However, the society really sticks together and I see a lot of helping each other within the communities. The politics…well, I´d rather not speak about that 😦 And yes, it is very hard for the foreigners here – not tourists like us, but finding a legal job is hard (and the paperwork!) and there are also many ethnical conflicts. Many people here hate the Kurdish people for instance! I have only been in the west so far, so don´t want to make some total judgments. Where did you study?

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  3. An interesting perspective, thank you! I’m an in between person. Currently travelling for 15 months then will probably work and travel in one spot for 6 months. Not sure if I could do more than 1 year in a place other than home just because I’ve yet to find a place that offers everything I love about Australia. But who knows what will happen in the future!

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  4. I love living abroad and have been stuck ‘slow travelling’ for years now. I find I enjoy myself so much more when I dig my heels into a new place and get to know the locals. It makes me feel much more connected.

    Also, this had me nodding: “In today’s polarized world, there can never be enough people who have seen life beyond their own comfort zone.” Absolutely love your sentiment here. Couldn’t have expressed it any better myself. I hope you continue to enjoy your time in Hamburg!

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  5. I understand! I currently live in Munich and I really enjoy it. Bavaria is now my second home. And I completely agree with the deeper understanding of the culture, the bonds you form. I nearly feel half German now 😉

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  6. Best way to travel like a local is to live there!
    Very curious about what you’re doing in Hamburg. I’m the classic case of uni grad going abroad to teach English, but that’s no longer what I want to do. I’m stuck on how to find work related to my interests trying to blog, travel and eat!

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  7. This is a really unique take on travelling and it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a travel blogger talking about working abroad as opposed to just travelling the world!
    I personally am too much of a chicken to live and work abroad, but it sounds like Hamburg is really working out for you.
    Great point about meeting locals too – I suspect living and working abroad definitely gets you more ingrained in local way of life than just passing through! 🙂

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    • Would you like to live abroad? In that case I would suggest to start small, maybe try a neighbouring country first and if that works out move to somewhere a bit further away. No need to dive in immediately and go to Tanzania or Vietnam! Just build some confidence living abroad first and move on from there 🙂

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  8. I agree, you really get a much deeper appreciation of a place when you are there to see it through its seasons. It takes time to understand how a culture works and when you visit somewhere just for a few days, you can only skim the surface. To be honest, I feel like I only skim the surface after a few years!

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  9. ” But that does not compare to the deeper friendships that can only develop after a considerable amount of time spent together.” I agree with your statement. I, too, have worked abroad in several different countries in different corners of the earth, and I have to admit without a doubt that my relationships with amazing friends have lasted so much longer than when I just travel through a city.
    Great post! I also write about my life as an expat, check it out and hopefully you’ll enjoy some of my posts!

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  10. Lovely to read. I have lived abroad in a few countries now, and it is certainly hard but also amazing to experience a country or city this way. I love to read about other peoples expat experiences, more so than travel blogs/posts. I have just started writing about my current experiences too so it is great to read posts like yours! Keep it up!

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