I’m the same person I was when I was 6 or 7 years old. I’ve always been highly motivated by a desire to do something “greater” for the world, rather than achieving things for personal pride or pleasure. I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t thought, “I want to make x, y, or z better”. Maybe it’s in my genetics, considering I was born to two self-sacrificing doctors who pursued their careers to help others. Maybe it’s because I was way too aware of the injustices in our world at way too young of an age. I’ve always stood for human rights; women’s rights, gay rights, underprivileged rights. The latter two don’t apply to me personally, yet I’ve always felt close to them and many other causes that I would also fight for. Why? Simply because I value fairness and balance.
So, if I’m still the same person, how has living in an entirely different country and continent changed me? I can think of three major things that have changed since “living abroad”.
1. Understanding National Pride:
When I was growing up, I didn’t really understand “national pride”. Beyond the Olympics, where I was fiercely pro-Canada (especially when it came to hockey, swimming, and skating), I didn’t understand national pride at all. I would see Americans, especially, take pride in their flag and national anthem. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a city where I was definitely a minority (and honestly, I will be anywhere I live), but I didn’t feel as connected to the idea of national pride. I always identified more as simply “human” or a “world citizen”. While I still definitely identify as those two things, living in Spain helped me understand how important identity is to many people.
The issue of identity has always fascinated me, which is why I focused on it in university. Living in Spain was real-life research, where I’d talk to Spaniards to figure out why they were so proud of their country, or even cities. In Spain, “pueblos” are a source of pride, even, despite just being little towns that people either vacation in or have some distant tie to. The experience helped me understand my parents’ upbringings and my own ethnic background, as people of my background are often just as proud of regional differences and nationality as Spaniards are.
When I lived in Spain, I related more to the Canadian identity than I ever did in Canada. Physically, I blended into Spain more than I ever did in my hometown, but when I’d start talking, I stood out as a clear Canadian. I started to understand how being Canadian shaped my mentality abroad. It made me figure out my own identity issues more. I went from never wanting to really live in Canada as an adult to really loving and appreciating my country. And while I still won’t put national pride above human rights, I can now say that I’m happier than ever to be a Canadian.
2. Being Thankful For Simple Opportunities:
Life in Spain was a reality check. I lived a fairly good life and was paid well despite my really young age. I eventually realized that the people around me weren’t getting paid well. But that wasn’t the whole story; just having a job alone was considered an accomplishment for young adults in Spain (many of whom were 10 years older than me). While growing up in Canada, I always took the little things for granted – having access to healthcare, having clean air, having a supportive government, and having job opportunities. Young people in many other countries have to fight for simple rights and opportunities that Canadians, and many other nationalities, are given more freely.
Until I had lived abroad, I had no idea how much there was to be thankful for. The entire experience shaped my understanding of what is truly important in life.
3. Knowing We Can All Relate:
I’ve always known that I could always relate to people of other backgrounds and countries. However, living abroad truly taught me that at the end of it all, we’re all human. We all breathe in air, need food, and sleep. We all desire the same things, though we go about this in slightly different ways. I came across so many different types of people while I lived abroad and travelled. At this point, I can’t picture not having met people from all over the world. I’ve heard so many interesting stories, communicated in several languages, and have come to understand so much that I couldn’t have imagined before.
While I don’t want to make it sound like living in Spain was a life-changing experience that you can only gain from living abroad, I do admit that I’m not exactly the same person that I was before. The experience forced me to get outside of my comfort zone, break out of my shell, go through some very tough times, experience euphoria, and be more empathetic. I’ve also started to understand myself a lot more, and due to that, I know I’m not the same person I used to be.
Who would I be if I had instead stayed in my hometown and worked a regular job? I don’t know, but I probably wouldn’t have grown this much.