People Who've Spent Time Abroad Explain Which Cultural Lessons They Brought Back Home With Them


Nothing quite broadens your horizons the way travel does. I've spent considerable time abroad myself and I can tell you that it's shaped my worldview considerably and introduced me to a host of new and wonderful experiences. I can't wait to go back out there-–we just have to get through the coronavirus pandemic first! I feel for all those weary world travelers who've had to stop in their tracks the second the pandemic changed our world and the way it functions.

After Redditor Gustomaximus asked the online community, "After spending time in a foreign country, what's something you learned and took back to your home country?" people shared their stories.

"I watched people accidentally knock stuff over..."

After living in Korea and Japan I realized it's OK to clean up things that aren't my fault. I watched people accidentally knock stuff over, spill things, drop trash, and anyone that was around to see it immediately cleaned things up without hesitation. No mental gymnastics explaining why this empty can isn't my problem, they just fixed it. We could use some of that in the US.


"As a Chinese woman..."

As a Chinese woman, the first time I have ever felt positively about my own body was because of my American friends. And slowly, I worked my way up to loving it.


"Where I was in China..."

Living in China watching the heavily propagandised news and TV showed me just how much propaganda we get here in the west. It's like I always knew there was an undercurrent but seeing how blatant it was in Chinese media made me realise just how blatant it is over here as well and how willingly people buy into it.

The other thing was how bloody lucky we have it with weather here in the UK. We complain about it all the time but it's pretty much always manageable. Where I was in China it was nothing but extremes. All summer was unbearable heat, all winter was unbearable cold. Raining? Have a monsoon!


"A big table laid out with food..."

I spent four years living in Spain, and it gave me a whole appreciation for communal dining and the concept of sobremesa.

A big table laid out with food for people to help themselves to, good company, a couple of bottles of wine, and a chance to shoot the s*** for an hour or two: no rush, no stress, no haste. Just people you care about and some good conversation.


"To be sure..."

I still live in the foreign country (US), but picked up a lot of things about manners that I'd like to keep doing even if I go back.

Things like holding doors/lifts open for people. I'm a new driver and whenever I yield to pedestrians or bicyclists, I always get a wave/nod/acknowledgment. No big deal, but feels nice. Making sure to introduce people who don't know each other in a group. Trying to include the "new person" in the conversation. If there's an "inside joke/reference" that somebody makes in the new person's company, making sure to provide context to the new person. Be more assertive/confident/animated/clear, even if you're the younger, or more experienced person (but this still needs more nuance in different cultures). Little things like that.

To be sure, part of it is me starting with limited social skills in general, but largely these are things Americans do very well in my experience, and good to take away from my time here.


"I used to live in a country..."

Kindness and politeness. I used to live in a country where it is kind of a free for all, always grumpy, always fighting for something, really cunning. You don't apologise there unless you mess up really badly. You always want to be first in line. You never smile at people at random unless you want to lose your teeth.

I moved to Northern England. Oh my. Letting people through. Smiling. Being nice. Being helpful. Just living with people and making their days better.

Now whenever I fly back I instantly am really nice and kind and really really apologetic and people look at me like I am crazy. I don't care, I feel like I am a slightly better person now.


"I finally realized..."

After living in Argentina, I realized how compartmentalized we are in Canada/the US.

There, your social life is your everyday life. You don't NOT see your friends a few times a week, same for family. Kids are part of life and society. It's not once you have kids, you only go to kid-friendly places and see other people who also have kids.

I really realized that our schedules and habits here aren't as conducive to a balanced, healthy social life. You have to schedule everything, often way in advance... even something casual. I don't really see why -- I think it's just choices and what has become normal.


"After visiting Japan..."

After visiting Japan I realized just how useful a bullet train/high-speed rail system would be for the United States.


"I learned two very important lessons..."

Sorry, after living in Egypt I learned two very important lessons: the importance of customer service and to never be impatient to someone learning English. Learning a foreign language while living in a country is the hardest thing and people are so impatient. Like damn give me a break.


"I have to say..."

Lived and worked both in Taiwan and the US and brought back to Germany that working 100 hours per week is neither effective not fulfilling. Still this seems to be a predominant concept in those countries to be successful. I have to say I am one hell of a happy German.


"I learned not to shout so much..."

I learned not to shout so much or speak loudly in the street.... I discovered that in my country there is too much noise.


"In their culture..."

I'm a Canadian and after living in Korea for about 3 years my ideas around hospitality changed. In their culture, if you invite someone out, you buy everything - if you invite someone over, you don't expect them to bring booze, etc. It's kind of nice and I sort of kept that up for awhile after going home. It's 15 years later and I'm mostly back to my Canadian ways but I still take care of guests a little better than I used to.


"Neither is it necessary..."

In Dublin I learned that it is not necessary to wait until night to start drinking. Neither is it necessary to do it in company nor does the pub have to have a busy atmosphere.


"You should see the look of surprise..."

Saying thank you to the bus driver.

I don't often take the bus where I live, because public transport seems to have been overlooked in the part of my country where I live, so I usually take the car, hitch a ride with someone else, or if it's close enough, I go by bike (also I get carsick something AWFUL, so I'm less inclined to take a bus). When taking the bus when in school, on trips and such, no one ever thanked the driver, except maybe the teachers sometimes.

But when I visit my best friend who has moved to the UK, I have to take public transport, and I noticed the first time taking the bus that almost everyone thanked the bus driver. Considering the amount of crap bus drivers often have to deal with, I started doing it as well and I continued this the few times I take the bus at home. You should see the look of surprise on their faces when I do that, this obviously doesn't happen enough.


"Never been the same since."

Koreans do a lot of wierd things to pizza (sweet potato cream, donut edges so you can have desert and pizza in one sitting) but here I learned of Tobasco on pizza.

Never been the same since. All pizza NEEDS tobasco now. In fact, Korean food in general is the bomb, but tobasco on pizza is my life now.


"After a few trips to Japan..."

I'm Australian.

After a few trips to Japan I learned that soup is great for breakfast, mandatory helmets make you so much less likely to ride a bicycle that they're probably counterproductive, we need high-speed rail, and that we could be worse off when it comes to buying games and media. (Except books - I envy how conveniently sized books and manga were over there, even more so now that practically everything is f****** trade paperbacks).

After a trip to New Zealand I learned how to dress for cold weather, that venison and sweet potato are great and that Australia could do a lot better with recognising out first nations than the then-current token acknowledgement of the original owners you'd occasionally get in speeches at universities.


"So I moved away."

I learned that there are lots of places around the world where you can make a good, stable, enjoyable life, and some of them are much more livable than the country I grew up in.

I traveled a lot internationally when i was in my 20s (privilege of the job I had) and found that not only did I not get homesick, I didn't really want to go back. So I moved away.




Born in the Philippines - raised in Canada. Went to visit Philippines a few years ago and saw how kids there were happy playing with sticks and stones. Went back here and saw kids unhappily playing with iPads since they wanted more. Taught my nieces and nephews to be grateful for what they have.

Ever since then, whatever the Canadian government has provided me with, (CERB, EI, CPP, etc) im so grateful for. I don't care if I have to pay taxes, its for the better good. First generation immigrants heavily rely on the opportunities in western countries and I am more than happy in paying taxes to give those families an experience of better opportunities.


"I didn't know how difficult it really was."

To put it simply, I have massive respect for people who immigrated and don't plan on returning home. Switching cultures and/or languages comes with some massive hurdles.

I didn't know how difficult it really was. Any immigrant I meet now has my upmost respect.


"I spent a month in Italy..."

I spent a month in Italy with my Italian relatives. We couldn't talk to each other very well, and despite that they taught me a few things. But the thing I brought with me was that being a good person has no language. Charity, patience, kindness, and sympathy are all universal. They speak to us all in the same way. Obviously communication is important. But our gestures communicate in ways for which there are no words.

When I showed the patience to learn Italian, my cousins would be overjoyed at my attempts. When they showed the patience to help me learn, I was elated to have the opportunity. I stood in my zia's kitchen doorway and sheepishly said "voglio aiutare," she chuckled and handed me a bundle of forks and knives for the table. It may seem so insignificant on the surface but those memories of their kindness will always remain with me. We truly have nothing to gain from being judgemental and prejudicial.


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