Live Like a Local

When I was twenty, I went abroad for the first time.  I spent six weeks studying in Aix-en-Provence, France.  That trip ruined simple vacations for me. 

Work abroad

Although I was only there a short time, I felt like I truly got to know Aix.  I learned my way around the winding streets, figured out which shops had the best gelato, and formed a close bond with my host mom and her family.  It was these people and places that made me fall in love with France, in a deeper way than a week in Paris ever could.

 After graduating from college, I felt the urge to travel again.  Having learned from my time in France, I knew I wanted to live abroad rather than just backpack around Europe.  I found a job as an au pair in Ballina-Killaloe, Ireland.  My year in Ireland was filled with ups and downs.  When I studied in France, life was like a party.   My classes were easy, and I had very little responsibility.  In Ireland, I had a real job and responsibilities.  I got a true sense of what it’s like to live in Ireland, without the rose-colored glasses of study abroad.

Prior to coming to Ireland, I had always romanticized small towns.  I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and went to school in the city, but had never lived in a town where everyone knew each other.  That was the case in Ballina-Killaloe, two twin towns where you saw the same few people in the same few pubs every weekend.   This had its upsides.  I often ran into people I knew in the street, and for the first time in my life became a regular at a pub.  I felt safe walking by myself at night, or putting my purse down to dance.   It was also quite a bit cheaper than a city like Dublin.  Despite these positives, on the whole, I learned that in the long run I’d like to live in a city.  I love the energy of cities, and the possibility of meeting new people every time you walk outside. 

The fact that Ireland wasn’t my ideal was in its own way a positive thing that led to a lot of self-discovery.   Au pairing was my first full-time job, and I learned that getting through the work week is much easier when you have plans to travel around your new country on the weekends.  This has inspired me to continue to look for jobs in foreign locales that allow me to travel in my free time.

Work abroad

After Ireland, I found my current position as an intern at XploreAsia.  I feel like I’m getting a much more accurate picture of how life really is in Thailand than those who come and stay at a resort.  I’ve met some amazing locals, like the little girl who greets the other interns and I every time we walk by, or our neighbor, who gave us candles as he worried we wouldn’t have light if the power went out.  I do get to enjoy the beautiful beaches and go on hikes on the weekends, but I also get to accurately judge how I feel about the country.  Any place is wonderful if you spend your time there relaxing.  You get a more realistic perspective of whether or not you truly like the culture and atmosphere if you live more like a local, working and running errands in addition to the tourist activities.

Work abroad

I still enjoy traditional vacations; a week-long yoga retreat on the beach in Mexico is undeniably a wonderful experience.  However, this and other short trips I have taken have never been as satisfying as my experiences living abroad.  I do not know Mexico or understand its culture the way I understand Ireland and Thailand.  For me, living and working in a country, fully seeing its good and bad sides, is the most fulfilling and rewarding way to travel. 

Mary Leonard is an intern at XploreAsia.  You can follow her adventures in Thailand on her blog, Wide Eyes and Wanderlust

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