It takes a special kind of person to have the courage to pack up their life and move to another country. As a young child, I was blessed with parents who instilled a love of travel and adventure. My parents always used to say “spoil your kids with experiences and memories, not materialistic things.” I was exposed to many cultures as a young child, and was able to visit the Philippines when I was in high school and took part in medical missions. During my undergraduate career, I was able to spend a semester abroad living with a host family in Costa Rica. That was the first time I had really been away from the US on my own, and I learned so much about myself. I even looked into medical schools in Costa Rica to apply for once I finished undergrad, but ended up deciding to study in the Caribbean for a number of different reasons, ranging from the financial benefits to the new experiences I’d likely have there.
I’ve always been spontaneous – I can pack up my bag and be ready in 10 minutes to go on a weekend trip. After Costa Rica, I knew that I wanted to live abroad once more in my life before I settled down for a career. Since I’ve been living here for over a year now, these are just a few of the things I’ve learned from my time living and studying abroad on an island:
1. It’s never easy.
It’s not easy to pack up your life into a few suitcases, especially if you have never been to the place you’re moving to. I talked for hours and hours with many students regarding the island, so I had a general idea of what to expect, but it wasn’t quite enough to accurately prepare. It’s not easy when your family and friends are back home tailgating or having fun without you; that’s when you feel the most homesick. But just know that your decision to move abroad is for the benefit of your well-being and for your future, and remember that a little sacrifice now will provide you with a better future later.
2. Technology is AMAZING.
I absolutely love FaceTime and Facebook Messenger! I am able to communicate with my family and friends in an instant, and can always see them whenever I’m feeling homesick. One thing that makes me laugh is on Saturday mornings when I am FaceTiming my mom, she goes to run errands and asks “If I want to come with her” and then she takes me along to wherever she has to go. This makes me feel like I’m still back home, in a sense. Make sure to set aside time to talk with your family and friends to help cope with the feelings of loneliness and homesickness, particularly when you’re new to a foreign place.
3. Creating a support system in your new country is essential.
I am blessed with such wonderful friends here on the island. If it wasn’t partially for them, I’m not sure I’d still be here. There are so many days when I want to quit or go home, and I have a wonderful group of friends here who understand what I am going through and can help me through some tough days when my family can’t. Being stressed in school constantly, it’s great to call up a group of friends to go out for dinner, hit the beach, or do something different to take your mind off the stresses of being away from home.
4. The world does not revolve around the US.
Coming from the US, some people are set in certain ways and customs that they are used to. The rest of the world does not revolve around those customs and we should be respectful of that! One thing I was taught at a young age was to appreciate differences. We need to be patient with the people who we encounter everyday when they don’t understand where we come from and our backgrounds. They have their norms and culture, just like we have ours. That doesn’t make us any different as human beings!
5. Learn to be open-minded.
This plays off of point #4. You are blessed to live in another country and experience a new culture. Don’t be afraid to try new things – experiences, food, activities – while you are living abroad. You only have this experience once – so enjoy it while you can. In the evenings when the sun is setting, I love to sit on my porch and reflect on the beauty of my surroundings and think about the opportunities I’ve been fortunate to have. I appreciate the little things now because I know that when I move back to the US next year, I won’t have this life on the island anymore.
6. Your expectations vs. my reality are completely different.
People always assume that when I say I am living in the Caribbean, that I am lounging on the beach and drinking all day. This could not be further from the truth! I knew that even before I came here to start medical school, I would be constantly studying and bettering my education to become a physician. I actually haven’t been to the beach in almost 3 months, and I live 5 minutes away from one. Everyday life goes on, just like it does in the US. Just because I live on an island doesn’t mean I’m on a vacation 24/7. My life has not changed – just my surroundings and location. I spend my days in class and my evenings studying, just as I would be if I was living in the states. I go to the grocery store, go out for dinner, hang out with friends… just like I used to do back home.
7. Learn to live more simply.
On the island, it’s a lot harder than it is back home to get in the car and do what you need to do. When I want to bake something, or need to get something repaired, it’s almost a hassle to try and find where I need to go. I see great dinner recipes on Facebook and have trained myself to go through each ingredient to make sure I can get it on the island. My dog was pretty sick once and it was a hassle to try and find a vet that was open on the weekends. These experiences have taught me to live more simply and to appreciate the availability of what we have in the US. I buy only what I need from the grocery store because there isn’t so much “excess” to choose from. This has helped me to live more simply.
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If you ever have the chance to go abroad, whether it be for a few days or a few months, I encourage you to take advantage of it. There is a whole world out there for us to explore – you never know what you might learn, or who you might meet.
For now, I’m savoring my time on St. Vincent and appreciating this unique island for all it has to offer me – medically and otherwise.