Moving abroad to work or study shifts the course of your life for the better, cultivating confidence, openness, curiosity and tolerance, introducing you to new ideas or maybe even the love of your life. In fact, it was the opportunity to study in Singapore at age 20 that prompted me to found HousingAnywhere.com, which today helps young people find homes abroad in more than 400 cities around the world.
I could already see the gap in the market for HousingAnywhere before moving; finding accommodation in a new country and culture was challenging enough, and subletting my room at home presented another hurdle. Yet HousingAnywhere may never have been more than an idea if I hadn’t come back from Singapore feeling more independent, culturally aware, and pretty much like I could achieve anything.
This isn’t just an anecdote from one Dutch guy; a prominent EU study showed more than 90% of students, graduates, and staff felt more confident after going on exchange. Four out of five also reported an increase in other transversal skills such as curiosity, their ability to make decisions, and their tolerance of different ideas. All of these are things which push a person forward in their life and in the world.
If that’s not convincing enough, many people find their life partner abroad – some sources estimate as many as one million “euro-babies” were born to graduates who met on the EU’s Erasmus exchange program. It’s no surprise for anyone who has experienced the heady feeling of those life-altering encounters on exchange. A conversation in clumsy English crashes into your first taste of independence at that magical, heart-racing crossroads that might just change the course of your life.
International experience is something which ties together everyone in our team. With more than 25 nationalities and an average of 3 countries lived in between us almost every one of our diverse and multilingual group cites an experience studying or interning abroad as a key driver in their career and life motivations. Just sit at our lunch table and you’ll hear stories of hilarious gaffs in a new language, frustration at different challenges, the next place they’re planning to travel or chat about the big questions in society, debated with perspectives from all corners of the world.
At a time where we see countries and cultures folding in on themselves, exposure to different ways of thinking, living and doing, paired with the unique sense of individual empowerment that comes with living in a new country should be seen as a crucial component of what we offer our young people.
Yet access to international experiences is not equal for everyone. Despite the fact that more than half of European exchange students came from non-academic family backgrounds, American statistics show that students of non-white ethnic backgrounds are underrepresented in the outwardly-mobile cohort. Mobility rates also differ along geographic lines. For example, the USA has an outbound mobility ratio of just 0.3, compared to 6.2 in Ireland, 3.9 in Germany and 3.3 in Italy. The destination countries of these young people receive plenty of rewards for playing host: a boost to their economy, soft power.
For those who do make it abroad, there’s a myriad of obstacles to confront. Homesickness, culture shock, adapting to a new education or work environment, making friends… But it’s precisely in working out how you’re going to overcome these challenges that you cultivate a self-reliance, independence and solution-based approach which follows you throughout the rest of your endeavors.
So if you’re looking at the map wondering if there’s something waiting out there – there is. A new world, a new side of yourself, a new chapter of your life. If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to take the risk, take it: pack your bags and move abroad!