I always knew, at least on a subconscious level, that I was destined to live a life overseas. My curiosity of the outside world started at a very early age, and that curiosity only grew larger and larger with each passing year. By the time I graduated from my university, my itch to see something beyond the shores of America was so great that I traveled to the Dominican Republic only a week after my graduation ceremony. I put the whole trip on my credit card, which wasn’t exactly a good idea, but all these years later I don’t regret it. That trip sparked a revolution in my life that’s yet to slow down. Only one year after that trip, I was already living and working in China.
In this article I want to give my readers some insight on what brought me to where I’m at today – living and working in Japan, my third country of nearly seven years of living in Asia. Living away from one’s home country definitely isn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but no one ever says it is. It is however a fulfilling and enlightening lifestyle if you have what it takes. I always knew I did. This is not a self-congratulatory article, rather it’s a way for me to share a bit about myself to my readers. So here are 10 reasons why living a life overseas was my destiny:
1. Globes and Maps Fascinated Me
My earliest memories of this go all the way back to when I was in the 4th grade in elementary school. Once a week, our teacher would allow us to lounge around the classroom for about an hour, as long as we were reading or learning something. I always went straight to the globe and stared at it for the entire hour. I studied the names of all the countries and their capital cities. I don’t know exactly why, but I remember taking a particular interest in the island country of Fiji. The name just sounded so exotic, and it was just a tiny speck on the globe. I always wondered what Fiji looked like and how the people there lived their lives.
2. National Geographic Was My Favorite Magazine
Anytime I wasn’t studying a globe, I was checking out National Geographic magazine. My 4th grade teacher had a big stack of Nat Geo’s on a bookshelf in her classroom, and I set out to look at each and every one over the course of that school year. I was too young to really understand anything written in the magazine, but I was very fascinated by the photography. I saw all these strange-looking animals, exotic faces, traditional costumes, and landscapes. They all looked so different than what I was used to seeing in everyday Arkansas, but I was fascinated. Fast forward almost 20 years later, and National Geographic magazine is one of my main inspirations for good travel photography.
3. My Favorite Video Game Centered around World Exploration
I played a lot of video games growing up in suburban middle-class America, but none of them struck me quite as hard as the one I eventually discovered when I was in the 5th grade. The game was called Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan), and the plot of the game centers around four teenage children who travel around the world to learn how to stop an evil force from the future from destroying the planet. The game is set in a fictitious world called Eagleland, but what made this game different from most of the others of its era was that Eagleland was set in a semi-realistic modern world, but based on a sci-fi plot. Many of the countries and cities of the game resemble those in our real world, whereas other games at the time were almost always based in fantasy-like settings.
The first time I played this game I was blown away. I couldn’t put the controller down for days. It was just so cool talking to people in the game and seeing what kind of place you’d stumble upon next. One minute you’re in a bustling metropolis, and the next minute you’re in an Arab-like desert country. Sure, the game was fun for many other reasons beyond its realistic world setting, particularly its unique style of humor, but I think what attracted me to it the most was its world exploration theme. For my 10 year-old mind, the discovery of new countries and cities while playing the game was addicting.
Even though I rarely play video games anymore, still to this day it’s a tradition of mine to play Earthbound once a year. The game never gets old, and it fills me with nostalgia every time I play it. I’ll probably be playing it ‘til the day I die.
4. I Was Obsessed with Foreign-Language Music
Around the 10th grade while I was still in high school, I took a strong liking to foreign music. It all started with the German industrial rock band Rammstein, and then it skyrocketed from there. Around my second year of college, almost my whole music library consisted of foreign music, most of it being German rock, but there was also a bit of Slovakian rap and a few others.
Many of my peers ridiculed my tastes in music, but I was dumbfounded that they couldn’t appreciate music simply because the lyrics weren’t in English.
“But if I can’t understand the lyrics, then what’s the point in listening to it?” was the narrow-minded question I was often asked.
There’s plenty of English music out there which I can’t understand the vocals in either, but that doesn’t necessarily make it unlistenable. It’s such a shame to give so much music no chance merely because it’s sung in a language that’s not your native tongue. Still to this day, my playlist has a large helping of non-English language music thrown into the mix. There’s just so much good foreign music out there if you’ll just give it a chance.
5. Foreigners from Anywhere Piqued My Curiosity
Growing up in Arkansas, foreigners weren’t a very common sight. There were the occasional non-English speaking Mexicans, but that was about it. So whenever I happened to stumble across a foreigner in my daily life, particularly in my high school and university years, I wanted to hear everything about their home country and life story. What was the food like in their country? What music did they listen to? What did they do for fun? How did they wind up in Arkansas of all places?
I remember once meeting a guy from Belgium at a house party during my first year of college. The moment he told me he was from Belgium, I bombarded him with a barrage of questions. I remember he told me how most Belgians are multilingual, and that just blew my ignorant mind away. I had never met an Arkansas who could even speak a second language, so meeting someone who could speak three was impressive.
Another time I met a German girl from Cologne at a house party, and once again I assaulted her with questions. At that point, I had been listening to German music for years, so it was cool to finally meet an actual German for the first time in my life. I was absolutely flabbergasted when she said she liked some of the same German bands as me. I was so used to ridicule for my tastes in music, yet now there was a hot foreign girl sitting next to me who liked the same stuff.
6. I Became “E-Pals” with Foreign People Overseas
My second year in college, I managed to meet a French girl on MySpace who also shared my obsession for German rock music. I talked to her every day over Yahoo! Messenger for months, mostly about German rock music and American and French culture. Looking in hindsight, I definitely had a crush on her, but it was never meant to be, and I ultimately never met her and lost contact with her. But talking to her online was the catalyst I needed to push myself to make a plan to travel overseas. As a result, I got a part-time job on top of my busy college schedule to start saving for a future overseas trip, which ultimately wound up being the Dominican Republic, rather than France.
A couple of years after the French girl, I met a Spanish girl at a bar in Dublin, Ireland (my second trip overseas), and we swapped email addresses (smartphones didn’t exist back then), and we talked quite a bit over Yahoo! Messenger the following months. I actually wound up meeting her again in Bangkok several years later, and we still keep in touch to this day. Now with the ambiguity of social media and smartphones, it’s really not that hard to stay in touch with distant people.
7. I Was Drawn to Foreign Women
Having stayed in touch with a few overseas female e-pals in my youth, it’s needless to say that I was attracted to foreign women. I wasn’t necessarily against American women or anything, but foreign women captivated me in a way that American women never could. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I remember being so attracted to Slavic women’s natural beauty during my college years, that I bought books featuring nude photography of Slavic women. Looking at the women in the books felt like looking at a fine piece of art. And though she turned out to be a complete psycho (a story for another time), I dated a second generation Polish girl during my last two years of college. Her parents were immigrants from Warsaw, and I found learning about Polish culture through them to be quite fascinating.
Around the end of my university life, my interest in Asian women started to blossom, but there really weren’t that many Asian people in Arkansas. Now almost eight years later, I’ve been married to my Chinese wife for a year. Of all the women in the world, none quite attract me as much as Chinese women, hence why I ultimately married one. While many of my peers ignorantly viewed foreign women as “green card chasers,” I was admiring their beauty, femininity, and chasing after them, which ultimately paid off quite well.
8. Returning to America from Trips Overseas Was Depressing
The first few times I traveled overseas, specifically to the Dominican Republic, Ireland, Aruba, and China, I fell into a deep long-lasting depression each time upon returning home. The mediocrity and sameness of America didn’t energize or excite me like walking through the streets of a foreign country. Even telling my American peers about my awesome experiences overseas didn’t really do much for them. They acted like they didn’t understand why I’d want to step foot outside of America in the first place. I was having all these amazing experiences that I wanted to share with others, yet when I told people about them, they just acted like I was crazy.
Nonetheless, I realized pretty quickly that overseas travel was something I had missed out on my entire life up to that point, and I always wanted to continue my exploration as soon as I had stepped foot back on American soil. A simple trip overseas was no longer enough, so I took the plunge by selling everything I owned and moved to Dalian, China in November 2009. I’ve never looked back since. While I do enjoy my trips back to America every couple of years, I limit then to just a month or two each time. Anything longer and I go stir-crazy and feel depression sink in.
9. I Never Quite Fit in Growing Up in America
All throughout my childhood and university years, I never quite fit in with my peers. In high school, there were all the cliché cliques – the jocks, the goths, the preps, the nerds, the troublemakers, and so forth – but none of those cliques were quite right for me and my personality type. While all my peers loved watching sports, hunting, and getting drunk and high, none of that appealed to me. I was more interested in foreign things, concepts, and art.
It didn’t get much better in college or my young adult years either. I was always dreaming of going abroad and setting out on adventures, but my peers just wanted to get drunk and play video games. It just felt like I was operating on a different wavelength as all of the other Americans around me. While the evening news was bashing places like China as an immoral hell-hole, I was dreaming of going there and meeting new people and having unique experiences. But once I finally made the plunge to travel and live abroad, I knew I had found my calling. Suddenly I felt like my life was on the right path once and for all. I had finally found my “niche.”
10. My Father Taught Me Self-sufficiency
Being self-sufficient doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to live overseas, but in order to live overseas without family, you need to be self-sufficient. As I was growing up, my father constantly taught my two brothers and I how to take care of ourselves and how to be men. Hunting, fishing, and camping were the things my dad enjoyed doing with us the most, and even though I sometimes got tired of them as a kid, I can now appreciate the skills and lessons my father was trying to teach me at the time.
My dad also sought to make myself and my brothers financially independent and responsible. We were given a humble allowance of $5 a week, and if we ever wanted to buy a toy or a video game, we had to save our money for weeks in order to accumulate enough money for the big buy. He also gave us opportunities to make additional income through raking the yard and burning leaves, chopping and sorting wood, and other labor-intensive yard work. My brothers and I weren’t too spoiled growing up, and we had to earn everything we wanted. Rarely was anything ever just given to us on a silver platter. I’m thankful for that as an adult, because all those hard lessons as a child translated into being an adult capable of taking care of himself entirely on his own.
Though I’m not a believer in predestination or fate, I do believe it was my destiny all along to live a life overseas far away from where I grew up. Though I didn’t realize it when I was still a child, looking back at my childhood now as a grown adult, the signs were everywhere. Everything’s clearer in hindsight after all. My obsession with globes and geography, my love of German music, my attraction to foreign women, my interest in foreign people, the fact that I didn’t quite fit in – the writing was on the wall all around me.
Sometimes I wonder if my present 29 year-old self went back and told my 9 year-old self that 20 years later I’d be living in Asia, and fast approaching my 7th anniversary here, whether or not my 9 year-old self would actually believe it. It’s easy to assume that my old self wouldn’t believe my modern self, but I think the truth is my old self would actually believe it. This is the life for me, and I knew it all along, at least on a subconscious level, and it’s not going to change anytime soon.