Moving to a New Country After College
Making the Decision to Move Abroad
At the University of the Pacific, I studied Political Science and Law and I always intended to have a career in government. My thinking was to work as a staffer for a number of years and then run for office myself. But then something occurred to me—how could a politician make any decision, domestic and especially foreign without having a strong understanding and perspective of other countries and how their systems function. This realization solidified my move abroad.
I cannot stress how important it is to live abroad—it broadens your thinking, perspective and kills ignorance. During the past year working in Egypt, I’ve learned so much about how the Middle East works, the challenges it faces and about possible solutions. Simple things like regional geography are solidified into your thinking and eliminate that future embarrassing interview where you can’t say where Jordan is.
In the political context, it’s also given me a deep understanding of the perspective of others. Our policy makers in Washington have very little understanding of what’s happening on the ground and make choices from a small office thousands of miles away. At best, this leads to misunderstandings; at worst, it leads to war. Each legislator in Washington would do well to spend some time abroad in the countries they impact.
Experiencing Culture Shock in a New Country
In my case, one of the biggest challenges was adapting to a very different culture and environment. Upon my departure, I was warned about culture shock. But I never understood how strong it could affect you until I experienced it myself. It always starts the same way—the first three weeks are blissful, everything is new and exciting, life is great. But it quickly transitions to a profound lack of understanding, frustration and irritation. I found myself being angry at small things and being rude for no reason. It took a lot of reflection and self-awareness to change my behavior and try my best to understand cultural differences not attack them. This process was very important and helped me develop my adaptability skills. It helped me to be more understanding, more aware, and more open-minded.
Maintaining Personal Finances Abroad
Working in the social sector is not the best choice if your goal is to make lots of money upon graduation. But the meaning of having a job that helps others justifies the financial side. I don’t have any tricks or tips about personal finance. Aside from keeping my credit score high, consistently using credit cards (even ones with annual fees) and paying off my student loans on time and have no tricks to offer. What I can offer however is the guarantee that working in the social sector while it doesn’t bring immediate wealth, brings a deep sense of meaning. The people you meet, the things to do, the impact you create brings a profound sense of meaning.
Food & Cooking in a Foreign Country
Living in Egypt means a whole different approach to cooking and eating. Stomach bugs are common, tap water is not good to drink and fresh fruits and vegetables are risky. My approach, eat out a lot. Restaurants are cheap in Egypt and after some trial and error, you can figure out which places are safe and which are not. For breakfast I often eat sandwiches with cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and a little butter. It’s easy, quick and requires few dishes.
Maintaining My Health Abroad
Since Egypt has a very different healthcare system, I don’t think it’s particularly relevant to go over that side of health. On the personal fitness side however, I typically take long walks or jogs in the early morning. I prefer exercising early, before the bustle of Cairo is awake and before the sun bakes the tan buildings and cloudy Nile. Further, I don’t own a car in Cairo. I take cabs when I have to travel a long distance or I walk. Cabs are very cheap costing around two dollars for three or four miles. If I can, and it’s not too hot, I walk.
Lessons I Learned From Moving Abroad
Although moving abroad after college is a challenge, it is one that broadens your thinking and perspective. When you integrate with a culture, you understand it better—you see the reality of the people and learn about their ways. This fosters tolerance and common ground between those who may think they have nothing in common.
My last note is to those who pontificate about the Middle East and foreign affairs without having touched toe on Arab soil: go spend time abroad, speak to people, learn their stories, understand their perspectives. Without these experiences, you cannot make an accurate statement on these issues. Each of us who engages in these debates would do well to spend time in the countries we see fit to establish democracies in. These issues are much more complex than they seem on the surface and deserve true study and understanding.
What It’s Really Like to Develop An International Social Enterprise After College in Cairo, Egypt