Things You Don't Understand Unless You Grew Up Abroad

Published On 02/12/2016 Published On 02/12/2016

Being a kid is rough. Not just because there are boogeymen under your bed and you HAVE to eat broccoli, but also because every life decision is made for you. Whatever mom and dad decide, that's what you're stuck doing. Not so bad if it means summer road trips to Destin. Oh so bad if it means you're moving to Bangladesh! Bye, bye third-grade friends, I'll miss you.
For tens of thousands of kids, however, growing up as an American abroad is a reality. A reality that, for all of its challenges, provides a perspective on the world that their stateside peers usually don't have.

But how different is it living overseas as a kid? We talked to a bunch of former expat brats -- be they the children of soldiers, diplomats, or just hippie parents who wanted to live in Spain -- and found 14 things they said you wouldn't understand unless you grew up like them.

"Home" is a very relative term

Even though you might never have actually lived in the US, when people asked where you were from, you always answered "America." And now that you DO live in America, when people ask where you're from, you answer with another country. Or whatever city you currently live in. "Home" isn't where you were born, where you grew up, or even where your parents are from. It's wherever you want it to be.

Flickr/Chris Yarzab

You always check the voltage of an appliance before plugging it in

You've heard it's the same in all 50 states, but that's yet to be confirmed.

You don't eat salad, fruits you can't peel, or get ice in a drink

You're not going to get sick like all those dumb tourists, even if you are staying at the Four Seasons. Produce you haven't selected yourself is not to be trusted. Nor is water.

Long travel days don't bother you

You can sit through an 18-hour plane ride, three hours at passport control, and two hours of immigration -- and still not be phased. You are impervious to the logistics of international travel.


You have an uncanny ability to make friends

If you were a military kid, then you probably had to make friends every few years. It's not hard for you to find things in common with pretty much everyone, and it's possibly the greatest skill you learned living abroad.

You still don't fully understand the concept of "chores"

A lot of Americans working abroad hire locals to help out around the house; not because they're rich, but because NOT hiring help is considered rude and depriving the local economy. Let's just say your parents had a hard time convincing you to keep your room clean, do your laundry, and pick up after dinner when you had house help your whole life. They may also have had to awkwardly explain to you why you were riding in an armored car.


There's still a novelty to fast food and movies

Because there wasn't a Taco Bell on every corner, a Doritos Locos actually DOES seem more appealing than something from the "authentic" little taco truck. Same goes for the movies, shopping at malls, and doing pretty much everything else American kids took for granted.

But you got to do WAY more than American kids

Since you grew up with international drinking laws and a driver who wasn't a parent, you got into stuff a lot earlier than your US counterparts. You were also probably embarrassed for your college classmates who didn’t understand why they should stop drinking after one $4 liquor pitcher.

You don't get too attached to things in your room

Because you know it's all going to have to be shipped somewhere, and not everything's making the cut.

But the thrill of your toys clearing customs...

Is not unlike Christmas morning. If Santa came down the chimney in a giant shipping container.


You know how to bargain

The phrase, "I’m not a tourist, give me a better price" is something you knew before the pledge of allegiance.

You still sometimes refer to America as "the States"

And while you might sound like one of those annoying people who comes back from study abroad and wants everybody to think they're "cultured," it's actually the first terminology you learned.

Also, "the States" have a smell

Kinda like you can't smell your own house, Americans can't smell their own country. But you can. The aroma hits you as soon as you get off the plane; a combination of hand sanitizer/fast food/consumerism/Starbucks all rolled into one. And it's GLORIOUS.

Your passport is like George Costanza's wallet

Like, it's so big you actually had to add EXTRA pages for visas. And it baffles you that half the people you know in "the States" don’t even have one.

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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer at Thrillist who still guesses wrong with foreign outlets. Follow him on Instagram: @meltrez1.



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