Living Abroad: Travel or Life?

I just read “Paris I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by Rosecrans Baldwin, and have been really wondering: if you are somewhere for an extended stay, when does your status change from traveling abroad to living abroad?

Baldwin’s book is fantastic.  Having worked and lived in foreign countries, I could completely relate to his excitement, pain, disappointment, and joy.  And his writing is a pleasure to read; I found myself laughing and cringing alongside him and his 18-month adventure living and working in Paris.

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Beyond a doubt, Baldwin lived in Paris.  I’m just trying to figure out what the milestones are that made his stay there living, and not an extended business trip.

Is it going to the doctor?  I’ve had to seek out medical care for myself and others in foreign locals, none of which I’ve lived in.  So, it can’t be that.

It is having a flat of his own?  I’ve done the extended stay in houses and flats.  But those trips were definitely vacations.

Every milestone I think of, I can think of a time I did that activity somewhere that I wasn’t remotely considering a home.

So, what is it?

I’m starting to think it’s intangible.  It’s a state of mind.  If you think of someplace as home, then it is.  Can it really be that simple?

In my heart, I believe I have lived in two foreign cities: Prague and Buenos Aires.

I did a study abroad in Prague for the final semester of my senior year of college.  And, my time there really felt like living, not traveling.  I studied the language.  I made a bunch of friends.  I fell in love.  I traveled away from Prague, and felt like I was returning “home” when I returned to the city.  I found local gems in hidden nooks and crannies where I bought pastries in the mornings and beer in the evenings.  I mapped out my favorite running paths.  And, maybe most telling, I spent a lot of time not doing much at all; just being.

I went to Buenos Aires for a couple months for work, and also felt like I was living there, not visiting.  I had a metro card, learned to speak Spanish, locals became good friends, and again, after traveling around the region, always felt like I was coming back “home” to Buenos Aires after the trip.  I danced the tango, drank gallons of wine and coffee, went to fútbol matches, and bought an amazing collection of Prune purses.  And my god did I eat: empañadas, pizza, lamb, steak, pasta, cheese, dulce de leche…

I felt like home while I was living in both cities, and now, when I go back and visit, I feel like I am visiting an old friend.  In fact, I have taken friends to both cities, and excitedly tried to show them “My” Prague and “My” Buenos Aires.

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But, one of the truths about living somewhere and not vacationing there, is that your version of the city may not be so exciting to a tourist.

It’s not about the bells and the whistles when you live somewhere.  It’s about the core.  The rhythm of your morning coffee at your favorite café, figuring out just where to stand to get into the metro the fastest, finding the little club that hosts your favorite local bands. It’s about the heartbeat of everyday life.

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