15 Things I Learned From Living Abroad

I grew up in a small town in Texas. When I looked at a globe, I dreamed of living in my favorite places and visiting everywhere else.  I started realizing that dream when I was 29 and moved to Canada. I lived and worked in Calgary, Canada for 6 years, then moved to London, UK for 1 year, then Eindhoven, Netherlands for 2 years. After a decade of living abroad, I have certainly learned a lot! I gained a much more global perspective and a deeper appreciation of people, cultures, and history.

Here are 15 things I learned while living abroad.

1. Canadians care.  With few exceptions, Canadians truly care for one another, and they generally care about the environment and nature. Also, safety is super important! E.g., Never cross the road if the walking light isn’t green. Managers/bosses are generally kind and caring, so that makes working in Canada a lot nicer than in either the U.S. and UK.

2. The U.S. education system is lacking.  Compared to the U.S. education system, Canada and England schools taught my daughter significantly more about the world and her community. I also learned how much information was skewed or missing from my U.S. history textbooks and from U.S. news.

3. Recycling and energy conservation are important in Canada and Europe.  Recycling is second nature for everyone in Canada and Europe. In England energy conservation is very important; it is commonplace to completely unplug devices that aren’t in use for more than a few hours.

4. Country and sports pride is ubiquitous.  Pretty much everyone has A LOT of pride in both their country and their sports teams. (This is definitely not unique to the U.S.)

5. The food is more natural outside of the U.S.  If you compare ingredients of products in Europe to those in the U.S., you’ll find actual ingredients you recognize. No high-fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, etc.  When I first moved to Canada 10 years ago, I was disappointed to find no low-fat or fat-free products. Fortunately it made me start eating more REAL food.

6. America’s entertainment industry is a common thread. Most films and TV that Europeans watch are American. I have also met a large number of people who learned English via American films and TV.

7. Canada has 2 distinct areas: East and West.  East Canada is mostly French, except with their own spin on the language and food. There is a political party that advocates separating Quebec from the rest of Canada.  To me, West Canada is quite similar to American culture with a sprinkle of British culture.

8. Generally, most Europeans seem to like Americans. The U.S. government, however, is disappointing to them. English people typically enjoy American optimism the most. I did not encounter a Dutch person that doesn’t like Americans. Many Europeans were fascinated to speak with an American. I did experience some snubbing from Scottish, German, and French people. Sometimes Americans are seen as unauthentic, exaggerating, ignorant, and loud. I was no exception… at least at the beginning of my global experience.

9. Cultural awareness is very important.  Every culture has different kinds of ideas and perspectives. To have successful relationships with people around the world, it’s crucial to understand and respect those differences.

10. Spelling and grammar aren’t that important.  British and American English have some fairly significant differences in their spelling and grammar (Canadian English is a mix of both.) When people from other countries learn English they use a variety of spelling and grammar rules that are more aligned with their own language rules.

Kaaswinkeltje in Eindhoven, Netherlands
Kaaswinkeljte (Little Cheese Store) in Eindhoven, Netherlands

11. Europeans travel A LOT!  Most Europeans I have met have traveled to at least 10 countries and speak multiple languages. In most every country, I also encountered people from India, Germany, France, and Britain. American ex-pats are rare.

12. The Netherlands has the best cheese in the world.  I didn’t know this fact before I moved there because they don’t export their best cheeses.

13.  World War II significantly affects the people and cultures in Europe. It’s as if it just happened yesterday.

14.The US taxes its citizens on income earned while living abroad. Doing very complicated double taxes every year sucks donkey doodoo!!

15. Immigration processes differ greatly. 
The easiest was Canada… I showed up at the airport with a bit of completed paperwork and a copy of my job offer, and they gave me a work permit.
The most challenging was the UK. The process took several months. Along with bio-metrics, extensive background checks, and lots of paperwork, came many fees and hassles.
The Netherlands immigration process was a bit wonky (learned that word in Canada!), but the people supporting the process were lovely and reasonable.


  1. This is a great summary! I’m glad your Canadian work experience was so positive. We miss having you here.

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