Young People Ask . . .

Should I Live Abroad?

“I wanted to live somewhere else.”—Sam.

“I was just plain curious. I wanted to see something new.”—Maren.

“A close friend told me that breaking away from home a little would be good for me.”—Andreas.

“I was hungry for adventure.”—Hagen.

DO YOU ever dream of living in a foreign country—perhaps just on a temporary basis? Every year, thousands of young people are able to do just that. Andreas says of his foreign experience: “I would love to do it again.”

Some youths make a temporary move because they want to earn money or learn a foreign language. For example, in many countries au pair programs are quite popular. These allow young foreigners to do domestic work for a family in return for room and board, and they are able to use their spare time to study the local language. Then there are youths who move abroad to gain an education. Others make the move to find work so that they will be able to help their families financially. Still others move because they are not sure what they want to do after school and they want to take a time-out abroad.

Interestingly, some Christian youths have moved to lands where there is a shortage of evangelizers, in order to expand their ministry. Whatever the reason for the move, living in a foreign country can be a valuable lesson in adult independence. It can broaden your horizons culturally. You might even master a foreign language—something that could increase your prospects in the job market.

Nevertheless, living abroad is not always a positive experience. Susanne, for example, spent a year as an exchange student. She says: “I was sure that it would be absolutely fantastic from start to finish. It was not.” Some youths have even been exploited or have run into serious trouble. So before packing your bags, it would be wise for you to sit down and consider the pros and cons.

Analyze Your Motives

Considering the pros and cons would certainly include examining your motives for wanting to go abroad. It is one thing to travel to pursue spiritual interests or to care for family responsibilities. But like the youths quoted at the outset, many desire to move simply because they want adventure, greater freedom, or a good time.  This is not necessarily wrong. After all, Ecclesiastes 11:9 encourages young people to ‘rejoice in their youth.’ However, Ec 11 verse 10 warns: “Remove vexation from your heart, and ward off calamity from your flesh.”

If your motive for moving to a foreign land is to avoid parental restrictions, you might be inviting “calamity.” Do you remember Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son? It involved a young man who selfishly traveled abroad, evidently to obtain more freedom. Before long, though, calamity struck, and he found himself hungry, impoverished, and spiritually ill.—Luke 15:11-16.

Then there are those who want to move because they want to escape problems at home. But, as Heike Berg writes in her book What’s Up, “if you want to go away only because you are unhappy . . . and you believe everything will be better somewhere else—forget it!” Really, it is better to face problems squarely. Nothing is gained by running away from situations that are not to our liking.

Other dangerous motives are greed and materialism. Spurred on by a desire for wealth, many youths nurture grandiose, unrealistic ideas of what life is like in industrialized lands. Some imagine that all Westerners are wealthy. But this is far from true. After moving, many youths find themselves in a strange land, struggling to get out of poverty. * The Bible warns: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Timothy 6:10.

Are You Ready?

There is another factor to consider: Are you truly mature enough to deal with the hardships, problems, and conflicts that will arise abroad? Likely you would have to live with a roommate or a family and adjust to their routine. So how are you doing at home now? Do your parents complain that you are inconsiderate and self-centered? Are you prone to be picky about what you eat? How willing are you to do your share of the housework? If these are difficult issues for you now, imagine how much more so they could be for you in a foreign country!

If you are a Christian, will you be able to maintain your own spirituality? Or do your parents constantly have to remind you not to neglect Bible study, Christian meetings, and the preaching work? Would you be spiritually strong enough to resist pressures and temptations abroad that you might not face in your homeland? On his first day at school in a foreign land, one young Christian, an exchange student, was told where he could get illegal drugs. Later he was asked out on a date by a female schoolmate. In his native land, a girl would never express her interest so directly. A young African who moved to Europe also observes: “At home you never see immoral pictures in public. But here you see them everywhere.” Moving abroad could  lead to spiritual shipwreck if one is not “solid in the faith.”—1 Peter 5:9.

Get the Facts!

Before making a move, you need to get all the facts. Do not go on secondhand information. If, for example, you are considering a student-exchange program, how much will it cost? You may be surprised to know that it often involves thousands of dollars. You also need to find out whether the schooling you receive abroad will be recognized at home. Also, gather as much information as you can about the country—its laws, its culture, its customs. What costs are involved in living there? What taxes will you have to pay? Are there health risks you should consider? You may find it helpful to talk to people who have actually lived there.

Then there is the matter of living accommodations. Host parents of exchange students usually do not expect any material compensation. Even so, staying with individuals who do not respect Bible principles can cause great stresses and strains. Staying with friends or relatives might be an alternative. But take care not to become a burden to them—even if they urge you to stay. This could strain or even destroy your relationship with them.—Proverbs 25:17.

If you plan to earn money while abroad, do not forget your Christian obligation to obey the secular authorities. (Romans 13:1-7) Does the law allow you to work in that land? If so, under what conditions? Work illegally and you can compromise your stand as an honest Christian and leave yourself without basic protections, such as accident insurance. Even if it is legal to work, you will need to exercise caution and shrewdness. (Proverbs 14:15) Unscrupulous employers often take advantage of foreigners.

Making a Decision

It is clear, then, that the decision to move to a foreign land is a big one—and should not be taken lightly. Sit down with your parents, and consider carefully the expected benefits and the possible dangers. Try not to let your enthusiasm override your discernment. Be honest when analyzing your motives. Listen carefully to your parents. After all, they will still feel responsible for you, even if you are hundreds of miles away. Likely you will need their financial support to survive.

All things considered, it may be that moving is unwise—at least for the time being. This may be disappointing, but there are many other exciting things you can do. For example, have you explored the possibility of visiting interesting places in your own country? Or why not get a head start on learning a foreign language? In time, perhaps the opportunity to travel abroad will open up.

What, though, if you do decide to move? A future article will discuss how you can make a success of your stay abroad.

[Footnote]

^ par. 15 See the article “Counting the Cost of Moving to an Affluent Land,” in the April 1, 1991, issue of The Watchtower, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.

[Picture on page 13]

Some youths move to further the Kingdom-preaching work

[Picture on page 14]

Talk with your parents about the benefits and dangers of moving