Lessons Learned from A Year Abroad

It doesn’t seem right to condense a year-long experience into an hour-long presentation, but that’s what I did. I spoke in a beautiful upstairs room at the Westerly Public Library on a warm May evening. The audience asked great questions and inspired me to tell more stories than I expected to from my travels. My friend and fellow traveler, Vicky Ann (who readers of this blog know well), came with her mom and entertained us all with her memories of our travels together.

I decided to organize my talk around lessons learned from my year abroad. There are dozens, but I narrowed it down as best as I could. Here are some of the photos and lessons I shared.

The lighter your backpack, the happier you will be.

It’s true, and it’s the best travel advice I received.

I didn’t travel this light, but my bag got lighter and lighter along the way.

The world is a lot safer than you think.

During my year abroad, I never felt threatened. The most dangerous places are probably the ones where all the tourists go. Travel off the beaten path and you will meet the kindest, most generous people who live in peaceful places.

Family is sacred.

I was constantly reminded of this in every culture I visited during my year abroad. Families stay together. Everyone works for the good of the family. 

Trung took me on his motorbike to meet his parents, visit his home, and share a meal.

Even at university, there is a family-like atmosphere.

What happens here, matters everywhere.

Past and present actions by the US government have ripple effects around the world, often lasting for decades or more.

Laos and Vietnam are still dealing with deadly effects from the Vietnam War.

Americans are admired and welcomed (almost) everywhere.

I have met people who are afraid to leave the country because they feel Americans are hated everywhere. I could not disagree more. In fact, when you are viewing the US from abroad, it looks like a pretty dangerous place itself. I encountered warm, friendly people, strangers who invited me into their homes, in every one of the eight countries I visited.

It was almost impossible to eat alone in Vietnam.

Of course, my students loved Vicky Ann

Talk to strangers (they’re nice).

I learned to overcome many fears during my year abroad, including approaching strangers. Strangers approached me in cafes, joined me while I ate alone in restaurants, talked to me on the streets, invited me into their homes. No one wanted to take advantage of me, they just wanted to get to know me.

There are 65 million refugees around the world, many we’ve never heard of.

I learned so much by spending three weeks with the Karen refugees from Myanmar. It’s easy to forget that there are so many peaceful people just like us who have been waiting months, years, even decades to return to their homeland. In the meantime, they live in camps (out of our view), depend on governments and aid organizations to survive, raise their children, and wait.

We live a life of privilege.

The people I met during my travels work long hours, earn small incomes, do not have passports, and can only dream of coming to the US.

Long work hours leave people exhausted.

In some places, kids are put to work at a young age.

Speaking English is something we take for granted, but these kids show up for extra classes on their own for the chance to learn it.

You can do this (if you want to).

I didn’t know if I could really take a year off and travel the world. I had no idea if this trip would be successful, but I had to try. What I learned is that it’s a lot more possible than most people realize.

It was wonderful to share this experience with a live audience. Thanks to my sister, I have two more library presentations in the coming months. I also have more travel plans which I will be writing about soon!


Comments (14):

  1. Lori

    May 6, 2018 at 16:15

    It was a wonderful presentation, Tim! Jimmy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!!! You’ve taught us some valuable life lessons! Thank you for allowing us to travel with you!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:08

      Thanks for coming, Lori and Jimmy!

      Reply
  2. Elaine Temel

    May 6, 2018 at 16:36

    Terrific presentation! I love seeing all your “props” – the pictures, bags, candy!
    The lessons woven into the presentation among the pictures were very effective.
    Bravo!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:09

      Thanks, Elaine! Looking forward to hearing about your upcoming travels.

      Reply
  3. Diane Gallo

    May 6, 2018 at 17:13

    Great lessons and beautiful pictures!! Keep shooting!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:09

      Thanks, Diane! I will.

      Reply
  4. Sarah Huber

    May 6, 2018 at 21:31

    When and where are your next two presentations?

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:11

      Hi Sarah! Fairfield and New Canaan, CT – no dates yet. Unfortunately, not any closer to you.

      Reply
  5. LInda Wight

    May 7, 2018 at 08:58

    Great presentation Tim! Looking forward to your next blog. Have a great day!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:11

      Thanks, Linda. Say hi to Conrad and the family.

      Reply
  6. Sharon

    May 7, 2018 at 11:23

    Wish I could have seen it! Was it recorded? Love your blog.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 8, 2018 at 20:12

      Thanks, Sharon. No recording. Maybe next time.

      Reply
  7. Melissa

    May 14, 2018 at 08:09

    Lovely as always, friend.
    Sincerely,
    A Stranger you met along the way 🙂

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      May 20, 2018 at 18:10

      So glad to have met you! Looking forward to our next meeting.

      Reply

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