Does Living Abroad Broaden Your Mind

This Guest Post is by Patricia Cole. Patti was a founder member of Pens Around the World. She left us when she and her husband moved back to England after 15+ years in Greece.

When I was growing up in Edinburgh, I couldn’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. All my friends were there, my many cousins and I knew the city and felt comfortable there. 

edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle

When I was 16 my father was relocated to Glasgow. I was horrified. What about all my friends, my routines, my school. 

It was a valuable lesson. I discovered new friends, new places, new boyfriend! 

Since then, I have lived all over Scotland, then Canada, then the Caribbean, then England and now Greece. 

What experiences, what interesting cultures, new friends all over the world while not forgetting old friends. 

All of you have lived abroad. What have you learned and how has it enriched your life (or otherwise)? 


  1. Good grief! You are opening Pandora’s Box! I left the US at 21, never to return. And it has made all the difference. I became an adult in Germany, married an Englishman in Britain, returned to Germany with him and became a mother, spent a year in Turkey, only to return to Germany and happiness. What I have learned? How much time have you got???

  2. Like Debbie, I think this is a huge topic to respond to. I chose to instead to think of a number of journeys I made in my youth which had I think a significant impact on my life after. I’ve put the first one – which is a vicarious journey into space – on the associated forum. But I think I’ll post the full response as a blog post on my website next Wednesday. I’ll update this with a direct link after that. Thanks for the prompt Patti!

  3. Travel definitely broadens the mind and living abroad even more.

    I joined the RAF to travel and in my first tour, criss-crossed the UK, not to mention going as far north as Greenland and as far south as Madagascar. Then I moved to Germany for three years, saw much of Europe, learned a great deal about other cultures and languages and improved my German to a good standard.

    During the late 70s, I experienced a number of developing countries and counted my blessings at living in such luxury compared to many others.

    In the 1980s, I lived in Saudi Arabia for two years, a culture 180 degrees away from the British way of life. The restrictions were irksome, but taught me tolerance for different lifestyles and outlooks. When I returned to Saudi Arabia in 2009, living there for short spells, I found it far easier the second time round.

    My travels have enriched my writing and I have been able to weave my experiences into my work.

  4. My goodness, we are a well-travelled lot. We must have covered most of the world! Thank you for all your very interesting responses.

  5. I love this prompt, Patricia, and reading the replies. I give a resounding YES. Yes HUGE, as Debbie and John said. Sue, your experiences are fascinating. I would love to hear more from everyone and I think it’s a great, if not crucial, angle for us to use to all to get to know each other. I learned a lot about Nigel from beta reading his WIP.

    My first major overseas experience was Prague in the 1990s. That time I think probably formed all the pathways in my brain that I was to use later. I went on to make many career choices that sprang from my experience in Prague. These led to many more travels and personal connections that are central to how I see myself in the world. I drafted a novel recently about my years in Prague. (It’s a novel that needs a LOT of work.) As a side note – one of my friends from Prague days flew up to Boston from her current home in Washington DC to be at my wedding – 24 years after we moved home.

    SO much to say. But signing off for now.

  6. I feel as if I may have not lived abroad in the same way most of you have, but I do come from a family who seem to be pretty nomadic.
    My father is part Welsh, part Scottish, a little French. My mother’s mother was part Welsh and part Irish. I was born in London.
    On my mother’s side her father was German, his father sent his three sons out to colonise (?) the world: one to South Africa gold mining, one to Australia sheep-farming, and my grandfather to Asia in the telegraph service. So my mother spent a lot of time in Tehran, then Persia, as a child, followed by Odessa in her teens, in what was then Russia, as her father avoided the German army having become a naturalise Brit. during WW1, and coming back to England eventually via Scandinavia and Scotland, as his wife was British. Meanwhile the SA branch went coffee farming in South America, and the Australian branch spread out into New Zealand. A South African cousin ended up in London, and the merchant navy NZ cousin used to take letters around the world, where last year’s contribution was deleted and a new part added, as he went from country, and family, to country and family.
    My father took us to France and to the Netherlands, at a time when holiday travel was rare, and so a friend I made in the NL and I stayed with each other most years. I spent six weeks with her and two Dutch friends in NL at 16, and she came to Uni in the UK, I travelled extensively with my youth orchestra in my teens, but all within Europe, France, Germany, the NL, Denmark,Norway, Sweden. Mark and I moved to Wales when I was 30, where I taught until I was 70, learning Welsh, in which our younger son received all his education. When I was 70 we moved to Orkney, off the North coast of Scotland, with Viking influence and traditions.
    My younger son spent two years in Georgia, USA, and my older son, as an EFL teacher, lecturer and writer, moved to France, the Canary Isles, Hungary, Ecuador, Wales, England and finally to Cyprus with his Hungarian wife. His daughter lives in Canada, my niece in Australia married to a man from Sierra Leone. It’s hard to think of a country where I don’t have relatives, but they do exist.

  7. It’s just struck me, whilst reading my way through all the pensives on the site, that perhaps the most ‘broadening’ experience I have found is not in the travelling itself, but in the people. So, travelling with my youth orchestra we always stayed with musicians from orchestras or choirs where we were due to play, and they in turn taught us about their cultures.
    Coming home from an orchestra course when I was 15 and my older sister nearly 17, my parents on holdiay with my younger sister, we opened our front door and heard a distinctly male voice singing in the bathroom direction. I turned and noticed an enormous motorbike parked by our parents’ garage. My sister was frightened, so I left her holding my cello as well as her violin, and called next door. “Oh, yes, the young man arrived three days ago, He’s here for an archery contest and said he was a good friend of yours, so we let him in. He said his name is Pothoff.” Light dawned. The brother of a cellist my sister had stayed with in Amsterdam (I stayed with the clarinettist son of the Foreign Minister, whom I was introduced to on the living room TV on my arrival.)
    The Pothoffs have remained friends, as have a number of others we stayed with, and my older son in turn stayed with the Pothoffs as a young teen.
    Sitting at a meal for two hours, with conversations between courses, learning how other people live, that is how my mind became broadened. Now all peoples are my people, and so I am compelled to take Ukrainians into my home, and cry with them when Kharkiv is shelled.

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