I was born in Colorado in 1977 and lived there until I was 21. I went to a private Christian school from age 5-18 and then studied Computer Science at Colorado State University.
I graduated at the height of the .com Bubble in 2000 and could’ve gotten a job at any tech company in the USA. I was offered ridiculous salaries with signing bonuses of luxury cars. Pretty tempting.
Something about it all seemed very predictable though. Go to College, get the job, go to work. I had lived in Colorado my entire life and even though I had tried very hard to be open minded, I knew my world view was somehow limited. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I didn’t have a girlfriend or any major ties to Colorado so I decided to do something crazy and move to another country. I felt it would be too overwhelming to go to a new country by myself and also deal with a foreign language, so I narrowed it down to the UK, Australia or New Zealand. I saw the film Notting Hill, liked it, and picked London (not joking).
I used the BUNAC visa and had a recruiter land me a job as a web developer for a firm in Cambridge UK. I bought my ticket, said goodbye to my family (my Mom cried a lot) and hopped on the plane.
I knew exactly two people in the entire UK. I was completely taken out of my comfort zone and I was forced to question everything I believed. I was also forced to make an entirely new set of friends and contacts. It was the hardest and most lonely thing I’ve ever done.
I’m naturally shy so it was hard to make friends - especially as a foreigner. You may think the US and the UK are similar, but you’d be very wrong. They’re completely different culturally.
I’ve now lived outside of the USA for 12 years (35% of my life) and it’s had a profound impact on me. Here are the big areas:
- I don’t view the USA as the center of the world. It’s natural to view your way of life as the only way of life. I was no different until I moved to another country. Side note: if your web app requires people to choose a ‘State’ for their address, then you’re in trouble.
- I stopped calling myself a Christian. When I lived in Colorado I surrounded myself with like-minded people, which is natural. The trouble with this is that it’s very hard to truly question your beliefs if everyone around you shares them. When I moved to the UK, most people I met didn’t believe in God or Christianity. The UK is largely a non-Christian country. All of the sudden my beliefs where seen to be strange and outdated to most people and I really had to defend them. After several years, my belief in Christianity crumbled under the constant scrutiny. This isn’t meant to be a damning statement towards Christianity or any other faith. I simply couldn’t answer the doubts I had.
- I occasionally felt embarrassed of America. This came as a shock because I was an All-American guy: Homecoming King, Varsity basketball player, Student Body President and an Eagle Scout. I somehow believed that everyone in the World loved Americans and our way of life. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A ton of people I met from around the World thought Americans were overweight, materialistic and unintelligent. This was, of course, an unfair generalization. However, it was a reality check for me in regards to how I was perceived as an American.
- I believe America’s time as #1 super-power will come to an end within my lifetime. Unless something major changes, the American focus on consumption will eventually erode our influence around the globe. I believe innovative companies and people have a chance to reverse this though, and I’m rooting for folks like Mr Money Mustache, Tesla and Beyond Meat.
Living outside of America has fundamentally changed who I am. I feel I am much more well rounded and open-minded than I was before. However, I also feel I’m more jaded and cynical. On balance though, I’m very glad I’ve had a chance to completely remove myself from my comfort zone and challenge everything I believe in.
Until you do this, you can’t be sure what you believe is true or simply convenient.
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