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The Best Decision of My Life Involves Immigration, Romance and Adventure
Life always presents opportunities to try something new if you are looking for a bit of adventure. The key is to be open to go outside your comfort zone and then boldly say “yes – I’ll do this” and move forward.
After making several decades worth of decisions – both big and small – it’s worthwhile to look back on our choices and either cringe a bit or pat ourselves on the back. I challenge you to identify the single best decision of your life so far. Here is mine: my best decision was choosing to live in a foreign country.
Over the years I’ve found there are really only two main things I have a strong opinion about: (1) the motto, “When in doubt, work out” (it rhymes, which is key), and (2) the advice to live abroad in a different country and study and work there for at least a year.
The best decision of my life was to move to Hungary after law school (back in 1999) and teach undergraduates there for a year. After three years of studying very dry legal texts, I was hungry to do something different. When I learned about how a recent law school graduate had landed a job teaching business law at the Budapest College of Economics, I submitted my own application immediately. Thankfully my English was quite good, I was on track to graduate from a real law school, and I was happy to be paid a mere $250/month (plus free housing). This deal worked for everyone and I was accepted to be a guest lecturer for the 1999-2000 academic year.
When I first moved to Budapest, it was not an easy transition. I started to learn Hungarian but it was still overwhelming to try to live life in a place where you didn’t understand 95% of what people said to you. The culture was different, transportation was different, food was different and it was jarring to experience these differences all at once.
But after a few weeks of living outside my comfort zone on a daily basis, I discovered that what was I comfortable doing had actually changed dramatically. I was easily ordering food and asking questions in Hungarian. I could navigate the metro and tram system, and I was becoming a better lecturer to foreign students.
I also began to identify ways that Hungarians did things better than in America and vice-versa. Every country and culture has its strengths and weaknesses and it was exhilarating to experience how an entire people group has a deep appreciation for poetry, music and art. (Hungarians are world class poets and musicians – among other things). At the same time, a few American friends and I would enjoy making fun of some truly bad customer service and some post-Soviet inefficiencies that made us chuckle. But it was a deeply enriching experience to experience firsthand how another country lives life and start changing my own habits and perspective. In short, I was growing and my horizons were expanding.
However, even more exciting than my new cultural revelations was how I ended up meeting my wife. In December of 1999 (exactly 19 years ago) as I was leaving the Budapest College of Economics after teaching a class, I met a young Hungarian woman named Agi who was also walking towards the train. Thankfully I had been reading a “History of the Hungarian Empire” book in my spare time and I was able to impress this gem of a woman with my knowledge about Hungarian kings, the Turkish invasion of Budapest, and the hated Treaty of Trianon. Agi and I just celebrated 17 years of marriage and are in the midst of raising three dual citizen kids, ages 9, 7, and 5.
My own life has been forever transformed by my decision to take a less common path right after law school. Even for my friends who have lived abroad but didn’t meet the woman of their dreams, each and every one say that choosing to work or study in another country was one of the best things they’ve ever done.
I encourage you to think big. Consider how to fit not just an international vacation into your life, but how to actually live abroad. For non-Americans this can mean coming here to work or study. For all of us, it can mean choosing to find work outside our home country and outside our comfort zone. We will find it enriches our lives in unimaginably positive ways. It gives us a chance to grow in our careers and our personal lives in ways we will never forget.