Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home. Today’s interview with Berta Torras, who’s sharing what she’s learned through her time outside of her home country, is sure to provide you with some inspiration to live abroad.
Berta, who is originally from Barcelona, blurred the idea of “home” when she first started traveling when she was 18. However, she has always considered Catalonia her emotional base. She spent three summers in Ireland, an experience that awoke her passion for discovering other countries and which led her to find studying opportunities abroad. With that aim she managed to spend one more summer in Toronto and another one in New York. She did a Masters in the UK and afterwards moved to Indonesia to work as a teacher in Java. After that, she went back to the UK to finish her PhD in Education. Now back in her home country, she currently works as a teacher trainer in different higher education institutions, in addition to starting her own educational project. Her passions include travel, reading, hiking, practicing yoga and writing and sharing what she has learned (and what she continues learning) with her local community. She’s also the creator of the website and blog L’ Escola del Mon.
When was the first time you left your home country? What was your life like before that?
The first time I went abroad by myself, and for a relatively long period of time, was when I was 18. I decided I wanted to spend nearly 3 months in Ireland to work as an au pair. It was a perfect chance to go abroad and work on my English. To be honest, when I was considering this opportunity I felt both excitement and vertigo. I was a rather family-oriented girl and I had never traveled alone! Let alone 3 whole months in a country where they spoke a different language, and where I would live with a family with whom I had to get on really well! But there was something inside of me that was telling me that it was the best decision I could make at that time. Even though I was a rather reserved girl I had known I wanted to go see the world and take chances long before that. I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown and experience adventures! I recall feeling down… everyone my age was studying at university. I had also started a degree in Politics, but I quit the course 4 months after, as I really didn’t like my choice of degree. I thought the world was over! Can you imagine? I was doing things a bit differently, and I thought that was totally wrong… I didn’t fit in. Ireland helped me to understand that the world is huge and that decisions are always infinite, just like perspectives and paths.
What was your own inspiration to live abroad or travel?
At 18, I envisioned life options, paths and opportunities that I had considered impossible until then. Actually, I couldn’t even imagine all those options… How incredible the role of imagination is in our decision-making! Visualizing possibilities is what leads you to take action! And that is exactly what happened to me in Ireland. After spending 3 more summers in this wonderful country, sharing life and experiences with my beloved Irish family and the friends that I made, summers in Canada and New York followed.
Although I love the tiny country where I come from, its culture and traditions, I have always been very aware that it is just a tiny piece of this magical puzzle we call the world. After having visualized the big picture, I’ve never wanted to lose touch with this image in my mind. Never. As I was forming my professional identity in the education field, I felt eager to keep enriching myself on a personal level around the world. After New York, I moved to UK for a year and a half, where I completed a masters. After that, I moved to Indonesia to work as a teacher.
What inspires you to leave your comfort zone?
What has always inspired me to leave my comfort zone is the desire to learn and an endless curiosity. Once you know there is something you feel passionate about, once you know what it can offer you… once you know it’s there… It’s like an addiction! You need to keep nourishing yourself with what it gives you to keep growing as a person. I can’t imagine life without these changes of setting and these vital learning opportunities afforded by long-term travel opportunities and experiences abroad in general.
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of your home country?
There are always quite a few things you need to learn to manage. And it becomes simpler as you mature. If I had to mention the most difficult one, I’d definitely say the adaptation. Transitory periods between one reality and another. To me this was what I found the most difficult. Also, living immersed in your own culture gives you common ground. There are so many things, situations and realities that people take for granted. Ways of thinking, of understanding life… Ways of living! And this has both a positive and a negative side. The good side is precisely what makes it hard to move abroad. For instance, at a linguistic level, I am an extreme perfectionist. I love expressing myself by using the most appropriate words, talking about feelings, having deep conversations… And it has always been difficult for me to show that part of me whenever I was abroad. It frustrates me to think that I am not being 100% myself when I do not speak my mother tongue. Actually, I’ve had countless conversations on this one topic with my international friends! They keep telling me that my true self does actually get through and that they totally feel I’m me all the time, but I guess there’s always that “something!”. Packing is always chaotic, too. Not only because of the logistics, but because packing equals putting pieces of your life, or a period of your life, into a suitcase. It involves learning to let go.
How do you overcome these difficulties?
Lately, however, I experience those transitional periods I was mentioning before in a very different way. I look at changes as constant enrichments, as if life was a wheel that never stops rotating. I love feeling grateful for what I’ve already experienced and accomplished, just as much as I love dreaming of what’s awaiting me in the future. But I definitely admit that sometimes your mind can play real tricks on you: Have you made the right decision? Should you have chosen a different path? The adaptation processes happened to be a bit painful at times, and you just need to learn to calm yourself down and tell yourself that it all counts. Decisions are never irreversible or irrevocable. I believe our generation had to learn that change is the only constant. Especially those people who have studied or lived immersed in various cultural and linguistic environments.
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
Everything becomes simpler. A lot simpler! You become a much more well-rounded person. You realize that the ability to adapt is infinite if you respect, value, listen and observe. You discover that there are way more things that unite us than things that set us apart. And that is priceless … You become a more human person precisely because you learn to connect with the core of human existence. This is what definitely happened to me in Indonesia. Boy, that was a massive culture shock! But right there, in that place where I felt so out of place, I also made friends for a lifetime, and I ended up realizing that in the end we all pursue the same things in life: to be happy, to love and to be loved. As simple as that. I expanded my horizons in so many ways, I overcame a huge culture shock and I’m no longer afraid of it, as I’m more aware of what I might encounter.
Living abroad and traveling helps you learn to see things with new eyes… You learn, unlearn, compare, reorder … You also know people from all over the world with very similar scale of values . In fact, the majority of my closest friendships have been forged during some of my experiences abroad. When you take risks and go to the other side of the world all by yourself, you create very strong ties with people who are going through exactly the same. And the adventures you share are definitely memories for a lifetime! You live life to its fullest! Nothing is taken for granted. And that captivates me beyond words. It has often been difficult for me to re-establish myself at home, because I found it hard to find people with similar personal stories. This is a struggle that I believe will last forever! Taking risks always has a negative side… You’re not 100% comfortable anywhere because you always miss something or someone. But I love seeing the word too much! And I am willing to continue doing so. What I gain is priceless ☺
What experience have you had abroad that you want everyone to know about?
Living in England was the most transformative experience of my life. I worked a lot, but it was also one of the happiest years of my life. I created friendships that will last a lifetime, I travelled a lot around the UK, I had incredible conversations and I grew a lot on a personal level. When you study abroad, you gain such enriching perspectives and professional ideas. Before England, I thought there was a single path for everything: what everyone was doing. While studying there, I talked to people who did incredible things in Africa, future entrepreneurs who wanted to make their dreams come true, people who told me about the natural wonders of their countries of origin … All those conversations and exchanges of ideas are engraved in my heart forever and will always be a source of inspiration.
What has living outside of your home country taught you about life, romantic relationships, family and/or professional ambitions?
Living abroad and traveling taught me to love life. You realize that the world is huge and that we, human beings, are just some of its tiny pieces. We only get one life and we have to make the most of it! Everything takes a different scale. Friendships, family, love … When distance comes into play, things are either real or nonexistent. Either you value them or you don’t. Everything becomes more obvious and clearer than ever. Realizing this helped me a great deal to be grateful for every single thing or person I have in my life. You also realize that distance may be huge, but, at the same time, it is nothing. Those who love you are always there to support your decisions and that is an incalculable treasure. I’ve never felt lonely traveling or living far from home. And I have my people at home and friends all over to feel thankful for.
Also, getting out of my comfort zone taught me to be intense in every small step that I take in life. We can choose to live with intensity and with passion whenever we want and wherever we want. What a valuable lesson!
What are 3 things on your bucket list?
I used to have endless bucket lists, but I’ve somehow managed to go with the flow a bit. If you plan too much and overthink, nothing happens. I was taken aback by how much life can surprise you when you least expect it. I even learned that sometimes last minute decisions are the best! But I have to name a few goals I have at the moment, I would definitely like to follow the steps of some of the friends I have around the world. On a professional level, some of them have taught me that work can be adaptable to our life priorities. And I’m currently working hard to achieve this goal. This would be one of my main objectives at the moment: to work on what I truly love and, at the same time, to blur the barrier between what society describes as “personal” and “professional”.
Regarding travel destinations … wow! There are so many places I want to experience! Whenever friends tell me about a place they have just visited, I would answer … “I would love to go there!” Now I basically say “I WILL go” ☺ I’m really looking forward to going to Africa. I’ve only been to Morocco, and I would love to see other countries on this continent. I also want to go to Japan (I’m saving it for when one of my best friends can show me around!). Oh! and I’ll always be ready to return to Canada (I’m in love with this country!).
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
I strongly believe that big decisions like traveling alone, traveling long-term, relocating or moving back home (whether it is for good or for a certain amount of time) are always extremely difficult to make. Especially if you leave behind things that define you or that you’re passionate about (family, friendships, relationships, personal projects …). But these are the same decisions that, once they have been made, make you feel so proud of yourself and give you a sense of achievement that could not be paid with all the money in this world! Huge life changes help you to evolve and grow. They help you to become a person who is constantly changing and learning. And there is nothing more amazing than feeling you are learning and becoming a better and more complete human being. Choosing always involves giving up on something. Having said that, I think it is all about perspectives: you can either choose to think you are losing things, or you can feel you accumulate, you add up to your life, you make it more complete, interesting and enriching. So yes, try and channel all messy feelings in an encouraging way. I always say that if you manage to stand on your own two feet when the ground is shaking, it, you’ve earned the world!
What has it been like to return home after being abroad and what advice would you give other people who are returning to their home country?
I would advise them to feel proud of what they’ve achieved. I’d suggest to them to compare who they are right now to the person they used to be when they first left their home country. Looking back has always helped me to understand that life is an ongoing process and that it never ceases to amaze you!
I would also advise them not to feel that they are taking a step backwards for whatever reasons. We’re always moving forward! We are never the person we were yesterday. Being home again has motivated me to create “L’escola del món” project. I want to share what traveling and living abroad has taught me. I want to spread ideas and I want to help my local community. Without a doubt, this project has helped me to unite my two worlds (the local and the international one), as I’ve turned them into one. What a personal success that is for me!
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
I love this quote by Cesare Pavese:
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
It beautifully describes everything which hides behind the idea of traveling. My idea of traveling totally fits into this description, in that to me traveling means daring, breaking chains that restrict us (whether we talk about jobs we hate, relationships, routines, boredom…). As you get used to this feeling of “off balance” you become such a strong person!
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
I would advise myself to “take it easy and breathe”. Decisions are never permanent. They are small steps of a path that never ends. I used to find life changes so difficult when I was younger. Now I seize them, I chase them and I thank them. Letting go of things is the most beautiful thing we can do. Detachment makes you free. To put it short, I guess it all comes down to not taking life too seriously.
What do you hope people say about you on your 70th birthday?
I hope I can be a healthy and happy 70-year-old woman. I hope people think that I was kind and understanding and that I respected others as well as myself. Also, that I stayed true to what I believe in and to my set of values. There’s always purpose in trying to live your own life, being kind, and pursuing happiness. There is nothing as respectable as that.
Thanks so much Berta for sharing your story with us. I’m sure many readers will benefit from the wisdom you’ve shared and hopefully have found some inspiration to live abroad themselves. If you want to connect with Berta you can find her on her website “L’escola del món” where she provides information, geared towards the parents in her community, about multilingualism and offers music workshops in English. You can also find her on Instagram, where she shares inspiring thoughts, quotes and ideas, together with her travel photos.
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: