Having visited more than 45 countries and lived in 7, Anna Karsten truly has been almost everywhere! Though her passion for travel and experiencing new cultures goes further than that of your average backpacker, traveler or tourist. While many would travel and spend two days to a week in each new destination, Anna looks for excuses to settle in, and actually lives there!
To date she has found herself living abroad across 4 different continents, in cities which include Mexico City, Boston, London, Cape Town, Florence and Leiden.
By now she is truly an expert expat, and gives us the following advice on living abroad!
What do you love the most about travelling?
I can never get bored when I travel because there is always going to be something new and unusual about the place I’m visiting. Traveling has also made me more self-reliant and stubborn.
What inspired you to start travelling?
I’ve always wanted to live abroad. I was passionate about learning new languages, getting to know different cultures and tasting exotic food.
I also wanted to study abroad at the world’s leading universities, and in order to do so I had to leave my home country and work hard.
What do you love the most about living abroad?
Meeting people from different countries with different backgrounds. It’s always incredible to hear the life stories of interesting people from around the world.
Also, as I mentioned before, I can never get bored – I’m constantly trying to learn about everything around me. I guess it takes years to get to know a place though.
How long do you have to stay in a place for it to be considered living there?
That’s a pretty good question, especially in my case. I think once you stop feeling like a tourist and you consider the place quite familiar then you can start thinking of yourself as an expat.
What circumstances have seen you travel to live abroad?
Mostly studying and placement opportunities in the beginning. While I was very determined to work on my career, I also enjoyed traveling, so I told myself why not.
Once I also moved for my ex-boyfriend. However even though things between us didn’t work out, living in Mexico was an incredible experience.
Favourite country you’ve lived in?
South Africa. I could definitely live there forever because of the good weather, nice beaches, wildlife, awesome food and friendly people.
Does actually living in a country mean you see and experience more of it than the average tourist/traveller?
Definitely! I love interacting with the locals and getting to know spots that tourists never go to. Also, by living in a particular location you learn about its various cultural aspects.
For instance if you’re just passing through Mexico City as a tourist, it might seem dangerous and full of unfriendly people. However, if you’re a Spanish speaking expat, you would realize that the city isn’t any more dangerous than an average American city and people are incredibly friendly and helpful.
How do you afford to continually move? Are you rich?
I wish I was rich haha! At the moment I’m working at a marketing company called Flipit as a content manager, and also as a freelance translator in my spare time.
By working full-time, I cannot plan my trips immediately. However, it gives me the possibility of enjoying my adventures to the fullest because I can afford everything I want to do. When I was younger I used to find scholarship opportunities and get simple quick jobs I could find like bartending.
One thing which you don’t like about travelling?
When I traveled and changed where I lived all the time I couldn’t own very much. I lived out of only one suitcase for a while but it eventually became quite annoying, especially when changing from summer to winter.
Biggest cultural shock you have experienced while living abroad?
When I got to Mendoza in Argentina I was shocked at how unhelpful the people could be. I always had the impression that Argentinians were quite warm and welcoming people but my experience was much different. I mean don’t get me wrong, I have some Argentinian friends, but in Mendoza it was hard to make any kind of friends at all.
People were always looking at the time when talking to me and saying ‘you know, but you might leave soon…’ like any interaction with me wouldn’t matter unless I was staying there forever.
Funniest or most embarrassing travel moment?
When I moved to Mexico, I was still learning Spanish and my friends taught me some Spanish slang. Later, while I was talking to their parents and using the words they taught me, my friends were laughing at me while their parents were shocked and wondering why I was speaking in street Spanish.
Three things you can’t relocate without?
A smartphone, camera and I guess my passport.
Which destinations are at the top of your bucket list?
Antarctica (hopefully in a few years), Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea and Rwanda. I guess I want to discover less touristy destinations.
Most practical piece of advice for those planning to live abroad?
Research the place you want to live in. By research I mean really check everything that you might enjoy (or not) and need in a particular country. For example, health care in the Netherlands is much more expensive than in England.
Why should people live abroad?
Living abroad gives you a different perspective because you’re directly exposed to various people and cultures. In some countries you can also improve language skills that might help you in your future career or simply bonding with new friends.
You’ll also become more stubborn and persistent because you can only rely on yourself. This might seem scary in the beginning, but in the end it’s a perfect way to become more assertive and self-reliant.