5 Little Things I Learned Living Abroad — and How I’ll Continue to Use These Lessons Back Home

published Jan 4, 2022
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As a diplomatic family, we’ve lived overseas a lot — my husband’s job as a Foreign Service Officer has sent us to China, France, and Vietnam, among other destinations. Along with incredible memories, living abroad has taught our family of three many important practical lessons, from home design to family meals. Now that we’re living in the States again (for a few years, at least!), here are some of the practices I’ll continue.

Create a shoe cupboard

In many parts of the world, people automatically remove their shoes at the front door — but this often leads to an unsightly heap of footwear. While living in Asia, I discovered the shoe cupboard, a small cabinet or dresser used only for shoe storage. Located in the entry hall, it’s an attractive and practical solution to clutter. 

Credit: Maria Midoes

Cut up fruit for every meal

In Vietnam I learned that preparing a plate of fruit is an act of love. Meals in friends’ homes almost always featured a small fruit plate — and no matter how hungry we were, we always found ourselves eating every single slice. That’s the thing about fruit: Even if you don’t feel like eating it, you will if it’s right in front of you (a bonus for kids who may be “grazers”). Now that we’re back in the States, we cut up apples, pears, bananas, strawberries, etc., for family meals. Nothing’s ever left. The American Heart Association recommends eating four to five servings of fruit a day, and this is an easy way to start consuming more.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Toast your baguette sandwich for two to three minutes

Here’s a hot tip I learned from the bánh mì sandwiches of Vietnam: If you warm your baguette sandwich for a few minutes in the oven, it crisps the bread and lightly warms the filling, and everything tastes so much better! Even if you’re just making a simple ham-and-cheese sandwich, a little heat will elevate the flavors more than you’d expect.

One thing in, one thing out

This is more of a moving tip, because we are constantly packing and unpacking our worldly belongings, but trust me. When you buy something new (a chair, a dress, a set of dishes), get rid of something else. I’ve learned this the hard way. And if you can get your kids on board from an early age? That just means fewer moments of scrambling to purge before holiday and birthday gifting.

Credit: Erin Little

Make local travel a priority  

As an expat family, we live in three-year increments, our time limited before we move on to the next place. You know that city with the cool dining scene that’s a couple of hours away? The national park in the next state? The art museum in the next town (reserved for when guests come to visit)? Don’t wait for the perfect occasion — go now! Otherwise, before you know it, three years have gone by and you’ve lost the opportunity. In our family, the best birthday gift is a little trip somewhere. And while I’m at it, when you’re on these getaways, make sure to take at least one picture of you, and not just your kids, spouse, or scenery. After all, this is the stuff of memories.