“But explain to me, what is so different about living overseas? You seem to be doing the same things you’d be doing in Sydney, working, studying… So what makes being abroad so different?”
So here I am on the amazing Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, on the phone to a very dear friend of mine in Sydney. It’s been a year since I’ve been back home and when asked when I was returning, I explained my tentative plan for 2015.
After jet setting around the world, I will venture back to Sydney in January to enjoy summer and complete the last six months of my law degree, whilst cherishing every moment I get to spend with my friends and family (whom I haven’t seen for a year). Then I plan to hop on a plane headed back for Paris (just in time for European summer). The next six months will be spent presumably living in Paris and travelling, whilst completing my practical legal training, which is necessary for me to be admitted as a lawyer, via distance education online.
I waited to hear her response, not quite sure what she’ll say. Loved ones you haven’t seen for a year don’t usually take well to hearing that you’ve already planned your exit before you’ve even arrived. Her sweet and genuinely interested little voice replied, “But explain to me, what is so different about living overseas? You seem to be doing the same things you’d be doing in Sydney, working, studying… So what makes being abroad so different?”
I think it’s a hard concept to understand if you haven’t lived abroad before. Sure people love the idea of travelling, but when prompted about moving to another country and leaving a perfectly good life behind just for the sake of it, most people aren’t so sure.
So if there’s nothing wrong with your life why move away? Why bother leaving?
The first thing I replied to my friend is yes, I am working just as I would back in Sydney (for less money mind you), but what I don’t get in Sydney is the thrill and excitement of adventure on a daily basis. On my way to work I get the privilege of riding my bike past places such as the Louvre’s Jardin des Tuileries, where kings and queens used to take their afternoon walks, I get to ride under the Tour Eiffel, the most famous tourist attraction in the world, I get to walk down roads that are almost 1000 years old. I am constantly mesmerised by the beauty around me. So much so that I am pleasantly surprised every time I arrive to my destination, as my level of distraction could very easily have resulted in me getting hit by a bus. Besides the danger, another down side of bike-riding down ancient streets made of stones is that you feel like you’re getting hit by a bat in all the wrong places, if you know what I mean.
What’s more, Paris is only my experience. Others get the privilege of living in the hustle and bustle of New York, going for lunchtime swims in Rio de Janeiro, or experience living in -20° in Montreal. The different experiences offered by this world are endless. Why give up these opportunities to do the same old thing?
So yes, you’re still doing the ordinary things of life, but you get to do them in a breathtakingly beautiful new place, with undiscovered territory surrounding you, and exciting experiences waiting to happen. Life is never mundane when living abroad.
The second thing I mentioned to back my case was the people. By not having the friends you’ve grown up with and your family to lean on, you’re forced to meet new people, people you wouldn’t usually be friends with or even encounter back home. This forces you to grow and change without you even realising it. You’re forced out of your comfort zone and into relationships with unique people, where you’re exposed to different perspectives and world views. After my exchange in Milan I can surprisingly say I have really close friends from Portugal, Iceland, Mexico, France, Germany, America… Everyone is different and you can only grow and expand your mind by being exposed to people outside your usual circle and culture.
I had a friend from Sydney who went on exchange in Milan the semester before me. Before I left we shared a drink on a hot summers day in Sydney at Watsons Bay Hotel. He told me tales of the interesting people I will meet from all around the world and his plan to move to New York the next month to pursue his finance career, which he said was only made possible by the friends and connections he made abroad. You don’t know what exciting opportunities are waiting for you out there and you’ll never know until you go.
I recently had a discussion with a Polish friend who is a freelance fashion photographer in Paris about moving abroad. She said that back home in Warsaw she felt as though she had to be the same person everyone knew her to be. Requiring her to maintain the same style of clothes and not wear what she actually wanted to wear. By moving away you’re given the unique opportunity to be whoever you want to be. Now I don’t mean changing your identity and becoming a stripper, but you have the freedom to change, be a bit different and evolve into the person which reflects the inner you.
By moving away you’re given a fresh perspective on life. You learn to appreciate things that you never did back home. Sometimes it’s as little as good coffee, and other times it’s a bit more, like family or friends. By going away you’re given an opportunity to miss, and you cant miss what you’re always around. You may even come to realize that the life of a nomad isn’t for you, and the city that you want to call home is the one that you left and that’s fine. At least you can go back with a new outlook on life, memories that you’ll never forget and friends that will be around forever.
What about the hard times? Thank god for the hard times I say. Because that’s when you’re pushed to grow, to rise above the troubles and achieve what you’re striving for. Yes there may be saturday nights where you have absolutely no one to hang out with. You may spend your birthday in bed drinking wine and eating chocolate whilst watching Pride and Prejudice. You may have to work three jobs just to pay your rent, eat and afford things like French lessons (my biggest expense). There may be times when you’re not quite sure if you card will go through! This never happened to me before moving abroad and is not an experience I enjoy! But the bottom line is all of the difficult parts of leaving your home city moulds you into a far more independent person then you would ever have envisioned yourself to be. A close friend of mine went from never being able to do anything or go anywhere by herself, to being perfectly capable of travelling completely alone and actually liking her own company.
So what now? What happens when your experience abroad comes to its closing scene? Well I can tell you how I’m feeling right now. Here I am in a dream like reality in a tropical island in the Caribbean, drinking Pina Coladas and swimming with fishies in water so clear you can see the sea floor in detail. I’m wondering how I am possibly going to be able to go back to Sydney in one month, after a full year abroad, travelling all around the world, living in both Milan and Paris, making so many new friends, how is it possible to go back to the reality of the life I lived for twenty-one years after experiencing this year abroad? Your whole world changes in the most amazing and fulfilling way, and then you’re supposed to jump straight back into the life you used to live and be the person you used to be? Not possible. The thought is incomprehensible to me. Just as I could not imagine myself living overseas a year ago, now I cannot picture myself back in my family home, catching the same train line to university, working the same mundane jobs, speaking just English again… no excitement, no thrill, just the same old life. I may be returning to the old but one thing I know for sure is that I will never again be able to be content with the life I once lived.