As we brace ourselves to move abroad for the third time in a few years, I look back and I know that squeezing our lives into a suitcase and leaving our native Barcelona was the best decision that we could have possibly made. Because when you move away, when you turn your life into a journey filled with uncertainty, you grow up in unexpected ways.
You face new challenges, you get to know parts of you you didn’t know existed, you’re amazed at yourself and at the world. You learn, you broaden your horizons, you unlearn, and after coming down and embracing a few lessons, you start growing in humility. You evolve. You feel homesick, and you shape memories that will stay with you forever. If you’ve ever lived away from home or embarked on a long journey, I’m sure you too have felt these 11 things that change forever when you live abroad.**
1. Adrenaline becomes part of your life
From the moment you decide to move abroad, your life turns into a powerful mix of emotions – learning, improvising, dealing with the unexpected. All your senses sharpen up, and for a while the word “routine” is dismissed from your vocabulary to make space for an ever rising adrenaline thrill ride. New places, new habits, new challenges, new people. Starting a new life should terrify you, but it’s unusually addictive.
2. When you go back, everything looks the same
That’s why, when you get a few days off and fly back home, it strikes you how little everything has changed. Your life’s been changing at a non-stop pace, and you’re on holidays and ready to share all those anecdotes you’ve been piling up. But, at home, life is the same as ever. Everyone keeps struggling with their daily chores, and it suddenly strikes you: life won’t stop for you.
3. You lack the (and yet you have too many) words
When someone asks you about your new life, you lack the right words to convey all you’re experiencing. Yet later, in the middle of a random conversation, something reminds you of ‘that time when’…, and you have to hold your tongue because you don’t want to overwhelm everyone with stories from your ‘other country’ and come across as pretentious.
4. You come to understand that courage is overrated
Lots of people will tell you how brave you are – they too would move abroad if they weren’t so scared. And you, even though you’ve been scared, too, know that courage makes up about 10% of life-changing decisions. The other 90% is purely about wanting it with all your heart. Do you want to do it, do you really feel like doing it? Then do it. From the moment we decide to jump, we’re no longer cowards nor courageous – whatever comes our way, we deal with it.
5. And, suddenly, you’re free
You’ve always been free, but freedom feels different now. Now that you’ve given up every comfort and made it work thousands of miles away from home, you feel like you’re capable of anything!
6. You learn to say goodbye and to enjoy yourself
You soon realize that now, most things and people in your life are just passing through, and you instinctively play down the importance of most situations. You perfect the right balance between bonding and letting go – a perpetual battle between nostalgia and pragmatism.
7. Normal? What’s normal?
Living abroad, like traveling, makes you realize that ‘normal’ only means socially or culturally accepted. When you plunge into a different culture and a different society, your notion of normality soon falls apart. You learn there are other ways of doing things, and after a while, you too adopt that habit you never thought you’d embrace. You also get to know yourself a little better, because you discover some things you really believe in while others are just a cultural heritage of the society you grew up in.
8. Nostalgia strikes when you least expect it
A food, a song, a smell. The smallest trifle can overwhelm you with homesickness. You miss those little things you never thought you’d miss, and you’d give anything to go back to that place, even if it were just for an instant. Or to share that feeling with someone who would understand your same feelings.
9. You know it’s not where, but when and how
Although deep down, you know you don’t miss a place, but a strange and magical conjunction of the right place, the right moment, and the right people. That year when you traveled, when you shared your life with special ones, when you were so happy. There’s a tiny bit of who you were scattered among all the places you’ve lived in, but sometimes going back to that place is not enough to stop missing it.
10. You change
I’m sure you’ve heard about life-changing trips. Well, they’re not a commonplace – living abroad is a trip that will profoundly change your life and who you are. It will shake up your roots, your certainties, and your fears. Maybe you won’t realize it, or even believe it before you do it. But after some time, one day you’ll see it crystal clear. You have evolved, you’ve got scars, you have lived. You have changed.
11. And… there’s no turning back
Now you know what it means to give up comfort, what starting from scratch and marveling at the world every day feels like. And it being such a huge, endless world… How could you choose not to keep traveling and discovering it?
**This article was originally published on Mas Edimburgo, a blog about the expat life of Angie Castells. We felt compelled by this story and we wanted to share it as well. Head over to her blog to read the entire article.
Hayo magazine, (2016). 11 Things That Change Forever When You Live Abroad. Vise the site on 19 October 2015, http://hayo.co/11-things-change-forever-live-abroad/