This piece for Enchanted Serendipity’s Expat series was written by Sarah.
I decided to move abroad after spending a few years trying to convince myself to not want to leave.
Clearly, my convincing did not work very well. I was comfortable at home, too comfortable, and a little thing called wanderlust was always knocking at the back door; a ceaseless reminder that I felt unhappy, bored and stuck.
Coming to terms with my desire to travel set me free.
I will never forget the lightness and exhilaration I felt. Because for those of us who have wanderlust, we know it is like an addiction. These cravings cannot be ignored and as soon as we get a fix we’re looking for another.
One great experience or vacation won’t suffice.
I had friends who studied abroad in college and came home saying, “Ok, well that was fun, I had my cool living-out-out-of-the-country experience, I’m done now.”
After living in Italy for 4 months, I came home thinking, “Oh man, this is only the beginning.”
Unfortunately, I lost my groove for a little while. My investment in the wrong relationship and fear of leaving my comfort zone again made me deny this impulse for a few years.
Heading To Thailand: The Change That Was Needed
By this time last year, I decided to move to Thailand to teach English and to be abroad for a year. I wanted to meet like-minded people and allow myself time to get used to being in Southeast Asia.
I chose Thailand over South Korea and China because I heard the Thai people are amazing and the country has a laid-back vibe. And also no cold winters (as a born and raised New Yorker, this was a serious draw!)
My newfound freedom and excitement for what was to come was intermingled with utter fear and self-doubt. I wasn’t so much worried that this whole life change was a mistake. I knew that even if I hated teaching, disliked Thailand or loathed living out of a backpack and came home with my tail between my legs – the risk would have still been worth it.
At least I had the balls to try instead of wonder for the rest of my life, right?
No, my fear and self-doubt had everything to do with lack of confidence in my own abilities. Despite all the traveling I was lucky enough to do during my 24 years of life, I was paralyzed by the fear that I wouldn’t be good enough or strong enough for this experience and it scared the hell out of me.
Could I handle living in Asia, backpacking solo and teaching? Would I be able to get another job after this year abroad? What would I even do? Go back to working in my prior field or do something totally new? What if I CAN’T handle it?
What Being An Expat Teaches You About Yourself
Well, after four months of living in Thailand, I can tell you with great confidence, that my insecurities were just that. I don’t know if I have ever felt happier. For so many reasons. Living and working abroad is my dream come true. I’m actually doing it – I’m no longer just thinking or talking about it.
I do not want to give the wrong idea – it has not been all sunshine and rainbows. However, along the way, I have learned a few things:
I am capable. I always knew I was, but I had to leave home in order to test my strengths. It wasn’t enough to suspect I had this in me, I needed to prove it to myself.
I am adaptable. It is amazing how fast I can get used to a new place, new surroundings and new people – it only takes me a day or two. That initial shock to the system of something unfamiliar and scary can be gut-wrenchingly difficult. But after one really tough transition day, the days get progressively easier and I adjust. You get used to things quickly.
Living abroad can be HARD. Do not let my rose-colored glasses fool you. I’m still adjusting to living in a very different culture. Sometimes the language barrier or ordering food can be a daily struggle – one we do not talk about enough when encouraging people to do what I did – it is not as easy as simply quitting your job and moving to another part of the world. It takes time to adjust to the new place. Culture shock affected me more than I anticipated.
I miss my family more than I thought I would. This sadness is compounded by the fact that both of my siblings had babies within the last few months. I don’t even mind missing friends’ birthday dinners or apartment warming parties or impromptu happy hours. I miss the relaxed weekends, that if I were home, I could be spending with my nephews enjoying family time.
Leaving has made me want to be home in a way I never have before.
Accepting that “this too shall pass” has saved my sanity, a lot. Being here has been an emotional rollercoaster. I have felt stunning euphoria and crushing depression within the same hour. However, I acknowledge that difficult times are to be expected. I still have to remind myself when bouts of negativity hit. I remember that the discomfort and frustrations will pass. It is simply part of the experience. Off days are normal. Frustrations are normal. Everything I am feeling is OK.
One of my greatest joys is meeting like-minded travelers and expats. There is something about (most of) us that just clicks; a connection unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere in my life. It is more than just having the travel bug in common –it’s sharing the pursuit of an interesting and full life.
Even when I am loving life here, it can be difficult to stay in the moment. I think for those of us with chronic wanderlust, we’re always looking ahead for the next adventure. It can be a problem. I will likely never be fully satisfied when it comes to travelling or living abroad. My wanderlust will never go away.
What Comes Next
My greatest takeaway from this experience is confidence. I have proven to myself that I am capable. Being an expat provides so many wonderful experiences and part of me never wants it to end.
But, it has also given me the great gift of appreciation for what I left behind.
Right now, my plan is to spend a few months backpacking in Southeast Asia after my teaching contract ends. When I’m ready to take a breather I will check out Australia for a while; maybe even apply for the work holiday visa.
This journey may well lead me to another corner of the world or right back to my front doorstep. I have no idea what my life will look like by this time next year and I’m trying to be OK with that.
Regardless of my next steps or the steps after that; I am seriously proud of myself for taking that first leap.
If you liked reading this story, be sure to read Connie’s expat piece about living in Ecuador for 4 years!