“We doctors know a hopeless case if, listen; there’s a hell of a good universe next door: let’s go.” – e. e. cummings
I come from a small town. I grew up surrounded by trees, fresh air, deep snow and dirt roads, just like the Feist song.
It’s a beautiful little town. But I craved adventure. I craved a life of freedom and new experiences.
So I determined to travel. I didn’t want to just travel, either. I wanted to live somewhere new, long enough to really get a feel for a different culture. I figured that, since my single-parent family didn’t have a whole lot of money to spare, the best way to do that would be to work while travelling. I discovered that, through teaching, I could not only work while living abroad, but they’d even pay my airfare. Despite any nervousness I might have had, it was almost a no-brainer. I chose Japan, and off I went.
I hugged my little family goodbye, and tried not to cry as I watched them on the other side of the soundproof glass, tears streaming down their faces.
I was a bit sad, but the truth was, my eyes were on the horizon. I was ready to find out what the world had to offer.
Life has been a roller-coaster since then. I went back home, got married, and lost my mum – the person who had been the centre of my world for so long. The person who had taught me so much wisdom, and had instilled in me a fierce independence that, in the end, pulled me away from her.
Now, I find myself living in Australia, with the husband I met in Japan. That child I was, dreaming beneath the red canopy of autumn, could never have imagined where I would end up. I am certain there is more travel ahead for me. But I’ve learned a few things from the three countries I’ve lived in.
Firstly, everyone should spend some time in living in a foreign country if they have the opportunity. It is amazing. You’ll see incredible sites. You’ll see the sun rise over breathtaking mountain vistas, watch fish swim at the bottom of crystal clear rivers, or splash your feet in water so full of bioluminescence that just walking makes it light up like a scene from Avatar. You’ll watch dolphins weaving in and out of turquoise waves and touch your fingers to the shivery leaves of plants you’d never imagined existed.
Not only that, but you’ll learn so much about yourself. You’ll come to see many, many aspects of your life that you previously took for granted. You’ll gain a new appreciation for your own language. You’ll start to pick out your own strengths and weaknesses when you hold yourself up against a different set of standards. You’ll meet people who will push you, challenge you, and touch your heart.
But beware. Once you step over the threshold of home, it may be difficult to look back. Adventure is addictive. You start to crave it – the newness; the thrill of the unexpected and the joy of exploration.
There is a price.
Should you choose to live abroad, you will become a nomad. The more wonderful people and places you meet, the more wonderful people and places you’ll eventually miss. In the back of your mind, you’ll always be yearning for somewhere, someone, or some creature comfort you took for granted at the time. Unexpected everyday occurrences will bring flashbacks of other times and places that are now far from you.
You will make people cry. Just as so many people touched you and made your life richer, you did the same for them. They will miss you, too. They will write you letters wishing they had the pleasure of your company, and you’ll dream together of meeting again. Your wonderful memories will be tinged with guilt.
You will make sacrifices. When one door closes, another opens. When you move to another country, you close a lot of doors behind you, even as you expand into new territory.
You will feel simultaneously a part of many places, and no place. They say home is where the heart is – yours will be torn into many fragments and scattered across the globe.
We glamorize adventure. We plaster it all over our walls and our screens. We fill our lives with tales of exotic expeditions. We may consider some “less cultured” than others, if they have seen less of the world. But those who have chosen to stay in one place get to put down roots that run deep. They become part of their landscape in a way that we nomads perhaps never will.
Living abroad is a bittersweet adventure. All of this is part and parcel of the tapestry of human experience. It is joy, it is guilt, it is heartbreak and wonder, it is sorrow and it is beauty distilled, all woven into the threads of your life. I chose to travel because of this. I wanted to push the boundaries of what I knew. I wanted to dive deep into that tapestry and discover its subtle hues and shadows.
So spread your wings, my fellow world adventurers! Land like dandelion seeds wherever the wind takes you and take root, if you can. Just remember, before you go, to take a good long look around you and consider what you will leave behind.
Are you willing to pay the price?