It has almost been a year since I first left Canada and immigrated to the USA. Over the last year I have settled into the Pacific Northwest and my new life 3000 miles from where I once considered home. I have learned a lot, not only about myself, but those around me and in my life and the true definition of ‘home’.
Now, a year after first becoming an official expat, I can confidently share with you 9 Lessons that I learned over the past year.
1. There is no such thing as routine. From the moment you decide to move to a new place, you subject yourself to a kaleidoscope of emotions. No matter the preparation or how often you have frequented the location, nothing will compare to living and being in a new place day in, and day out. For the first few months you will be constantly learning, improvising and navigating the unexpected.
Old routines will give way to seeking the thrill of everything new- new places, new people, new comforts. And soon, what was originally overwhelming becomes the new status quo. And seeking ‘new’ becomes less of an anxiety and more of a joy.
2. Do what you want to do. Making a big life change is not about being courageous or being brave. Yes, maybe courage lended some inspiration but everything that has been set in motion is because of passion and/or a desire to make a move happen, no matter what it takes. And, that desire pushes through even when you are scared or uncertain of what lies ahead.
The truth is, most people will live and die within 100 miles of were they were born and raised. For some, this is a welcomed reality and for others it’s because in their heart of hearts, they didn’t want to move aboard bad enough to make it happen- and that’s ok. By doing what you want to do, you have learned to make magic happen for yourself, and to deal with whatever roadblocks are tossed your way because of it.
3. Purging is cleansing for the soul. Although not easy, there is something really refreshing about downsizing your life to fit into a small moving container. It’s amazing what is held onto and carried from one house to the next even if there is no sentimental or monetary value. You learn to prioritize what possessions are valuable to you. You will likely take a trip down memory lane while packing. It may make you laugh or cry but its almost like giving closure the to one chapter and making way for the next. Purging and packing is definitely much easier when you have a friend to help you and be the voice of reason. Do you really need 5 pairs of black leather pumps?… I think not.
4.You learn to say goodbye. You have come to understand that many people are just passing through and that not everyone is meant to be a permanent fixture in your life. You understand that someone’s lasting impression on you is not dictated by the length of time they are or aren’t in your life. It also becomes easy to identify those people who no matter the distance, time passed, or zip code will be there for you, even if it’s not on the daily.
5. Two of Everything. Two phones, two bank accounts, two currencies, two dialects, two societies, two histories, two cultures, two cities. Get used to two of everything- that is the new norm.
6. Asking for help is inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Being in a new place, even the simplest task can become a huge challenge. Thank God for GPS but, even with trusty Tom Tom there are just something’s that will require you to engage with strangers to ask for help. There will be distressing times- things that may seem obvious, aren’t always as obvious as you would like… but remember, asking for help is healthy so just get used to the fact that you will be like a fish out of water until you get comfortable with your new surroundings.
7.Time becomes distorted. It almost feels like you are living a double life. On one hand, you are alarmingly aware of the celebrations and birthdays you are missing; the family holidays you won’t be part of, and your lack of attendance at last minute events that take place. Time almost seems to pass in slow motion. And on the other hand, the new life you are building is flashing before your eyes at an alarming rate, so fast that you feel a sense of frenzy. Trying to balance time becomes a mind-boggling task. You learn to measure time by small moments, like phone calls or nights on the town, not by true measures of time.
8. Home is a feeling, not a place. It is amazing how quickly you can be caught off guard with a sense of homesickness. It can be a smell, a song, or a warm smile bypassing you on the street. The slightest trigger can immediately overwhelm you with a sense of homesickness and make you want to give anything to go back to a time or place, even just for a moment.
Deep down you begin to realize it’s not a place you miss, but the perfect alignment of the right people and the right moment. You have shared parts of your life with special people and simply going to or recreating places you have been is not enough. What you crave are the experiences. You crave the moments you took for granted, or thought you would have 100 more of like getting your nails done with your mom, slumber parties with your best friend, sipping wine after work with your grandparents, or Christmas baking with your Aunt. Sometimes, even revisiting the places is not enough to make you stop missing it.
You will begin to acknowledge experiences and the people you share them with as a barometer for what makes home, home.
9. You will change. You will probably hear it a million times but its true, living aboard will enlighten you, challenge you, and change you. Accept that life, your perspectives and sense of self are in constant evolution and your experiences will have a direct effect on you. It may not be obvious to you at first, but it will happen and at some point you will be able to see clearly that your changed.
I have enjoyed my time as an expat (so far) and I am truly glad that things worked out they way they did. Not that the journey has been without its growing pains, but I would make the same decision tomorrow if I had to. My decision was made exponentially easier because immigrating meant Jaron and I could finally kick start our life together…. In the same city!