I did what many people fantasize about doing on their most hectic and stressful days: I quit my job in corporate America and moved to East Africa… alone. While it was easily the most impactful journey of my life, it wasn’t graceful, it wasn’t pretty, and it wouldn’t have earned me any style points. Despite my fumbling transition, the lessons I learned in Africa still ring true today. Here are seven things I learned in the midst of my move out of my home country that I wish I had considered before buying a one-way ticket.
Going on an adventure, even the most epic one, is incredibly lonely.
The logical side of me understood that traveling and living alone in a place where the language and culture were new would be isolating. However, the other piece of my brain kept chanting, “This is going to be awesome!” like a group of overly eager study abroad girls. The excited portion of my brain took over my thinking. I was caught off guard at the loneliness that sunk in at night on plane rides, or when I got sick. Being aware that loneliness is going to sink in is the first defense against it.
Your friends back home keep living their lives without you.
I had and still have an incredible group of girlfriends. And while they often called or sent care packages and gave me insight into their lives, I was surprised at all the inside jokes and milestones I had missed when I moved back home. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that their lives had seemingly progressed with boyfriends, girlfriends, promotions, and career changes while my life felt frustratingly stagnant on the home front.
Your physical circumstances affect your mood (a lot).
A lot of stress, tears, and frantic calls to my mother could have been avoided if I had simply waited to react to circumstances until after I had a snack or taken a nap. This may be true wherever you live, but the body’s impact on emotions is magnified when you are solo in a new space. This led to a mantra I still live by today: eat first, react second.
Falling in love is different when you’re in a foreign country.
People in love do some wild things. People in love far from home who don’t yet have a solid grounded support system? They can get really weird. In matters of the heart, make sure a game plan of birth control, STD prevention, and what to do when you eventually move home is put into place while you still have a (decently) clear head.
Your body may change and that’s totally cool.
There were no gyms in the part of Eastern Africa where I stayed and the staple food in these parts was white rice for every meal, which caused a few pounds to sneak up on me. After a little talk with my ego, I came to the realization it’s okay for my body to change in the midst of transition and to acclimate to a new normal base setting. In fact, it’s to be expected! On top of that, YouTube provides unlimited free yoga, circuit, and even ballet workouts to keep you on you’re A-game when there is no gym nearby.
It’s important to know your goals and write that stuff down.
So you’ve decided to move abroad (insert yellow hands “raising the roof” emoji.) Why is that? It is incredibly helpful to write that stuff down. First of all, because everyone from past, present, and future is going to ask why you’re doing it. But secondly, because you need to remember why it is you made this decision that you did. On dark days when you can’t recall why exactly you thought 104 degrees with no air conditioner was a good idea, you will have your mission statement for reference.
You get to decide how much you’re impacted and inspired.
My goal during my time spent away was to better understand points of view different than my suburban Full House-inspired lifestyle I had known back home. I quickly realized that being impacted by other people, places, and cultures would only happen if I went out there and got uncomfortable. It’s easy to stay home at night on Instagram (especially when the day is long and the language is new), but that’s not where the magic happens. Change is created when you have the courage to go out there and get uncomfortable.
Travel on, travelers. Whether you are gone for three weeks or three years, you are going to see and feel great things. You just may realize that it’s surviving the challenging stuff that changes you the most.
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