Dani and I thought it would be interesting to actually write the letter that Dana, of The Mindful Expat Podcast, asked each of us to consider in our interviews (which, if you missed, you can find here and here)—”If you could write a letter to yourself before you moved abroad, what would you tell yourself?” You can see Dani’s letter here. Because I moved abroad the summer after my senior year of high school, I have written to my high school self.
Dear High School Claudia,
I know high school (and growing up in general) has been a wonderful experience, even if you don’t always feel like you fit in to the community around you. You have some amazing friends and a great support system at home that will help you though all sorts of experiences in the future—even if the people around you don’t truly understand what you are doing with your life. And trust me when I say that life going forward will be beautiful, albeit difficult on occasion. Know that there will be moments that you wish you are a little bit more ‘normal,’ but try to remember that you’re not really good at normal anyway. However, you will always be looking for answers, so if I were to give you three tips about where you will be and who you are in [almost] ten years after graduating, this is what they would be:
You (still) have no idea where you are going
At the beginning it will be traumatic, you will find yourself crying alone in places such as airports and coffee shops more times than you would ever expect and you won’t actually get better at moving cities/countries. At the same time, you won’t let fear stop you from making some really wonderfully strange decisions. You will learn two languages and explore a plethora of countries you never could imagine visiting. And you will begin to live in ways that you don’t even know exist. You are going to meet people over and over again who change your life; people that help you see the world differently. You are going to visit and live in places that make it easy or hard to make decisions about your future. And every time you have to make a decision, you will stress about the changes in your life until something happens and then it feels right again.
It will be wonderful because the fact that you are actually really bad at change, won’t get (too much) in the way of following your heart. You will make decisions that might not make sense to anyone else, but they will end up being right for you—in ten years your heart/mind/soul won’t have turned you wrong so far. And remember, sometimes the hard/bad experiences are the ones that help you grow as a person and become the woman you want to be.
Despite everything, especially all the decisions you don’t know how to make, in the future the world is your oyster. You have a wonderful education (and are debt free because you decided to study in Europe) that is complemented with your language skills and international experience. If anything, your biggest problem is deciding what adventure you want to take on next. Feel blessed at every moment of your journey that you can choose—everything is behind you and your parents will help you as much as they can—very few people can say they have the same problem. At the same time, it won’t always be easy. And you will find yourself talking new ideas through with your friends and family, giving hugs and sharing with those who support as they help you decide how to evolve as a person… even if it isn’t easy for you.
You will get good at saying goodbye
In order to grow, you will have to learn how to say goodbye to people and places. As a person who cares deeply about your friends and is extremely sentimental, this isn’t going to be easy for you. At times you will almost feel as though you are becoming smaller and smaller as you leave parts of yourself behind with the people you love and the places that have become your home. However, by leaving bits behind, you will grow as you take pieces of who you are with and where you visit with you, permanently marking yourself with your experiences in your memories, in your behavior, and in the way you get to know new places.
Saying goodbye will never get easier, but you will learn how to do it better. You will learn that every tear shed is not really for sadness but because the experience was so beautiful the emotions that have built up inside of you have to escape. You will miss people and places (and saudade will become a fixed part of your vocabulary and word you teach to everyone who is important to you). However, those people who are meant to be in your life will always be there. Technology will make it possible for you to communicate with them—not regularly because you are not very good at talking to people daily, but on important days, and even sometimes randomly, they will be there for you and you for them.
These friendships will develop in ways that you could never imagine. Birthdays will become moments when you send heartfilled messages and postcards will be your way of showing people you are thinking about them, even on the other side of the world. You will have to learn how to adapt the relationships to the circumstances but the stories you have with those people, the impact and influence they have on your life, will always be with you. And when you are down, you might be surprised at who comes to pick you up. Because, at the end of the day…
Everything is going to work out
It seems strange to think about now but your future is whatever you want it to be. Every decision you make is the ‘right’ one. Not because it is better than any other decision, but because it is the path that you will choose in that moment. So many different possibilities exist that you can’t expect to take them all. I know it is hard to think about all these options and there is a huge societal pressure to do what others are doing, but know that your path is going to be different. Instead you should focus on what feels right and how you can make it happen.
Even when you are down, you will have so much going for you. Your family will continue to support you through all sorts adventures (both the good ones and the more difficult ones). You will meet people who change your life, and will have the opportunity to change the lives of others. Never forget how much you can give back to your community, and you will find a “family” wherever you go, people who are willing to take care of you just as much as you take care of them.
But above all, remember that life is a journey. That sometimes you might feel down or things might go wrong, but this is all just part of the process and you will learn how to get up and start again. You will learn how to ask for help (it is hard, I know, but you can do it). And everytime you think you have forgotten who you are, you will figure out a way to find yourself again.
At 17 the world seems so big, the decisions you make seem so important. At 27 the world seems even bigger, but mostly because you know you are small and that the choices you make only impact as much as you choose. Take time now to live and to follow your heart—don’t worry that later on you’ll regret it or feel like things went wrong (trust me, you don’t regret or feel like anything ‘really bad’ has happened). Life is like a morning glory, everyday it opens up to face the sun. Everyday you have the choice of what you want to do and who you want to be, but even if you make a mistake, you have a new day tomorrow to get back on what feels right to you.