Confessions: Moving Abroad Doesn't Necessarily Get Easier

View from an airplane over Austria.

Dear Emily,

When I sit down to truly think about it, it is kind of cool to think about how many places I’ve lived in and called home since leaving the town I grew up in after high school. I recently counted and realized that I’ve lived in two different cities (and regions) in Brasil, two different cities (and regions) in Spain, and in Lisbon, Portugal, making Helsinki the seventh city and fifth country I’ve lived in since I turned 18. It’s funny because I don’t think of myself as overly adventurous nor do I purposefully go looking to move. In fact, I am probably one of the worst movers you’ll probably ever meet—I’m not very good at change in general—, and I don’t know if it will ever get easier for me. At the same time, with this move I started to realize that I have actually learned a lot about myself and, while there are some things that will probably always be difficult, I am much more aware of the process then ever before. Let me share five things that I feel like I have learned:

1.) I’m a crier:

I started crying about a week before my most recent move to Helsinki and while I didn’t ever completely break down and start bawling (which has happened on other occasions), I will say that almost anything set me off those last few days. However, when I friend asked me if I was actually happy about the change I was making I laughed at him and started to explain to him why I was ecstatic about it. While this might seem oxymoronic to some people, I have been able to accept that one of my ways of releasing emotion is crying and when I move I build up a lot of different emotions, not just goodbyes, that eventually have to be let out.

At the same time I want to recognize that just because I cry over the goodbyes, it doesn’t mean that I expect them to be forever. I am fully aware that I will return to Granada (today actually being the first trip back) and I am looking forward to having people come visit me in Helsinki. In fact, in some cases, the goodbyes don’t really change the relationship. Sure, I am further away, but I often talk to close friends on a weekly basis. In addition, I’ve found that I have more time to myself here—it is winter and I don’t know very many people after all—and that means that I can catch up with friends around the world. I’ve been taking advantage and Skyping with friends I haven’t talked to in months and am really enjoying being able to invest more in those relationships too.

My takeaway: Allow yourself to release your emotions and say your goodbyes. You never know how your relationships are going to be transformed, so try to worry about it as little as possible (even though I understand that worrying is normal too). And let yourself be open for what might come, you don’t know how that will turn out either.


2.) I am able to understand the logic behind what I’m doing:

I don’t know how to explain it, but often times when I decide to do things that seem totally off the beaten track it is because something deep inside of me tells me it is the right thing to do. It was harder when I was 18 and I was closer to following the path that most people take, but now I am fully aware that some of the choices I make are weird. While it isn’t always easy for people around me to understand why I follow seemingly random ideas, I always feel the logic behind them, even it it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to anyone else.

For example, while finishing my degree I came across a social scientist who looked at culture in an interesting way for me. I sited Hofstede and his six dimensions of organizational cultural in my dissertation. I went on to reference him again in my Master’s thesis and ran across his theory while working on a project for work. When I realized about a year ago that there was an internship available to apply his theories, I was intrigued to say the least. However, work got in the way and I put off applying. When I went to look at it again, there was a conference being organized in Milan, the same week I would be there for work, so I decided to go. Inspired by the conference, I applied for the internship despite not having everything in order and got the spot. When I first saw the opportunity I thought that it was perfect for me. When I didn’t go for it, I feel like it followed me around until I was ready. And now that I am here, everything seems to be falling into place, even in strangely amazing ways that I never could have imagined.

My takeaway: We all have our own logic behind moving and maybe it doesn’t make sense for anyone else, but it doesn’t have to. The most important thing is that it feels right to you.

3.) Material things become so much less important:

The more you move the less you can bring with you, ergo, the less you hang on to emotionally. Logically it makes sense, even if it doesn’t make it any easier to throw out your old stuff (do I really need notes from my undergrad degree?—probably not!). Luckily, the more you do it, the more you realize what is important for you to bring along with you and what can either go into storage, be donated, or be thrown out.

At the same time, after living alone in Granada, I had a lot of stuff that I didn’t know what to do with. My solution ended up making three piles of stuff (organized as above—storage, donate, trash) and just getting on with it. I quickly realized that I had been hanging on to a lot of things that didn’t have emotional or monetary value and I was able to get rid of them. Does this mean that I didn’t leave a bunch of stuff in storage with my parents? Of course not. It just means that I was able to let go of things that no longer held value for me.

My takeaway: Moving is a great way to evaluate what you have and what is important to keep. All the other stuff should be donated or thrown out!

Packing a suitcase.

4.) It’s still hard to pack the suitcases

Despite my spiel on throwing stuff out and not needing as many material things to live, I still have a really hard time packing my suitcases. On this most recent journey, I booked two large suitcases because I knew it was going to be hard to just take one (even though I would love to be able to take my whole life with me in one suitcase). And, in moments of stress, I know that my way of getting stuff done is just throwing it all in. In order to avoid extra stress of not having space for everything just case I was packing last minute, my solution was to add an extra case.

At the same time, I have also gotten better at realizing that I don’t need everything I take with me—have you ever packed for a holiday and only worn half your clothes?—and I don’t need to take everything I will need there. For example, in Spain I wear dresses almost every day and I only had one pair of jeans and one pair of ‘work’ pants; in Finland, there is still snow on the ground. I thought about trying to go shopping before I left, but decided to see if second-hand (my shopping of choice) is a thing here because then I could just do my shopping once I arrived. Turns out that there are more second-hand stores in my neighborhood than all of Granada and I was able to pick up what I needed my first weekend.

My takeaway: Don’t forget the big picture. You will probably pack too much and not have everything you need anyways, so try not to worry about it more than necessary.

5.) Following my soul/path/etc. makes it easier

I mentioned before that what I am doing now is something that is logical and feels right to me (even if it doesn’t make any sense to anyone else). There have been a number of moments where things happen that seem so bizarrely aligned with what I am looking for that sometimes it really makes me feel like I was meant to end up here. However, that doesn’t necessarily fit how I see the world—don’t ask me about my beliefs, I don’t know—, so it can be hard to accept. I am currently just trying to take it all in stride and figure out my own path but I definitely think it is so much easier to follow myself than make choices that don’t really fit what I am looking for.

In the past I have also found this to be true—no matter how scared I am to take that next step, when I love the option I’ve chosen, I tend to be open to the wonderful possibilities I imagine on the other side. Of course, it does help when those daydreams become a reality and I am satisfied with my decision, but just the idea of wanting to do something is a great general motivator. In addition, if you are ever down or questioning yourself and your decision (which is totally normal by the way), you have this solid reminder of why you are doing what you are doing.

My takeaway: Find what feels good to you and don’t be afraid to define your own path.

What new adventures are you embarking on? What difficulties or moments of ease have you discovered? I am looking forward to hearing about your stories in the comments.