- A version of this article was first published in Let’s Go Somewhere Blog.
It happened in Ireland. It happened in Spain. It happened in Mexico. Leaving behind everything that makes you feel safe and comfortable, pushing your boundaries across the world, and experiencing both culture shock and reverse culture shock…Those are all things that can bubble up anxiety, stemming from self-doubt. “Is this the right decision?” I have wondered. “What if I regret it?” I have feared. “Is this a scam? Is there an actual, legitimate job waiting for me in Spain? Am I really moving to Mexico? But why is this flight so cheap, really?” Let the spiraling down begin. That does not go on social media.
It is unlikely that people I am not in touch with regularly even imagine the nerves building up in my stomach before I take a one-way flight. Going far away makes me consider how I would like people to remember me once I am gone–not just from a country, but from the world. I try to act based on that foundation. First impressions are important, but it is always the last impression that sticks most. So I always text “I love you,” before the gate is closed.
Yesterday I experienced a moment of deep anxiety. I was alone in my studio apartment in Mexico. The experience took me back to other times when this has happened, and it got me thinking. Why don’t we talk about this a little more? What if we began to acknowledge that as expats and globetrotters, we are not just thrilled and excited to move abroad but deeply terrified of failing, too?
I was very anxious when I first arrived in Galway, Ireland in 2013. I was alone and had just been awake for 20 hours. I had no phone, no friends waiting for me, no traveling partner. So I did the only thing I could think off: drop off my backpack at the hostel and walk outside. Go and explore and tell myself, “I am okay. I am safe. It is working out.”
Galway, Ireland, 2013
Flash forward to 2015: I was in Madrid, Spain, waking up to a pink sky after my first night of sleep there. My “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz alarm went off softly and I could not believe my eyes. I could see the trains arriving in Atocha station from my hotel window. It was a matter of moments before I was weeping. “What did I do? What the F*** did I just do?” Well, I had moved to a new continent alone, that’s what. It was terrifying. It was intimidating, and I was unsure I was going to succeed. It was also the best decision I have ever made, and what led me to my life today.
Madrid, Spain, 2015
Now I am in Mexico City, Mexico. It’s 2018–how the last 5 years moving around have shaped me! A year ago I was terrified of getting on public transport on my own. The metro here can be crowded in ways New York City has not seen.
Mexico City, 2018
So I panicked yesterday. I have grown a lot, and I am creating career goals that are now visible. I can feel success on the palm of my hand, a teaser preview. These goals and dreams are holding on to me. I want to see if I can hold on to them, too.
This is what traveling the world can be like. Finding yourself not just sight-seeing but living in a foreign country where crossing the street or grocery shopping does not look like the same simple task as the previous country, or the one before that. Adapting to what’s considered rude or what’s considered friendly where your solid manners might now be meaningless. Getting lost, trying not to look lost, and suddenly feeling that creepy vibe from the man who’s clearly been following you. Experiencing moments when you wish for a little normalcy that you cannot have because your work visa is still in process (for like a whole year)…In the meantime, you cannot wait to have the right to open a bank account or go to a doctor for a check-up.
I am a traveler. I am an expat. I am a nomad. I own this about my life, and I proudly flaunt it on social media. Yes! This is it! This is the dream! This is amazing! Why are there still people nor taking that flight to Japan or Hungary?! I can go on and on about the highlights, the filters, and all the things that make life abroad so wonderful. There have been so many wins during my years as an expat that I can begin counting my blessing from sunrise and still not be done when I go back to sleep. There is an unquestionable appeal to great adventures.
As long as you are doing what makes your heart race, you are being courageous. But very specifically, if you are moving abroad, there is something I want you to truly understand before your flight even lands: you will have lots of types of days, no matter where you are in the world. You will have days where you will want to run back home to mom and endlessly tell her your latest sob-story. You may get sad, worried, or feel incredibly lonely in places you never imagined you’d be lucky to see. You may doubt your decision, analyze it, undo it and reconstruct it until you are blue in the face. Your insecurities will translate to any language and culture, but you can always tell yourself the winning story. You can tell yourself the ending to your trip (or your time living abroad) will be a victory tale where you will have fully lived every glorious and miserable day. Despite the many kinds of days you will have (or because of them), I know you will look back and think, “Yeah. I did that.” In the end, I know it is worth it and I hope you’ll feel proud.
Are you thinking about moving abroad? Or are you currently an expat?
Also by Vanessa: How I Became A Woman Globetrotter & Learned To Embrace My Own Path