I was 22 the first time I picked up and left. My plan was typical of a 22-year-old who was more trying to run away from grad school than she was trying to form a solid plan. I knew I would be working at a hostel in Canterbury, England. I didn’t know much else.
That year and a half, I lived in constant overdraft and encountered some major cultural clashes (like when I asked someone to go out for coffee and they politely showed me that the pub was their version of the coffee shop). It was often uncomfortable. And yet I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Since that time, I have had the privilege of living in Switzerland for four years and I am just about to move from Canada to the good old US of A. Every time I move, I become more aware of who I am, who my real friends are, and what I will and won’t stand for.
I get that not everyone has the luxury (financially and otherwise) to pick up and leave. But if you do, even if for just a few days, I encourage you to get far away from the comforts of home. The benefits of breaking away from what you know are vast ...
1. You reconsider your own hobbies.
You may be very dedicated to your Zumba class or knitting hobby and have a community wrapped around your hobbies and rituals. Yet when you go to another country (or even city, for that matter), you find that the same interests aren’t always available. It can be uncomfortable, frustrating and scary.
But what if you let go a little bit and considered another way of looking at things? If you stick too closely to what you’ve always done, you take longer to integrate. Find out what is popular where you are and give it a shot. It may unleash a new passion. My first Pilates class was in Germany (before I even knew German) and now I am an instructor.
2. You learn to eat differently.
Grocery stores become intriguing things when they no longer hold hundreds of bottled salad dressings. Some of your choices may reduce, but others may increase. In Switzerland, I became really into spitzbuben, a raspberry jam-filled cookie that knocked my socks off. I had to get over my affinity with kale chips, because kale was nowhere to be found. When you realize that you can transform something as powerful as a craving, you feel invincible.
3. You learn how to really be alone.
It is a different kind of alone when you are far enough away from your family that you can’t lean on their support. When you have a tough day and a time difference, it forces you to realize that you can, in fact, do a heck of a lot on your own. I once had food poisoning before I knew a lot of people. It sucked, but it made me realize that I am one strong woman.
4. You meet friends that become family.
In my case, I wasn't able to come back home for a few holidays. It was a tough decision to make, but I realized that I effortlessly formed my own traditions.
Friends that might have only been your Friday night companions become important participants in Thanksgiving. I even found that I got some bonus holidays, like an annual Swedish crayfish party. The more celebrating, the better. Right? Since I have left, I have found the same attachments to these friends as I do my blood relatives.
5. You begin to live your life really for yourself.
When you are so far from everything that you know and any external expectations, you reconsider how you want to live your life. You realize that you can live anywhere and do anything. That you can be single or in a relationship. The only thing that really matters is that you have your own back. You have this life to leap.
6. You learn what is conditioned and what is real.
Sometimes we act a certain way because it's simply a societal expectation to do so. For example, we were taught “please” and “thank you” as kids but a lot of how we respond as adults is subconscious. And why do you always feel guilty on Sunday even though you haven’t been to church in years? There is no easier way to shine a light on how your conditioning has affected you than by moving away from the comforts of your home.
7. You realize how little you need to be happy.
When I moved countries, I realized I couldn't bring everything. Those books that had been sitting on my shelf (unread) for ten years? Gone. The coffee mugs that followed me through college? Unnecessary. Starting from scratch with furniture and possessions forces you to pare down. One day you will realize: I don’t miss anything. Stuff doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
Home can end up becoming a lot more than one location. Like love, you don’t have a finite amount. You can expand it.