There is something incredibly romantic about packing your bags and hitting the road. Maybe it’s the promise of adventure, the adrenaline of being in a place where no one knows who you are, the unpredictability that anything can happening at any given moment, the burgeoning hope of limitless possibility, or the simple excitement of waking up to see the sun rise on a foreign city.
Since time immemorial, moving to a different locale has been sentimentalized by the media. Breakfast At Tiffany’s made the commitment-phobic woes of Holly Golightly seem quite appealing. Under the Tuscan Sun gave us the idea that sometimes heartbreak can lead to olive picking, renovating a crumbling chateau, and meeting a devastatingly handsome stranger. Movies like Burlesque and Coyote Ugly convinced us that it’s possible for a small-town lass to make it in a big city. But uprooting your whole life and replanting it on foreign soil is far more complex than Hollywood would lead us to believe.
When I made my own cross-continental move as a young adult a few years back, I was ready for thrill and adventure. What I failed to anticipate were the days and nights of complete bewilderment; the slow, tedious process of adjustment and the confusing feelings of being transient. Contemplating a big move to a different city, coast, or country? Here are ten honest truths that will prepare you for the challenging but oh-so-worth-it life change that lies ahead.
1. It takes a lot of planning.
You may think moving is as easy as hitchhiking, but there is a lot to be done beyond just booking a one-way ticket. Where will you live? Will you need to obtain some sort of visa or permit? Do you have a job lined up, or enough savings to tide you over until you do? If something goes terribly awry, who will be your nearest emergency contact? Being practical now will help you keep your feet on the ground once your move has gotten your life in flux.
2. Prepare to be overwhelmed.
The days leading up to a big move will be some of the most hectic in your life. Getting important documents ready, going for medical checkups, putting your life away in cardboard boxes—all these can numb your emotions until the very last minute. But then it hits you like a tidal wave. Expect to be that crazy person weeping like it’s the apocalypse at boarding. Somewhere mid-Atlantic, when you’re on your second glass of wine and the third movie of the flight, doubt and incredible sadness will creep in. Did you make the right decision? Are you insane for doing what you’re doing? Did you just ruin your own life? Relax. Embrace the uncertainty. It’s all part of process.
3. Homesickness is real.
No matter how independent you may be, you will wake up one day violently craving some kind of soup your mom made in your childhood. You will find yourself sitting on your bed, surrounded by used tissues, snotty and unintelligible while on Skype with your best friend. There will be times when you’ll feel like you’re living in two time zones and, for a while at least, that will be the reality. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to whoever it is you’re missing. It’ll help.
4. You will be challenged in every way possible.
You will get lost. You will feel vulnerable and afraid. You will commit social faux pas. Three weeks into moving to New York, I broke my foot stepping off a train on school orientation day. I was alone and could not walk a single step without collapsing in pain. I ended up having to rely on the kindness of my new classmates and my school’s program director to ice my foot and get me to the hospital. Which brings me to the next point.
5. You will need help.
Don’t be too proud to ask for it. No man is an island. You’ll be surprised at how strangers will step up to the plate and exhibit kindness.
6. Life will go on without you.
There will be countless parties, birthdays, weddings, etc. that you will miss. At first it will feel like a stab in the heart to see people you love celebrate milestones without you. But as a friend of mine wisely told me, “You can’t always be there for everyone’s milestones. Because then you might miss your own.”
7. Homesickness ends.
One day, you’ll wake up and won’t feel the need to weep. You will develop a routine, a rhythm. The streets will start to make sense in your brain and will stop being so unfamiliar. You will meet new people who will welcome you into their tribe. What once felt so scary and strange will start to feel like home. That said, we come to the next point.
8. There’s culture shock, then there’s reverse culture shock.
The day you touch down in your homeland, prepare to find things not quite how you remember. My favorite example of this is escalator etiquette. When I first moved to New York, I didn’t know that the right side of the escalator was for standing still, the left for walking. Now, whenever I visit the Philippines, I have no idea where to place myself escalator-wise. It’s hilarious.
9. You will “go native.”
Ah, the day the rose-colored glasses come off. No matter how in love with a place you are, one day it will feel like real life again. There will be bills to pay and chores to do. Life catches up, and it’s not all fun and games. I knew I had gone native the moment I learned to angrily squeeze myself into a crowded subway during rush hour and developed an allergy to Times Square.
10. Prepare to have your life changed forever.
I thought that moving to a different country “for a couple of years” wouldn’t be a big deal in the long run. I thought I could easily go back to the status quo once my adventuring was over. But those years are your life, and they cannot be compartmentalized. You will grow and make mistakes, discover surprising things about yourself that you didn’t know, push limits and learn to create boundaries, fall in and out of love, and meet some of your best friends in the whole wide world. It will turn your life inside out and upside down. It will change you completely.
Featured photo credit: Transformer18 via flic.kr