On my very first post, I declared my purpose was to explore the world around me within a 30 mile radius of my front door. Well, today Hubby and I officially have a new front door in Oklahoma City. Although this has nothing to do with being global/cultural/international, I just had to share. 🙂
When Hubby and I moved to San Diego last July, we weren’t sure how long we were going to be there. I didn’t have a job and he was completing a one-year fellowship. With so much uncertainty, we put all of our life in a storage unit in Georgia and signed a 13-month lease for a fully furnished apartment. We drove across the country with whatever would fit inside or on top of our car. For the past 15 months we have lived out of 6 suitcases and 12 boxes (most of which are hubby’s medical books). The opportunities for us in San Diego were so great, it was worth putting our lives in a box and living from a suitcase for a while.
As I write this, I think of all the other bloggers who are currently abroad and living from a suitcase. Like Megan from Soulshine Traveler who has jumped around South America, lived in Russia, and explored Europe. Or Ashley and Justin from This Parallel Life who moved from their New York apartment into a storage unit in Denver while they seek adventure traveling the globe for a year. Or my dear friend Mary from Mary in Haifa who has split her furniture between her parents and friends while she takes a year away from her career to complete her Master’s degree in Israel.
For each of these bloggers, they have put away their material possessions to seek something they cannot achieve at home. Whether it is adventure, culture, education, or just a change from the norm, they have prioritized the experience over their belongings. From personal experience, I can honestly say this is not easy to do. But looking back on the last 15 months, I can say it was worth it.
This week I’m back in San Diego and enjoying the sunshine and seeing my students. Before a few left for their study abroad adventures, I was able to see them off. Hanging out with them and hearing their concerns and excitement, I contemplated lessons I learned abroad and my personal advice resulting from my own challenges and triumphs. As I read my own words of advice, I recognize that I need to heed these personal words of wisdom in my life right now:
Remember that trials are normal and they will pass
I’ve talked about the hostility stage before but it is one of those things that I have to remind myself about often. Moving is hard. Language barriers are hard. Making new friends is hard. But it’s all worth it and it does get easier.
Say “yes” more than you say “no”
The only real regrets I have from my study abroad experience are when I was too afraid to do something and turned down an opportunity. I personally wish I had said “yes” a lot more and not let fear keep me from riding public transportation alone or
Revisit your goals often
I wanted to perfect my Italian while I was studying abroad in Italy but I would regularly get side tracked and have days that I would solely speak in English. I found I had to keep coming back to my goals, remembering what I wanted to get out of my time abroad.
Take time for yourself and reflect on your experience
One of the best things I did while studying abroad was do things alone. I went to the market alone, visited museums alone, and would find beautiful spots throughout Rome where I could sit and read or journal. The time alone made me appreciate being abroad so much more. In those moments it wasn’t about the people I was with, but rather the place where I was living.
Write it all down because you’ll do so much more than you’ll ever remember
My first time abroad in 2002 I journaled the entire time. Ten years later, I am so grateful for those journals. Without them I probably wouldn’t remember the day that I missed the bus to Cinque Terre or the time my roommate washed her underwear in our bidet.
Last night I did my first Meet Up event in OKC. If you’re not familiar with Meet Up, it is probably one of the easiest ways to meet new people who share your interests. Looking for a language group in your city? Go on Meet Up. Want a group of women to go to the theater with you? Meet Up is where you can find them. And if a group doesn’t already exist, you can always make one yourself. Now I will admit that some cities have more vibrant Meet Ups than others but it is fairly wide-spread. I just found Meet Ups in Rome, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai. Any poker players in Shanghai? They have a Meet Up.
For my first OKC Meet Up, I joined a lovely group of women for the Girly Book Club. The Girly Book Club was actually started in London by a woman named Erin. The London Club now has over 1400 members and regularly packs out. Erin decided to spread her vision and as friends moved to new places she asked them to bring the club with them. In addition to the OKC Girly Book Club, groups have also started in Denver, Melbourne, Nashville, New York City, San Francisco, Toronto, and Wellington. Each club reads the same book every month with recommendations coming from all the clubs.
I have to say that last night was one of the most enjoyable experiences as a new person to OKC. It first started with an email from Laura, the OKC host of the group. She welcomed me personally, introduced herself, and told me exactly what to expect. When I arrived at Full Circle Bookstore (an incredible local bookstore), I got my name tag and bought a drink from the little cafe. When I sat down, I was immediately engaged in conversation. The group of 32 was a great mix of women between the ages of 20-60. It was split between locals and transplants from around the country. After everyone introduced themselves, we talked about the book The Night Circus (one of my favorites). Various people asked questions and almost everyone chimed in. There was no talking over each other and everyone seemed genuinely interested in what others had to say. By the end of the evening, I felt sure that this was a group I’d like to return to. And while I didn’t leave with a new best friend, I think it is a place I can connect.
In study abroad, the stages of cultural adjustment are normal. We try to prepare our students that there will be times when they will not like their host country. They will think Italian transportation strikes are ridiculous or will get frustrated that Japanese restaurants never have forks. Sometimes the hostility stage is more severe and they will want to go home. We try to give them the tools for coping with the stage but realize that we can’t eliminate it from happening.
When we moved to Oklahoma, I knew I had to be proactive to feel grounded here. I contacted the PhD program director to talk about applying. I got in touch with an organization that works with the refugee community to volunteer. We have consistently gone to a new church every Sunday trying to find the right one. But despite all of the effort, currently I find myself in the hostility stage. While many things are in the works (home, church, friends, and activities), in this moment I am lonely and lacking things to do. I miss my friends and my job and if we were offered the chance to move back to San Diego, I would probably take it.
My big brother called me last night and asked me, “So how is the transition going?” He knew the right question to ask as he has been in my shoes before. I told him about a post by Clearing Customs I read about a week ago about the grieving process. It quoted Ruth Van Reken who said, “Every time there’s transition, there is loss,” and “where there’s loss, there’s grief.” I said that I’m grieving what I left behind in San Diego. He told me that when he was living in Germany, every time someone left to go back home, he grieved as well. He made me feel normal, while reminding me that this is a stage and soon I will feel at home here too.
Although I am not very fond of the hostility stage and just wish I could fit in, feel useful, and find purpose in this new city, I know it’s part of the process. I also have to remember that you can’t grieve what you never had. I am thankful that I had so much in San Diego to grieve for and wonderful people like my big brother who understand.
Tomorrow we leave San Diego for last time as residents. Hubby will drop me off at the train station with three suitcases, two carry-ons, and large painting covered in bubble wrap. He will then drop our car off to be shipped to Oklahoma, take a taxi to the trolley, and then take the trolley to the train station. We will then take a train to LAX where we will catch a bus to the airport and then a red-eye to Atlanta, where our parents will pick us up tomorrow morning. Whew! I’m already exhausted and the day hasn’t even started.
San Diego, you’ll be missed. You’ve been an incredible place to work, play, and be global from home.
Atlanta, I can’t wait to be home, see family, and sleep!
Oklahoma City, be ready. We’re coming next Friday!