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While you're away: What you won't know about living abroad


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I’ve moved around a bit throughout my life: I was born in Milan but I’ve lived in Brussels, Chicago, Turin and I’ve just recently started over once again. Let’s say I’m not exactly a stranger to being mobile, but I would never dare complain about it.

I moved to London in September to continue with higher education and learn all about my (apparently very precarious) future in a writer’s world.

I adore it. My first year of university, frightfully almost over already, has been everything you could wish for, and maybe even a little bit more.

Living abroad is exactly what you expect it to be. It’s a constant, continuous learning curve. You meet the most amazing and interesting people, make so many new friends, eat a curious array of both delicious and really gross foods, discover new music and movies, and take on new mannerisms and sayings.

You grow to love and hate many other things, too. People misspell or mispronounce your name all the time. You have to learn how to cross the street all over again and the light switches will almost always look different. Even though you thought you knew the language you will still discover there are a myriad of ways to say ‘vagina.’ And you’ve apparently missed out on half of what others define as ‘history.’

However, most of this is rather predictable. I guess this is the wonder of globalisation – there is always more to learn. Here are a few things you may not know about living abroad:

You expand but you shrink

Learning and growing, growing and learning – no news there. This happens not only because you’ve moved far from home, but specifically because some things only hit you or leave a mark when you are ready for them. You accumulate a lot, but you also crumble and shed a substantial amount of skin. 

Because of this, sometimes you’ll feel powerless. Sometimes you’ll find yourself quiet at a pub night discussion, frustrated, because the examples you have and the concepts you’d like to discuss, or references you want to make, aren’t relevant. You will feel naked, stripped of all the precious things you thought you were wearing on your sleeve.

And you’ll feel humbled; you’ll learn to listen and grow even more curious. You refresh, you don’t accumulate.

I’m from…

All of a sudden, it hits you that where you’ve grown up is something that holds much more weight than you first thought. The perception of the person you are is altered by something that wasn’t your choice.  People will think you are many things because you are from... wherever it is you’re from. It’s not being shallow or narrow minded; it’s just natural. 

You’ll be stuck between being overwhelmed and incomplete

You’ll always feel at home and not at home – there are elements of both realities. Sometimes you’ll miss something small; sometimes you’ll miss something far bigger, a deeply rooted, innate concept of ‘home.’ You sometimes miss a time and place in a life that almost seems parallel to the one you’re living.

It’s an odd and complicated shade of melancholy paired with an aura of freedom and freshness – like wishing for summer in winter and then hoping for rain under the scorching sun.

You have no such thing as a comfort zone

Whether it’s talking to a stranger for a whole ride on the bus about something you have no knowledge of, taking a job you never ever thought you’d take and you don’t know how to do, or waffling on about why irrelevance is crucial to society, living abroad is a constant warped baptism of fire. But you’ll do it.

You’ll wake up in the morning and end up going to bed with stories of something that was, only instances before, far from your imagination – because you’ll learn you can. 

You will run

When these bits and bobs come together, it will hit you hard. You’ll finally tell yourself that you are made of what you ARE, not what you HAVE. Once you realise that the big bag you carry around is full of stuff that is completely useless to you, you’ll empty it all and run like a freak.

All those books, all those movies, all those places you’ve been, all those songs you know, all that art you’ve studied; your trophies and your disappointments – you cannot carry them around. They are tangible but they are neither relevant nor universal. You cannot own any of those because all you can do, at the end of the day, is be.

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