I never really wanted to live overseas.
When I was growing up, becoming a teenager and realising I had some control over where my life went, I never really saw myself venturing across the pond to start an alternative life. I rationalised that I had a good life in Australia, that I had family and friends, that I had managed to find employment and secure comforts, and why would I risk all this to attempt to recreate the same in a different country? I was a teenager, and therefore very wise in the ways of the world.
A lot of it was fear. The idea of standing on foreign soil, of being an outsider, and then attempting to carve my own niche into a country that owed me nothing, was terrifying. I could see myself floundering, unable to find a place to live or a source of income, and eventually turning around and scurrying back to Mum and Dad broke and embarrassed, and swearing to never again come out of my room because the world’s a bully.
Of course, I never said this. When it came up in conversation, I detailed how Australia was the lucky country, how we had so many rights and luxuries, and I wouldn’t want to give these up. That of course I wanted to see the world, but could do this through vacations. Vacations are safe, you see. Well, relatively. They’re little bubbles of escape, taste-testers of culture and sights, a chance to shed your old life while knowing all the while that your old life is safe and warm and comfy, and right where you left it.
I held onto this narrow-minded belief right up until I actually went on a vacation. Being able to taste-test exotic experiences didn’t make me pine for the comforts of home, but instead made me wonder what else was out there away from my well-worn safety-net. If I could experience this level of immersion and adventure just from skimming the surface in a matter of weeks, what would I discover if I stayed longer? And what if I threw myself in completely and moved there?
Even though the seed of intrigue had been planted, I still didn’t give the idea serious consideration. For most of my adult life I had been in a relationship, and the notion of uprooting, and expecting my partner to pull up her own roots, seemed inherently selfish. We were building something, and we were building it in Australia. There was the answer.
It wasn’t until I found myself single and with savings behind me that I realised I no longer had a justification for not trying something new. The only thing holding me back was the same thing that had made teenage-me bluster on about the grandness of Australia: fear. I was still scared of putting myself out there and failing. Of stripping away the security blanket of family and friends and a familiar environment where I knew all the rules, and making myself vulnerable to a different culture. So still, I didn’t give the idea much thought.
But then I began to stagnate. I was tucked away in my pillow fort of ease and niceness, well out of reach of anything that could be considered difficult or frightening. I got up each morning and went to work, and returned home each night to an empty house. I exercised and cooked dinner for one, and then went to bed to get a solid eight hours of sleep so I could be well-rested for the next day of work. I saw family and friends on weekends, which broke the tedium of the work-week, and at least added some flavour to my existence. But I wasn’t making anything. I wasn’t going anywhere. It was ease and niceness, and I was boring myself with my own company. And as a special person recently told me: nice is a carpet. I didn’t want nice.
It wasn’t until I got away from this circular rut of work that I realised I needed to change something. I knew I wasn’t particularly happy, but reasoned that I was an adult now, living an adult lifestyle, and adults weren’t supposed to be particularly happy. Let me state emphatically that this is not a belief to which I still prescribe. Granted, the stressors of an adult life are taxing, but if you’re not happy, what the hell are you making all that effort for? Change something, change anything! Don’t just sit there in a puddle of your own misery thinking, “Well, this didn’t turn out like I expected.”
What broke this cycle and misconception for me was a trip through the United States of America. I don’t know if it was the excitement of busing it from one side of North America to the other (west coast to east coast, for those playing at home), or simply getting my head away from the fog of work, but the realisation that I was unhappy hit me like truck shot from a cannon falling from the sky. It hit me hard.
Part of me was shocked. Why hadn’t anyone told me I was unhappy? I talked about it with my brother after returning home and he said that, yeah, he knew I was unhappy. Of course he did, he knew me better than anyone. Better than myself, apparently.
It felt like my blinders had been ripped off and I was squinting against the glare of reality. Of course, the blinders had been self-imposed. No-one had told me to construct the life I had made for myself, no-one instructed me to continue in the habits I had developed, and because of this, no-one could tell me stop because it wasn’t working. I had made my own bed and it was up to me to burn it out from under me.
After shaking off this shock of personal insight, I knew I had to change something. The framework of living I had made was fine if I had a partner to share it with, if I was making something in the form of a family, but doing it solo simply wasn’t anything.
And then I considered moving. Not just moving from my house, or from the suburb I lived in, but moving from the country altogether. The old idea rose and this time all the fears and arguments against it seemed brittle and pathetic. I didn’t care about the risk of housing and employment, those challenges seemed interesting more than frightening. Mostly because they were challenges, and I was sick of going unchallenged. (Little did I realise what a challenge UK nursing registration was, but let’s not detract from the point I’m making.) It dawned on me that I had built a small nest in a small corner of a big country tucked away in the southern hemisphere while there was an entire world of experiences and new things going on all the time. I was unhappy and lonely and bored, and there was a whole globe to explore. What the hell was I doing sitting at home alone? So I decided to get out into it and explore it.
And thank god I did. Already, I have seen sights, been places and done things that I never imagined myself doing. I have met incredible people and shared amazing experiences that have changed me in the best of ways. Primarily, they’ve made me happy.
By no means has the venture been easy. I have had to make myself vulnerable and walk into situations well outside my comfort zone. I’ve faced challenges in language barriers and navigating public transport (one particular two AM stroll through London comes to mind). I’ve missed my family and friends, and have had times where I wanted to just drop back into my old life for a day. I’ve worried about money and housing, and employment.
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it. Because all those fears and beautiful moments roll around together, and make you feel alive. They make you into something bigger and more detailed, and more interesting. And it feels good to be making something again.