I remember what I wore on this exact day last year. Charcoal grey
stretchy yoga pants and black tank top. Raspberry Nikes and a matching sports bra (because all that really matters in life is matching your shoes and bra). Glasses. No socks. Seriously.
I’ve been thinking about this post for awhile now. But actually I’ve just been thinking that I don’t know what to write. Every time I try to think up something extraordinary all I can think about is what I wore on this exact day last year. The fact that I actually remember it: Impressive. #not
Just over a year ago the hus and I packed up base camp and moved alone to New Zealand so I could take a job at World Vision’s office here. On this exact day last year, we stepped foot off a 13-hour flight from LAX (me in my Nikes and glasses) to our new home. A week hasn’t passed without someone — here or at home or somewhere else in my digitally-connected world — asking what brought us to Middle Earth, besides our obvious fanaticism with hobbits and love for lamb chops. I tell them all the same thing: I got a job offer and why not!?
Having lived 8500 miles away from home for a year now I can, in hindsight, give you a hundred reasons why not. Why leaving home is a hard idea. Why you probably won’t get any visitors to your new home abroad. Why it will impolitely disrupt the peace in your marriage and why the lessons you’ll learn can pass for those “probably would’ve been fine without ’em” kind. Why “living in (insert foreign country here)” will always be “living away from home”. So why not.
At my last job I had this outstanding friend, a sort of mentor in a way, who felt it her duty to tell me all the things no one else will about child birth and other stuff — stitches, bleeding nipples, poop in your hair, oxytocin, the rifts it causes in your house, the way it tests your marriage. I knew she was doing it because no one else would. And I appreciated it.
Moving abroad is like having kids in the sense that you only hear a majority good things about it until you’re the one in it. Of course, it’s worth it. But no one tells you what to expect when you’re expecting to live away from home. This is my new purpose in life.
Getting off the plane in a new country that you’re going to call home is a wildly average experience, I can tell you. You’ll want it to be really exhilarating. But airports are like hospitals for the travelling. They signify new beginnings and endings. And you will have just come from, no doubt, a dreadfully teary ending. Those feelings of sadness in leaving everything you know behind won’t resolve from one airport to the next. Probably not even in the first year.
It’ll feel like this for a long time. Small things will make you cry. Like a text from home or an invitation to a wedding you won’t be able to attend. And you’ll need to upload as many beautiful pictures of your new country as often you can so friends and family can express their jealousy. All the while you’ll think to yourself “jealous of what? My new baby-sized apartment and ’92 barely running Honda Accord?”
But you’ll pick up new characteristics living away from home. Like spontaneity and flexibility and a willingness to settle for the cheaper flat. You’ll be amazed at the small tendencies you used to have that no longer seem so relevant — like how you used to complain about having too much to do on Saturdays or having already RSVPd to that family friend’s BBQ for their neighbour’s 30th wedding anniversary. Instead you’ll spend lots of time alone with the person you came with. That will give you time to talk about your day and your 20-year plan and gay marriage rights. You’ll fight a lot because you never knew the tail end of your values didn’t quite match up. But if you take the time really think about it, it won’t matter. Don’t get caught up in silly things that are trivial in comparison to the most important matters. Just because you have the time doesn’t mean you should fill it with dumb stuff.
You’ll visit places you’ve never been. People at home will ask you if it’s fun. Fun isn’t really the right word since it’s not like you’re laughing hysterically or smiling like it’s the new black. But it is totally awesome in a “fun because I saw it but wished you were here to see it, too” sort of way. So maybe figure out your word now because it’ll streamline your conversations easier in the future.
And there you’ll have it. Living away from home. It’s freedom… but mostly from things you wouldn’t expect — like comfort and security and convenience. Things you didn’t really want freedom from but are going to get anyhow because there’s no middle ground in moving away. You’ll find that some things are easier to get used to than you thought like driving on the left-hand side of the road. Other things will be harder like finding Ranch dressing in the supermarket. And for the most part, it will be easier to slip into daily life than you imagined it would be.
If I’m honest with myself, this past year has been unpredictably difficult for me. When we first moved here I bounced back and forth between extreme highs and extreme lows by the hour. I liked the waterfront and the caramel slices but not the prices on tortillas and 10pm close time of stores. I cried every day for a few months. Everything happy was clouded by my homesickness for chats with mom, Starbucks drive-thru, and Miracle Whip. I promised family I’d be back in a year tops because I disliked it that much. I disliked the experience of being without the people in my life who mean the most.
I second guessed everything. I had no regrets, but I had a lot of reflection, which is the sweeter, prettier sister of regret. I lost the reasoning a lot for why we had decided to move here. Sure, I’ve been to three new countries, excluding New Zealand, in the last year. I have like 26 new stamps in my passport. I was mayor of the Auckland Airport for awhile on Foursquare. That’s a life accomplishment by itself, and also gives you an indication of 1) just how often I was at the airport in a short amount of time to check-in so many times, and 2) just how little the number of people checking-in at the Auckland Airport is.
So I’ve gotten to travel. But what is travel alone? I’ve asked myself that a lot. In my job. In my life.
When people say living away from home will make your marriage stronger, what they really mean is that your marriage has the potential to get stronger because its going to be tested and stretched beyond logical means. The testing is not like when you go to the doctor and cover one eye and he asks you “A or B? C or D? 1 or 2? 3 or 4?” It’s more like that time in school when you ate two packs of donuts at lunch because you + Hostess = match made in haven, and it just so happens to be the day you’re being timed on the two-mile in gym class. Except you’ve also been awake studying for the SAT the entire night before and, surprise! it’s your 16th birthday and you’ve just failed your drive test. Your day is tough and now if you could please run a marathon that would be great. Tests are never that beneficial for your own life satisfaction. Tests remind you that you suck at algebra and they are no fun.
Moment of tough love: Living away from home is ^that^sort of test on your marriage. The good news is that you will likely come out of the test a better person. Your chances of passing are really high due to the fact that if you’re domestic dispute ends up with you in tears wishing you had somewhere to go, you don’t have anywhere to go. And plane tickets too home are too expensive. So after a day or so of silent treatment you resort to doing that silly thing like communicating in your marriage.
I suspect that there are other ways to learn all of these life lessons. You don’t have to move abroad. You could have a baby or buy a farm or take up being vegan. But you won’t get the experience that is “home away from home” in the same way. With living abroad, you might never grow to love it. But you’ll understand to like it for what it is and not hate it for what it’s not — which is home. That’s, I guess, the biggest epiphany and compromise I’ve had to accept. That this place will never be “home.” But it’s where I live. And I can go home when the time is right.
>365 days ago today, the time to move away from home was right. And here we still are. Happy but never without missing home, satisfied but never without the people we love most around us, and just fine. Fine… that’s my word to describe this whole thing. Leaving home can seem like the end of the world… but I promise you, you’ll be just fine.
Have to say… thank you heaps to new friends in New Zealand. To colleagues for hanging out with me. And to families who invite us over. And thank you to family at home. We miss you more than you could really know. One year down. xx.
A few posts from this last year….
(On 16-months of winter) Never never land’s never-ending winter
(On “home”) Pots and pans and 8500 miles away from home
(On talking with Kiwis in the office) Tell me one good thing about Americans
(On dreams) So long old dreams, hello new ones
(On getting your haircut by crazies) My New Zealand meltdown: Coming to terms with how pathetic I am
(On instructions for blending in) How to be a Kiwi
(On pretty pics from our first week a year ago) Never Never Land Instagram jam