Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to a familiar friend by turning off the voice of my “GPS lady” and driving the streets of my new city solo. Her voice had become a comforting companion, helping me navigate the tangle of one-way streets and tram crossings as I tried to adjust to my new home. It felt like it was the right time to say goodbye and maybe find some new (real) friends. However after the third international move in the past 10 years, I find myself wondering, is it really safe to settle in?
When we first started our international journey in 2009, I enthusiastically embraced our new home. I loved where we lived and got right down to the task of forming friendships, trying to improve my language skills and integrating into the new life my family had adopted. I didn’t focus much on long-term security and what living internationally would really mean. After all, our plan was to live overseas for a few years and then move back home.
But like many expats, one post led to another and still a third. I have packed and unpacked, said goodbye to dear friends because they moved and because I moved. I have sent my son to university in a different continent and asked my daughter to adjust to a third school setting.
So I guess it’s not entirely surprising that, with this move, I have been more apprehensive about settling in. I love our new city and want to embrace it with a full heart. But I’m scared and reluctant to like it too much, to make friends, to fully commit.
I think the difference is that, with time, I have a come to realize more fully what it means to live away from my home country and lead a life that involves a lot of change and transition. There is the excitement of meeting new people and seeing new places. But with that comes the sting of having to say goodbye and the longing for the familiar. There is the buzz you get from looking past what is safe and following your dreams. But with that comes a level of insecurity, fear and vulnerability.
At the beginning of our international journey I thought a lot about what we gain from increased mobility, but now I am very aware of what is lost as well.
Yet living overseas feels right to me somehow. I am not ready to move home just yet. Like many expats I find myself wondering, “What is the answer? How do find the courage to settle in when I’m not sure when I will have to say goodbye?”
I find that the simple process of identifying the dilemma and acknowledging the fear it brings helps. Looking at the intricacy of our life choices, examining things gained and those lost, brings a level richness to our lives. The longing for a life full of experience is one of the reasons I have chosen a path that is often changing and uncertain. Yes, to settle in means to risk being hurt but to remain disengaged means to turn away from wonderful people and experiences.
I hope that saying goodbye to my GPS friend will help me start making some new and more fulfilling relationships. I need to trust myself, knowing I might get a little lost, and use the many skills I have developed since moving. I will find my way.
How about you? How have you settled into your new home? What have you gained and lost from your life overseas? I would love to hear your story.