Has it really been 7 months that I’ve been in New Zealand? I’ve sat on this blog post for quite some time, debating if I should post it for fear of sounding ungrateful, but today I’m taking a moment to get a little more personal and talk about the realities of living abroad.
My mom recently ran into a friend of mine in my hometown. My friend had been following my New Zealand journey through my blog and told my mom, “She’s so lucky. She must be living the dream!”
Since I’ve moved here, I’ve heard words like “brave”, “adventurous”, or “lucky” thrown around. Boarding the flight to New Zealand definitely took a bit of courage; however it was anything but luck that got me here. Moving abroad required years of saving, encouragement from family, difficult decisions like quitting a job that I loved, a lot of research, and a lot of trust that things would eventually fall into place.
Living in New Zealand thus far has been an incredibly exceptional and unique experience. I have zero regrets. A year ago I never could have dreamed I’d be living in New Zealand of all places. Since I’ve been living here, I’ve learned so much about myself and come to better understand that life as an expat maybe isn’t what I thought it would be…
It’s real life, just in a different place
So many people, including myself, have such a romanticized view of what living abroad is like. It’s such an exotic and romantic idea. Some people think they’ll have that “Eat Pray Love” experience of finding oneself or meeting the man of their dreams. Living abroad is not without its challenges. It’s still real life, just in a different place. If I’m having a bad day and complain to a friend over Facetime, I sometimes hear, “Yea, but you’re in New Zealand!” (Ha! Hilarious.) Living abroad, you’ve still got normal problems, bills, a job (or the stress of not having one), relationships you have to nourish, and fewer people present to physically support you than you do at home. You still have good days and bad days, and there are times that it can feel quite lonely without family or social circles there to mix things up. You have to make a little extra effort to be social and keep things interesting in between the road trips and adventures.
Enjoy the little things
But what I have learned living abroad is how to acknowledge and appreciate the things I may have taken for granted back home.
I miss family gatherings, time with my grandparents, weddings, graduations, helping my sister move into her new home in Austin, just grabbing brunch with a girlfriend, and even grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. Oh how I miss $3.99 Peonies in May! When I see photos of friends' weddings or family gatherings, I can’t help but sometimes think about the things I’d be doing if I were back home. Sometimes I miss my old Saturday morning routines with my HGTV playing in the background while I put my waffle iron to work. But it’s a trade off. Those things will all still be there when I return. I can’t have this experience without sacrificing a bit of the life I had before I lived abroad. This time is temporary (at least in my case) and so precious, so I must focus on the present and live in the moment, which I must admit, I sometimes have a hard time doing.
Sometimes New Zealand feels like a ‘break from reality.’ I’m constantly thinking about what happens after this, when I return to ‘real life.’ But this is real life, happening right now in New Zealand, and I must challenge myself to fully take part in it before this chapter is over!
You can do it!
I didn’t quite know what to expect before coming to New Zealand, but I’ve learned that living in New Zealand (or Australia) is totally doable. There are no new languages to learn, the people here are super friendly, and there’s so much natural beauty within arms reach. There’s no time like the present to start a new chapter or begin saving to go on an adventure. Thinking of going to grad school? Why not pick one out of the country? Transitioning jobs? Take the time in between jobs to go somewhere new!
I have to remind myself that now is the ideal time for me to have this adventure. I’m young, I don’t have kids yet, and I’ve got my whole adult life ahead of me. Travel now, while I only have to pay for my own ticket.
It’s a clean slate
For better or worse, moving somewhere new means starting over. For better, you can be whoever you want to be. You have less social distractions and more time to focus on you. You can get that haircut you’ve been building up the courage to get! No one knows you. So now is your chance to start fresh and make a first impression. On the other hand starting fresh means making the effort to get to know new people, working hard to build up a social support system, probably exerting a bit more effort into locating the best place to actually get your hair cut, or even buy groceries. In the same way that no one knows you, you’re not familiar with the reputations of stores or neighborhoods or bars. It all takes time and effort to figure out, probably more than I’m used to, but eventually you find your favorite spots, people and places you trust.
Take advantage of where you are now
Knowing I’ll only be in New Zealand temporarily, I’ve made every effort to see as much of it as I can. I’m constantly trying to plan little weekend getaways and adventures. From my blog, it might look like I’m traveling quite a lot, but I’m actually working a normal job during the week and still spend the occasional Saturday in my PJs ‘til noon. When I talk to New Zealanders about my weekend plans or recent adventures, I’m always surprised to realize that I’ve seen more of this country than many of them. I guess the same is true for many Americans when it comes to traveling the US. This has made me realize that when I return home, I need to make more of an effort to see my country… and so should you!
There’s no reason why I can’t have equally beautiful and adventurous experiences at home. I just need to plan, save and make time – just as I do here in New Zealand.