I remember the first time I went abroad. I was 13 years old and I was off to Northern Ireland with my best friend and her family for five weeks. I was sitting at O’hare airport in Chicago waiting to board my first transatlantic flight thinking, ‘wow, I’m really doing this!’ The next thing I remember, however, was going through passport control in Dublin and having a fairly intimidating immigration officer ask if I had a note from home allowing me to enter the country without my parents. Hmmm – obviously we hadn’t thought of that. While the good news is that we talked our way in, this experience taught me that there is much more to this ‘moving around’ game than I had considered.
In the end, the trip was amazing – it expanded my mind, it opened the door to how others live and it allowed me to experience so many things I hadn’t done at home. However, it also introduced me to some of the difficulties in being far away from everything I knew – loneliness, cultural differences, and the odd bit of fear as Northern Ireland in the late 70s wasn’t exactly perceived as the safest place around. I am proud to say that that experience didn’t stop me from going abroad again. In fact, it began a lifelong love of travelling and living in many different cities and countries, for which I am eternally grateful.
As I was thinking about the key ingredients to a successful relocation, I decided to get some help from friends and family as a great number of them have also moved around quite a bit. Not surprisingly, I received amazing insight into the trials and tribulations of restarting life in a new location, as well as fantastic ideas on how to overcome many of these issues. One couple even sent me a photo of a whiteboard where they put all the issues into a wonderful pictorial. So here are some of the things I have discovered, both from my own experiences and from those of the people I have talked to.
Firstly, the feelings and emotions one goes through are normal and, even if it feels like you are completely alone sometimes, there are others around who really do understand. What’s missing for many people is a sense of connection to things that are familiar (e.g. people, places, etc.). So, the key is to create new connections in your new surroundings.
What can you do to accomplish this? The most important thing is to adopt a positive mindset – I know, this is easier said than done but it is true! Be creative, inquisitive and open-minded – it really helps. From experience, this is particularly important when you are not feeling your best. One thing I have found useful is to give myself a task – for example, try one or two new things each week. It might be going to a new museum or finding a hidden park, sometimes I’m not sure it matters – it gets you out and gives you something different to think about. Another strategy is to get to know your new area better by walking (or riding a bike) whenever you can. It not only helps to orientate yourself, but it also helps to discover the things which makes your new area unique.
Another thing which is really important is to meet new people. The key to this is to tell yourself you are not looking for your new BFF, although finding one would be a wonderful bonus. Instead, you are looking for social interaction – anything which will get you out of the house and give you a feeling of connection with people, even if it is only for a couple of hours. How do you meet new people? As well as getting out and doing things you already know you like to do, you can use this as an opportunity to try something new - then see who else is doing these things. It might be hiking, skiing, riding horses, listing to live music, joining a singing group - the list is endless. You never know who you are going to meet but you need to put yourself out there - you won’t meet anyone while sitting in your living room.
One last thought - it can be very helpful to write about your experiences. Whether it is keeping a journal, blogging or emailing someone close to you, putting your experiences to paper will not only remind you of all the great new things you have done and the people you have met, but it will also allow you to see your progress!