Moving to a new place is a really big (mental) step. Most people find it really scary (which it kinda is), and even if they have the opportunity to go, some eventually won’t do it for exactly that reason.
BUT, so much of that fear is just a mind game that you have to overcome. Once you do that, the party has only just begun!
So of course, you don’t have to move to Sweden necessarily, it can be anywhere in the world. But that’s what it was for me, and doing field work in South Africa at the moment has made me relive that experience completely. So I would like to propose a toast to why I’m thankful that I’ve silenced the chicken deep inside (and that coming from a vegetarian..) of me and taken that leap of faith two years ago.
Here’s a toast …
Get this, so you arrive in a new country with all your luggage in your bag and in your brain. You know what you stand for, the things you like to do, the kind of people you hang out with. On Friday you probably go to that one bar where you get 2 if you buy one with Sammy, your favourite ice cream (peppermint) is right next door and the chances of encountering your best friend Lisa at the market square sipping some Apero are pretty high when the sun is out. But think again, no one else in your new place knows this about you! There you go, a new shot for just about anything. And this can be quite nice, if not even liberating! If you’ve always wanted to try pole dancing, or bread baking, or you want to be a better listener than you were that last time you had an argument. You can truly re-examine who you want to be, and how you want to spend your time.
So make a list now, before you go, of hobbies you’ve always wanted to try, foods you wanted to taste, habits you wanted to break, anything you can come up with. I wanted to become a vegetarian, so I did! For the first time ever I have lived by myself, and I finally dedicated time to learn salsa, properly. There are endless opportunities really, and being in a new environment is incredibly stimulating to take all these steps.
At least when you have just arrived, you probably have nothing going on other than building up a life in a new place. So all you need to do is say yes to whatever is thrown at you, because having those new experiences is what makes you stop missing what you left behind a lot more easily. Just remember to keep your loved ones close, but do get out and have all the crazy experiences your new friends come up with. Not knowing where you’ll end up is the best part of it anyway! This is how I’ve started jumping in ice cold lakes, running in the rain, going on trips (o well, those are usually my idea :p), staying out for the Northern lights and making snow angels in bikini.
Completely emerging yourself in all the quirks and twists of a new society adds so many layers to your understanding of the world. It’s an experience you can’t get by reading a newspaper or watching a movie, not even by travelling through. It’s something you need to see, taste & touch and realising that what has been ‘normal’ to you all your life is not quite the normal somewhere else. It can be as stupid as me learning that people don’t usually eat bread twice a day, like all Belgians do, or that good chocolate really can not be taken for granted. Or for you it may be as profound as experiencing that you have arrived somewhere where you can walk freely out in the street at night, as a girl, without feeling unsafe. Or moving from a big city where you are a number on the street, to knowing 80% of your town personally (or just the opposite).
In Sweden I’ve felt my general mood change with the seasons, I’ve grown a larger personal bubble, and I’ve munched on all the different bullar of the year. It’s kind of weird to think about, but all that life in Sweden is all going on right now, as we speak, just waiting for you to be discovered if you wanted to find it.
And then you get to that point where you came from, this complete comfort zone of pyjama parties with your new close friends, eating cake while talking boys/girls. You have grown new bad habbits, you are settled in a routine, … And then, a new challenge comes along. And again, you’ll be a little bit scared.
But the difference is that now you just think about that exact moment you were freaking out about moving abroad and how comfortable you are right now. That was all built up from scratch, and you did that! This sense of comfort is exactly what you need to take that next leap of faith to get a little out of your comfort zone once more. Whether or not that means you will get out to do field work or go to that event where you know no one, you know you’ll be fine.
So here’s my advice, if you are thinking about going abroad but you’re a little bit scared, just do it (LaBeouf, 2015)! If you are so lucky in life that you have this opportunity, then just go and let it happen!
And know that Sweden is waiting with wide open arms!
Love from Cape Town,
(“just a little” outside of my comfort zone)