Moving Abroad: When No One Knows Where You’ve Been

Flickr / Leo Hidalgo
Flickr / Leo Hidalgo

I sat in my bedroom in my third cousin’s house. They call it “the junk room” because the quiet first-floor corner is brimming with miscellaneous Tupperware, scrapbooking supplies, and at that moment, a distant American relative. I was drawn into my cozy lair after a tiring day at the shoe store where I worked part time. I thought about an interaction with one of the customers, an older woman with feet warped by mangled bunions. She slipped on three pairs of designer European footwear that oppressed her poor feet. I mumbled pleasantries, like I did with most of our elderly patrons, raving about her skinny ankles, like a super model and asking about her granddaughter’s wedding in Aussie. She took note of my accent and asked if I sold shoes back in America. No, I said, quickly and assuredly, shocked at the assumption. I never fancied that I give off the aura of shoe saleswoman.

“Well, what do you do back home then?” The woman curiously inquired.

“I just graduated uni, I’m saving up some money to travel,” was my go-to response. That way, people can just assume that I’m any variation of young and confused. Like a true chronic over-thinker, however, I took the woman’s innocent question to a more existential realm, who was I back home, and who am I here?

I’ve been living in New Zealand for two months and am finally allowing myself to settle in. Not to my bedroom, nor my two new jobs, but to my person, in the present tense, so that one day, when I am older and bit wiser, I will have a better answer for that woman in the shoe store.

I never asked anyone what it was like to move abroad solo so I cannot complain that there were things no one told me. I just left. As soon as I stepped off the plane, I found myself in a very new place where one has heard of my home state, let alone my hometown. No one knew what I studied in college, or even if I went to college, let alone graduated. I became this enigmatic foreign human.

Tabula rasa. I was gifted an entirely blank slate. The trouble is, however, I’m still not entirely sure how I want to craft this life that seems so dauntingly free.

I’ve continuously defined myself by my age, my hobbies, accomplishments that make me smile and people that I love. I’ve worked hard to be a person who is warm, open, and capable. I was shaped by adolescence and early adulthood, a time plagued nagging feelings of inadequacy and generalized anxiety over lack of control. I had a goal to make it through college where I would hold a degree in my hand and have a paper measure of success.

I did it. Then I road-tripped across the US and moved to New Zealand. Now my life is a giant question mark but it’s not at the end of the sentence. I’m a little lost which is exactly where I mean to be.

There are no categories, nor rules. There is no one whispering in my ear what about what’s important, I have complete control to decide that for myself. This is a postgraduate responsibility too important to anticipate.

I don’t want to linger in the past. I’m taking advantage of the now and I will define young traveler living in Auckland, working at the shoe store. I have knowledge and experience under my belt, a college degree and a zest for new things. I’m an artist and a writer. I’m working on loosening my grip on control and letting myself grow.

I now realize how much harder I made this adjustment when I left everything and everyone familiar halfway around the world. It sometimes feels like a frightening independence but with each step outside my comfort zone, I have a clearer vision each day about how I will define my life. I’m not entirely sure how my piece fits into this complicated galactic puzzle, although slowly but surely, I’ll get there. For now, I’ll sell some more shoes. TC mark

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