“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
I love that line, taken from LP Hartley’s novel The Go-Between. While studying for my A-level in English Literature, I read it again and again and again. I had only travelled abroad a handful of times then. I hadn’t yet shed any past skins, and yet those words resonated deeply.
A while back, a friend and I talked about our past lives. We’re both creatives, expats, travellers, seekers and we laughed about the synchronicities in our stories. Because although we may feel that we have a unique reason to travel, I believe wanderlust is pretty much universal. Even if we love home, it’s likely that we still travel virtually – absorbing different worlds via film, TV and other media.
Actually making a leap, however, takes a certain kind of gumption. And there are lots of benefits to looking before you leap. Leanne Lindsey, a freelance writer and career coach, dipped several toes in the waters of Tenerife before making her decision to move. She writes: “I don’t know if Tenerife is my forever place, but it’s definitely my immediate future place.” You can read more in Slowing Down in the Canary Islands.
Meanwhile, blogger and storymaker Dal Kular is kindling a romance with Crete, while still living in the UK. In Lost and Found in Crete she describes her Crete trip as a Homecoming. She writes: “I’m sat here at my kitchen table in Yorkshire, back on morning caffeine kicks, but somehow it feels I left a big part of me over there…happily so.”
Making sure you’re ready to go
There are so many things I wish I’d known before moving to Norway. The trouble is, I didn’t know what I needed to find out. And holidays are so different to actually living in a place. I now feel that the BEST way to get the ‘lay of the land’ is to talk to a straight-speaking expat. If necessary, bribe them with coffee, cocktails or cake, and get them to give you the full lowdown.
For instance, pretty much everyone in Norway speaks English to a high-standard. Yet (with a few exceptions) you have to speak Norwegian fluently to get a job. Luckily, as a writer and writing trainer, I was able to carve out a niche and run my business in English. But I had assumed English speakers would just seamlessly fit in. I also wish I’d known just how expensive it is, and just how cold it can get in winter. Yes, the-big-minus-20-degrees-freeze-of-2016, I’m thinking of you!
In her post, Tips for Moving to Another Country, Bee – a British expat in Milan – gives some practical advice for getting your affairs in order. Aside from those, I’d add that it’s vital to think about your whole life before you move. For instance, what will it look and feel like to do your daily routine? And once you will get into a new routine, will it be better or worse than your old one?
What to do when the honeymoon is over
The fact is, after the initial fun and excitement is over, you’re likely to experience culture shock. This is where the elements of day-to-day life simply jar with you. You might feel like you have your foot on the gas and brake pedals – simultaneously. In Culture Shock – A Personal Story, Judith Enders describes her experience of going through the ‘honeymoon’, ‘negotiation’, ‘adjustment’ and ‘mastery’ phases when she moved from Germany to Australia. In the post, she gives her top tips for dealing with culture shock.
Then life just continues, with many of the challenges you would have faced at home (plus a few new ones on top). For Erin Hartwig, a pregnant British expat in New York, living abroad has meant her current pregnancy is very different from her first. Being away from ‘normal’ life meant there was no secrecy ‘dance’ at the start, and no need to hide her pregnant form. And that, ironically, made it feel less real. You can read more about her experiences in Pregnant in NYC – An Expat’s Story.
If you realise that you are already exactly where you need and want to be, that’s great too. As time seems to speed up and years seem to fly by, I know that we’re all travelling. Because even if we don’t pack a case or get on a plane, the past inevitably becomes foreign, and we’re all forced to journey on.