When I was in my early twenties and met my now husband, we were so keen to pack our bags and head overseas. It seems to be common among Australians. Perhaps due to our distance from the rest of the world and our curiosity to see what else is there.
Our journey over the years looks something like this -
Toronto for 9 months
Back to Australia
Montréal for 1 1/2 years
Back to Australia to have our son
California for 2 years
Seattle for 6 months
Back to Australia to have our daughter
I learned a great deal about myself through these experiences.
As an introvert I found it confronting. With each journey I struggled, and possibly made it harder than it had to be. I really missed our life here in Australia. I missed the feeling of home and the familiarity. I missed our family and friends. I felt extremely guilty for not being there for my mother.
I also felt so removed from everything that brought me comfort. Arriving with nothing but our suitcases meant that we had to create our lives from scratch over and over. It sounds exciting. But those things - the pictures on the wall, your favourite coffee cup, your big comfy couch that you spent many nights cuddled up on with your husband and children - they attribute to feelings of comfort and security. When they are completely removed you appreciate them all-the-more.
More than anything I realised the importance of community.
Through feeling isolated I yearned for that human connection with others. When living in California I would take my son to a local coffee shop just to sit and feel like I was part of society. It did help for a brief moment. But the process of building friendships was an arduous one. And it left me feeling extremely vulnerable. And on days in tears due to feelings of loneliness.
There are of course positives of our travels abroad.
I learned how much I do actually love to travel. Despite the anxiety, I feel totally free and in my element when exploring a new surrounding.
One of my greatest memories was when I cycled down a mountain in Austria. The scenery, the breeze on my face, the sunshine glimmering through the trees, the sound of nothing but birds in the trees and my bicycle wheels turning... that feeling of being in total awe, and deeply connected to my surrounding is reason enough to travel.
I loved observing how other cultures live. Seeing the way they interact with their community, the way they celebrate time together, the differences in our climate to theirs and how it effects their way of life. And befriending some of them and learning so much about their culture. Seeing the city through their eyes. Sharing dinners with their family and friends. They welcomed us as one of their own and for that I feel forever grateful.
I also learned a great appreciation of where I'm from. We often think the grass is greener on the other side. But you realise being away for so long that you actually have it pretty good right where you are.
I look back on my time abroad as being some of the greatest experiences of my life. It was a time of maturity. A time of looking deeper at life and those things that I value most. Encouragement to more towards that place of Quiet Contentment.
Despite how hard it often was, and the tears on those countless nights, I feel so grateful that I had the opportunity to share them with my partner and our son. We have stories to remember and talk to each other about for years to come.
Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it right now? Perhaps not. At this point in life, with two children, I feel familiarity, security and that sense of community is important for us all.
But I still daydream about exploring Scandinavia. Of looking across misty rolling hills of Ireland. And standing on the bridge in Milford Sound where my mother's footsteps still silently dance.