Your first experience abroad is ending. What next?

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

So you did it. You escaped the hamster wheel. You left your hometown, quit your job. You made the change and jumped into the social media hailed solution to life’s problems.

Maybe you taught English. Maybe you had a working holiday visa. Maybe you studied. But those options are temporary and now, you are figuring out what to do next.

Your job placement has a limited contract. Your visa has an expiration date. Your course has a graduation day. You took such a huge risk, a leap of faith, to shed the skin of societal norms.

What should you do now?

Shedding like this is good for us. In other creatures, molting the outside boundaries is the only way the creature can grow… the only way the creature can live. Young tarantulas have to molt their exoskeletons every month or so.

Young humans need to do this now and then too, allow ourselves room to grow.

The thing about this sweet little spider dude is that after his molting, he is super soft and tender. All his insides are on the outside now. He is utterly vulnerable.

Same goes for all us risk-takers. Our big leaps of faith gave us room to grow but they also made us utterly vulnerable.

Whatever route you took shedding the too tight skin that society placed upon you, it led you to this “What Next?” moment. You’re leaving your English teaching position. You need a new visa. You finished your studies.

For me, my experience abroad lasted a brief six months before I had to ask myself that question.

When I was looking for a job in my little hometown with no success, a friend suggested I look into becoming an Au Pair. Looking into it, I felt exhilarated at the prospect of adventure, seeing the world and all while sticking it to the man. I was ready to toss aside convention and conformity and forge my own path outside the box of a “good career” and all the trappings that came with it.

Two months later, I packed up my belongings and took off for the United Kingdom.

I could rant and rave about how hard it was or how much it changed me for the better, how I discovered uncharted territory within myself. But that’s another post and it’s a story you already know so well. Preaching to the choir, you are LIVING that truth now.

But come January 2018, my regenerative experience was coming to a close. My visa was ending and I had to move on with my life. I had a world of choices open to me! I was on the tail end of a transformation and you’d think I would capitalize on that right?

Nope.

I was broke. I was uncomfortable. I was lonely.

I wanted to go back to the consistent income of a salaried 9–5 job, the physical comfort zone that came with a town and a culture that I had known for 20+ years, the easy group of friends who didn’t push me to grow but gave me a sense of belonging.

I wanted to go back to everything I had escaped. Like a damn spider trying to crawl back into its crusty old skin.

I had taken the risk and then tried taking it back. You’ve taken the risk. Keep taking it.

We are peers here. We both underwent this spider’s process. We both came to understand the arduous work and pain that comes before beauty and joy. So, we both understand what it’s like to abandon the solid foundation beneath your feet.

Choosing to become an Au Pair was exciting and fun… until it wasn’t. A month into it I had blown all my savings (which wasn’t much don’t worry) because I didn’t budget. I was surviving on my pocket money from my host family. By the end of my six-month placement, I was destitute.

Going somewhere new was refreshing… until it wasn’t. I grew homesick. Not just for my literal house and family, but for simple things like being able to walk into a grocery store and see a single brand I recognized.

But then… I was finding my place in this strange, new world. I made friends and cultivated a family abroad. My head was bursting with ideas and stories; my hands couldn’t scribble them down fast enough. And I was even teaching again too. Traditional gatekeepers couldn’t keep me away. I commuted into London once a week to teach a writing course to adults. Being abroad forced me to a place where my relationships blossomed and my passions caught fire.

And of course, like most beautiful things in this world, it had to come to an end.

So there I stood, six months later, at the end of my hero’s journey. The quest had been completed. The characters had changed and grown. I packed up my bags again and headed back to where I came from just like all those storybook heroes.

Refuse to be a storybook hero. The last pages of their existence end soon after their quest wraps up.

Your life keeps going for chapters and chapters after this first journey finishes.

I found myself combing through job postings and polishing my resume. One week after my return to the USA, I was back in a traditional institution working 9–5, getting those sweet, sweet paychecks and that even sweeter health insurance!

Back home, I was surrounded by my favorite foods and people who didn’t look at me funny or ask about my politics every time they heard my accent. The people in the car beside me were listening to the same music. No one was whinging about the weather.

At first, I was so thrilled that I had managed to squeeze myself back into that old space I used to occupy. It was a little cramped…. A little tight… but it still worked!!

Since everything was easy, comfortable, I no longer had anything pushing me towards my purpose. I had no fire under my butt that ignited my passions. I had no reason to go out and make new friends at the local pub or commute into the city and teach or to frantically pour out my thoughts to make my voice heard.

While we often must mourn the end of a beautiful moment, we do not have to face a forever of this.

We do not have to face a forever of feeling not quite right, feeling that emotion that falls just short of happiness.

Wouldn’t you rather string together a life of many beautiful moments that must end than hold an endless but banal thread throughout your entire life?

When people asked me why I was coming home, reentering the job market and embracing the norms I had so gleefully discarded before, I laughed and said, “Well, I can’t be an Au Pair forever. I’ve got to start a career sometime.” How foolish I was.

I don’t need a good career. I need a good life.

So, as you face the ending of your first transformative journey- a beautiful but temporary moment- as your visa comes to an end or your job placement finishes, don’t make the same mistake. Be the spider… not the storybook hero.

Find your next beautiful moment to add on to this one that is ending.

And on and on and on.

Now, a year after my return to normal society, I am once again bracing myself for the Great Escape. I don’t know where I’ll go or what I’ll do, but I do know I will chase those beautiful moments, and that continual growth.

Keep molting. Keep regenerating.

Keep making the choices that led to your growth and change in the first place.

Figuring out life, one story at a time.