Accepting challenges for the sake of a higher goal
10.06.2007 - 26.06.2008 32 °C
When you first move to a new country you are full of energy to embrace what you encounter and add it to your list of travel experiences. You need a lot of positive energy to turn your initial objective and empirical observations into something you can be part of. In other words, the country can look and smell like crap but at the end of the day it needs to become home, at least for the next year anyway!
The emotional experience of moving to a foreign country can initially be one of rejuvenation, but the challenges of life and work can make it a stressful and difficult experience. You miss your friends, family, hobbies, food and who can forget it....a recognisable language! It's a rollercoaster of emotion and inemotion. Sometimes when you should feel sad you feel nothing and other times you can see something like a can of Heinz beans in the supermarket and cry. Homesickness manifests in different ways but you'd be surprised how you project it onto things of seemingly little significance.
Homesickness is fleeting but what holds you together or makes you fall apart is the knowledge of why you are living abroad. Some people run away from life or love at home, some look for an opportunity to save money (which usually fails), some want to learn the language of the country and others see it as an opportunity to travel and gain some different experiences. Whatever your motivation for travel, at many points you need to remind yourself of this reason to stop you getting the first flight back home when you're sick to death of everything the country has to offer. I usually get these feelings when I'm stuck behind a group of people who seem scared to walk onto an escalator in the Metro or when I ask for a McFlurry in McDonalds and end up with corn soup! These little annoyances chip away at you until you decide you need a holiday or make a change to your life routine.
So that's the early days of living abroad...but your tolerance of the difficulties cannot be measured in time, rather it's a conscious adjustment to your frame of mind. Going back to England for two weeks after my first year in Taiwan was eye opening. I walked around London amazed by the beautiful architecture and the feeling of history. I had previously hated London but suddenly became proud that it was the capital city of my country. By living abroad in a much less appealing place I was able to put my thoughts into perspective. Returning to Taiwan for a second year was difficult but this time I came with a new purpose...saving money. It was the best place to do it and I no longer had to be here so my attitude changed. Things that used to annoy me were everywhere but I told myself it was pointless getting worked up about something I could never change and I should be grateful that I only need endure it for a limited time.
The greatest challenge of a year of saving money in a foreign country, is knowing that anything you do before the date of departure is detrimental to your cause. When invited for a weekend away, you calculate the immediate cost and weigh it against the price of the items you need to buy for travelling next year, or the country you might have to miss out of your travel itinerary. It's worse if you are giving yourself a tight living budget because at pay day each month you work out if you overspent and always try to recover the money by eating something local, cheap and crap as a kind of conscience cleansing. If you've somehow managed to save more than you planned in a month it's a very exciting and rewarding feeling, but it only lasts as long as it takes for you to spend the excess (+more!) on something from your travel list.
So with all this talk about difficulties and challenges it would seem that contentment would be impossible. However, when you start to see the savings accumulating, each work week passing quickly and relatively hassle free, and you realise that you can afford the odd nice meal or trip away without it draining too much of your finances, it is possible to feel content. I find my countdown timers very heartening and with less than 8 months to go, I'd have to say that time flies not only when you're having fun!