Monday, September 24, 2012

5 Things I Learned Moving Countries

In December 2003 my husband and I and our 3 small children moved from a small coastal city in South Africa to a small-ish coastal city in The United States with 10 suitcases and very little money. This is what I learned:

1. Not everyone who speaks English thinks the same way. I had been warned by returning expats that this was so but for some reason, maybe because I had done some international travel, I didn't think this was going to be a problem for me. I quickly discovered that not only did American's have a distinct, cultural point of view, they even used different words to express it. It was a huge learning curve that I still sometimes find myself navigating and taught me to be careful with words and sensitive to how people might interpret them.

2. Moving countries is much more about shifting identity and much less about a different environment. There have been days when I've felt quite lost, not sure if I'm American or South African or perhaps something vague in the middle. I never even knew, before I moved, how much of what I thought and identified myself with had to do with a country. Now that I'm some sort of hybrid version of the two I see and appreciate both places and have a more multi-layered, flexible sense of self.

3. Much of what we tell ourselves is a fabrication. Over the years I've learned to become pretty suspicious of my own story telling and yet this past summer I again stumbled upon another story I had been telling (to anyone who would listen) about the distinct virtues and value of living in a third world country. I even dragged my entire family back to South Africa in the middle of a sub-saharan, chilly winter to explore the possibility of living there for several months of the year. 6 weeks after landing in Johannesburg International Airport I was literally crying, begging my husband to get me back to Florida. This is not as much a commentary on South Africa as it is the danger of an untrue, overly romanticized, fabricated and emotionally charged inaccurate story.

4. The longer you stay caught up with what you feel "should be", the longer it will take for you to see the value of what is. Coming back from our disastrous trip to South Africa I felt a bit foolish. I had been living in America for 10 years and although I felt, at times, deeply appreciative for many things in the US there had still been, as I explained before, this romantic vision I had of Africa and what I was missing by not being there. When my vision had been cleared up with a solid dose of reality I started to notice how much I had in the US that I hadn't noticed before...things like feeling safe at night, indoor heating and air conditioning, friendly, prompt service and good food and drivers who obey the rules of the road.

5. You don't have to be with the person/in the country that you love in order to love them/it. To leave your country of birth you need to have compelling reasons. You are essentially cutting yourself off from everything you've known and loved up until the point in time that you leave. As much as I know that America is where I want to be now because of all its wonderfulness I still get teary eyed listening to Xhosa singers coral, I still feel my heart ache when I see pictures of my brother, his wife, their children, I still want to be at my best friend's daughters ballet recital. Often clients will tell me of a love relationship that they know is not good for them, that they know they should leave but they also know will bring them heartache when they do. I try to encourage them to make their choice by saying, "Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to be there with them. You can love them from afar."

Moving countries, as you can probably tell, has been a transforming event in my life. It's brought a lot of opportunity to grow and for that I am deeply appreciative.

If you're looking to transform your life you don't have to move countries. You could rather contact me. I'm a life coach and can help you make an internal shift. It will save you a lot of time and money :)

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