Change is the law of life. Unlike many people I know, I was never afraid of it. In fact, I sought it.
2009 was the year that changed my life. It was when I left home and went abroad for the first time. After doing everything “by the book” – school, University, work – I decided to quit my job and be an Au Pair in the USA.I lived with a family in NJ for 18 months and travelled to some of the most famous American destinations: NYC, Disneyland, Miami, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Washington DC, etc.
During that year, there were a lot of firsts: flying, seeing snow, listening to many different languages, travelling by train, staying at hostels, travelling solo, going on road trips with people we just met at a hostel, trying new foods, having a memorable hangover. Sometimes even opening a door or using home appliances or shower was a new challenge. It was ridiculous. And awesome. I laughed a lot with myself and learned with every task I had to do. Oh, I also cried a lot. It felt absurdly overwhelming at times and I had thoughts of giving up and going back to the comfort of my home. Even though you make many friends, in the end you are alone. The feelings and lessons you have to work out - you work them out alone. The big life decisions - you make them alone. Often times I felt lonely and sad, but mostly I felt sure that it was the best thing I had ever done in my life, this living abroad thing.
When you go off by yourself and face the new every single day, you have no choice but evolving. You become more independent, more mature, more understanding, more flexible. You can reinvent yourself, you can be free. You don’t have to fulfill anybody’s expectations on what you should do and how you should behave. Nobody knows you and that’s an opportunity to open up, connect and have loads of fun!
Choose your new friends, hang out with people who make you feel good and who can relate with your beliefs and dreams. I made friends in church, Au Pair cluster meetings, parties, hostels, Couchsurfing and more. They include travelers from everywhere, locals, and Brazilian expats. I learned so much about relationships and culture and they were my support team. On the other hand, the sad fact is: most of them will follow their paths and you’ll eventually lose contact. But as I tell myself, “C’est la vie”. Thanks to the internet I still keep regular contact with some of the friends I met abroad and I’m sure we’ll meet someday somewhere.
My time abroad was so amazing that I couldn’t sit still at home for even a year. After having a taste of what’s out there, out of my bubble, I wanted more! I came to Belgium to be an Au Pair again (I know, crazy) and lived next to a real castle (!) for a year. I visited all the countries I had in mind: Portugal, Spain, France, England, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Holland. I visited friends I had met in the US (went for yet another road trip with the stranger from the hostel, now my fellow gummy bear eater); friends from Brazil; surfed someone’s couch for the first time and had long philosophical and spiritual conversations; and stayed in the best hostel ever.
My year in Europe was truly beautiful. Although sometimes I got a feeling that “this is just a city like any other” I learned to be more open to what the places have to offer, what’s special about them and their people. Now my list of places I want to visit has expanded and I want to experience really different cultures, like Asian and Middle-Eastern.
I grew more and more passionate about living abroad. Many people ask me for advice about it or tell me about their fears, lack of money or other things holding them back. My answer is always: GO! Put your plan on paper, prepare, be brave and go! If you have that itch, it’ll never go away until you do it. The experience of being abroad is so enriching, it’s more valuable than any material stuff you would choose to spend your money on instead. I used to tell my friends back home: “I returned home poor, but I LIVED!”.
That tearful, scared girl who left her hometown in 2009 never came back. Of course she cries and gets scared sometimes, but it’s different now. Living abroad has changed my path like I would have never imagined. It changed the way I see the world and its people; it changed my decisions; it changed some of my interests, opinions and behavior.Yes, this post is mostly showing how AWESOME it is to live abroad and how it affected me in a positive way. Downsides and whining another time + reflections on more specific topics!
*I recently talked to Cate from Small Planet Studio about my return home. You can read the interview here.
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