Things I’ve Learned While​ Living Abroad

There is no magical land
I used to romanticize this place in my head, for years. Ever since I was 12 years old I was dying to move to this amazing pastel-colored city that never sleeps.

But although the skylines are brighter, the people are more authentic, the food tastes nicer and the culture is more appealing, life’s just life, no matter where you are. There are bills to pay, there are meals to make, there are countless times you feel lonely, you lose friends and your heart will get broken. The rain and the wind will feel as unpleasant as it did back home.

The problems you had when you were living in the town you grew up in, will haunt you, no matter where you are, no matter how far you run. That fear of attachment, that incapability to accept the impermanence of life, your insecurities, your most irrational fears and your traumas: you will be chased by yourself. And since life in the city is already extremely lonely in itself, there is no way escaping your thoughts. But now, you finally learn to deal with the demons in your brain and slowly you’ll find little ways to fight and defeat them: to ease the pain a little. This is scary and exhausting and will keep you awake at night. Staring at the walls, because you’re being paralyzed by all that you’re feeling, all the emotions, all the pain, all the fear, is nothing new anymore. You’re slowly learning to face all that’s going on inside your brain.

So even though, you’re living in the city of your dreams, days are way harder than you thought they would be. But that’s all because you’re growing, you’re healing from wounds you collected throughout the years. And maybe you never really had the time and space to process all of it. Always busy, always working extremely hard to reach goals and ideals society forced on you.

Living by yourself is hard, but also a lot of fun
Finding your way into a new city is hard and especially when you’re living on your own for the first time as well. The first few weeks it’s all about finding out how to do your laundry, how to be creative with meals, how to plan your grocery shopping and you start asking yourself what your mum would do in certain situations – and wonder how she managed to do all of this for a whole family. You realize you don’t own a lot of basic kitchen stuff, like a really sharp knife or a colander and you forget to buy toilet paper . The air in the city is polluted and it’s pretty hard to keep the house tidy and clean, especially when you’re living with three other people, two of them a bit messier than you are. So you accept the ‘less healthy lifestyle’ for a while, because cities are never clean.

After a while, you begin to miss your comfortable bed back home. The mattress you’re sleeping on is giving you extreme back pain and should have been replaced by the agency years ago, but they don’t care. Because all they care about is money. So you end up sharing a tiny, crappy council apartment with three other people from different countries, you don’t know and barely speak with. Your room itself was divided in two, by a very thin wall, which means: no noise filtering. You hear every breath of your room mate and he hears every lyric you sing. Most of the time he’s not home in the day, but he makes up for it at night. He’s smoking lots of delicious weed, you smell when you wake up, which causes you to almost throw up every morning, and he’s watching some violent Spanish series at 4 AM, which wakes you up alarmed in the middle of the night, because of the screaming and moaning from the characters. But he’s a nice guy and you don’t wanna be rude, so you keep quiet. You have your own room, your own food and your roommates are busy themselves and they don’t care about you, which is a good thing.

It’s true: there’s so much freedom in living by yourself. There’s no curfew, no need to talk if you don’t feel like talking, there’s no fixed (meal) schedule, you learn how to manage your money and you don’t necessarily have to eat stuff you dislike. Cooking is fun, organizing is calming and taking care of yourself becomes a priority. You find out that the healthier you eat, the better you feel about yourself and it becomes a fun challenge to avoid all the foods that are bad for you – and now, you enjoy those cheat days even more. 

Living by yourself is good. It teaches you lots about life, ‘adulthood’ and about ‘you’. So in those rare times where you aren’t swallowed up by loneliness or household tasks, you come to enjoy your own company, your freedom. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. You discover little pieces of yourself you didn’t know existed and you peak into corners of your soul that have been unknown. You create little habits and small routines that keep you grounded and you’re becoming your own best friend.

Living, without even doing anything fun, is extremely expensive
Still, everything comes with a price and living in the city is extremely expensive. You pay way too much money for a room you can’t even walk in, the public transport makes you broke and literally just breathing seems to cost money. You saved up so much and you worked so hard for this, but the city doesn’t care, it just wants your money. And you accept the fact you can’t be too careful with your money anymore, because you need good food and you need to do fun activities sometimes, so you surrender. And it’s okay, because the money is worth it. Half of the people around you are completely broke, so you don’t feel an outcast in this. Living ‘poorly’ in the city of your dreams is way more satisfying than having loads of money and not living in the same place, right?

Although your lifestyle became extremely minimalistic and you mostly only buy stuff you REALLY need, you can’t help but wish you had more money, so you could enjoy the city more. Get a nicer, bigger room, go out for dinner more, visit the cinema or some expensive exhibitions and buy more fancy dresses at those little vintage boutiques. But beggars can’t be choosers, so you accept the fact that there are restrictions.

You realize you want more money, even though you always said you didn’t need much. But as long as you keep enjoying the smallest and unbuyable things in life, it can’t be too bad to crave for a little more luxury, is it? But you keep in mind, that the best moments can’t be bought and you’re grateful for your own awareness of it.

Life’s about the little things 
So, you start to realize that life really is about the little things: the mesmerizing sunsets, the car rides with the windows open and the music blowing, the hugging of people you feel closely connected to, the first hot coffee in the morning, a brand new song you just discovered and can’t stop listening to, the phone calls with your family, the reading of an article you relate so much to, the discovering of the work of a talented poet, the little squirrels you spot in the park, while sitting and writing, the rides on the underground where you can be a mysterious stranger, the weekly grocery shopping in which you can buy all of your favorite food, the little candles you light up at night that make your room look cozy, the wander through the city when the sun is going down, the old dusty bookstores you get lost in and the rising and falling of your chest that makes you realize how alive you are. And suddenly, in these little moments, you are grateful for every good and every bad memory, every friend and every member of your family. You come to conclude that the rain was needed for you to grow, that you’ve already come so far and the future is more than bright. You live in the moment and you’re feeling your ego fading away and realize: this is life. Becoming one with the world and being able to experience it all and god, it’s terribly beautiful.

You have to be your own best friend 
You’ll be meeting a lot of people and you’ve already made a handful really close friends. You see them once a week, or a few times a month, sometimes you’re in touch a lot, but there times in which you aren’t speaking. It’s clear that everybody’s busy. Everyone’s living their own life and that’s okay. They don’t always have time for you and you don’t always have time for them, but the moments in which you can be together are valuable. You don’t get mad about a late reply and they don’t hate you for canceling a ‘date’. You understand each other and you see that this is how mature, ‘adult’ friendships work.

You are not dependent on your friends for your happiness, but do they bring you a lot of peace and enjoyment. And, in these lasts months, you became your own best friend as well. You take yourself out on coffee dates, visit places you always wanted to see, sometimes go out for dinner by yourself and you take long ‘romantic’ walks. It sounds a bit pathetic when you put it that way, but doing activities like this is a sign you came to enjoy your own company and you realize there’s solitude in being by yourself.

Love is hard
It’s inevitable, you fall in love with their messy hair, their irresistible accent and the way they make you feel safe, in these first months where feeling lonely and vulnerable is all you know. A sense of home feels so good for a change. But they use their ‘power’ and take advantage of you when you’re most vulnerable. They pull you in, want to know everything about you, make you feel like they are different, but they are exactly the same. They want you when you’re happy and your body is still a mystery, but as soon as they’ve seen you physically and mentally bare, there’s not much for them to discover anymore. They’re bored or just not interested in tasting the depth of the water. They just want small talk, they’re not really interested in the passions, dreams, fears and all that drives you. Your body’s just a tool for them to experience a very shallow kind of satisfaction. Once you tell them you miss them or ask them about their feelings, they take off, because it’s getting ‘too serious’ now. They want to stay ‘friends’ but make no effort to see you. They act as if nothing ever happened and blame you for being so irrational and so sensitive. They make you feel small and you feel your self-worth is getting questioned.

This hurts, a lot. You’ll feel bad for a while, maybe even for months, but you come to realize it’s not you, it’s them. You are so full of love and they aren’t lucky enough to be able to experience a deeper connection. You were able to feel love, to give love, even when you didn’t receive it in return, which is beautiful in a way. But you learned from these experiences, so from now on you’re more careful and trust no one, but yourself.

But still, as a hopeless romantic, you keep having faith, that someday, someone good will come along. And the right person will appear, eventually, after you’ve learned all the lessons you could learn in love. These months you already learned you should be more careful and less naive.

There’s something as too much free time
After spending a lot of ‘free’ time you’ll figure out that it’s suffocating to have loads of spare time. It leaves you bored and uninspired real quickly. You are the only one that’s having this responsibility for taking action and strangely enough, this complete control is not that satisfying. It leaves you anxious. When you are lazy you get extremely mad at yourself, but on the other hand, you have no idea where to start reaching your goals. You’re in need of some kind of structure and you crave for some kind of guidance. Maybe, just maybe, you can’t do it all by yourself and you need people around you to send you in certain directions, because you keep running in circles.

You figure out you need to find a balance between doing things you love and doing something more valuable to the whole. Because now, the activities you experienced as fun (your hobbies) aren’t as fun anymore and a lot of the time you don’t feel like doing the things you love the most. They don’t bring you as much joy as they used to do when you felt like you ‘earned’ me-time. The moments in which you can lose yourself in doing things you love have more value when they are earned after working on things you may like less, but bring you ‘professional’ progress in life.

The future as a non-career 20-something is scary

“Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career, you have a life.”  – Elephant Journal

And this is so true. You’re worrying about the next step in your life and about getting a job that firstly, will suit you and brings you joy and secondly, makes you a decent amount of money. And you know that, eventually you’ll have a job that suits you perfectly, but you’re impatient of the waiting. You don’t know in what direction to move forward, what it is you want exactly and the things you are capable of. In every vacancy they ask for a lifetime of experience, while you only just graduated. You feel not good enough and wonder if you’ll ever be. In the worst case scenario, you will work in a job that is not in your field, like a restaurant or a bar, but there’s no way you’ll be able to do that your whole life. You want to succeed, you want to build a carreer, because all the effort you put in studying would be wasted. But what it is you want, how you’re getting into the bussiness and if it will make you happy? You don’t know. You feel the pressure as you’re getting older and you feel like your wasting your life. Everyone around you seem to have their lives together. A nice, well-paid job, a passionate Instagram-proof relationship and a beautiful house. But you wonder if they’re happy doing the job that provides them this life.

But on the other hand, you met lots of people that are exactly in the same position as you are. Just like you, they have no idea what they’re doing. They don’t have a plan, they live day by day and most of the time they are just ‘surviving’, but they are also working on the things they love the most. You see that London is just a mixture of people that have it all together (a well paid (banking) job, a beautiful expensive suit, a 4 story house in Victorian style) and of a million dreamers that are trying to figure out who they are and how they wanna live their lives. They’re chasing their dreams and they are taking the risks, other people wouldn’t do.

You wonder in which category you belong. You don’t know. You belong in both maybe. A part of you wants to ‘fit’ into society, to be normal and be part of the system, which provides you with a stable life, in which you earn enough money and experience work-related growth. Your hobbies and the things you value the most, will come second in this situation. Another part of you doesn’t want to belong, doesn’t want to fit in and just wants to be free. To live day by day and to be guided by nature. To spend the most possible time on doing things you love and grow spiritually more. You are aware of the fact that you’re constantly changing and you just don’t want to commit to anything, especially not a job. But thinking and living like that, in this society, is not really accepted and it’s not the easiest way to live life these days. So you don’t know. You’re stuck.

You’ll have to trust the process 
Still, you have faith the right path will appear right in front of you. You try not to panic about the future and you keep believing there will be a place for you in this world, whether it’s inside or out the ‘system’. You just have to be patient, it’ll be alright.

Right now you just try to enjoy living in the city of your dreams and every thing you experience and you try not to worry too much, although that’s extremely hard. Looking back on these months makes you see how much you’ve grown. You’ve dealt with your demons, you went out of your comfortzone a million of times, met some amazing people and last of all, you’re still here. You’re still breathing. And the best thing is, you’re looking forward to rest of your life. Through all the bad times, life’s beautiful and you’re the one creating it.

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