What Life Abroad Can Teach You

1). You cannot create a parallel life

I thought starting afresh would be easy. As if my upbringing, my relationships, my language, my habits, my culture could be easily replaced. I’ll exchange one life for another.

In reality you end up being stuck in between, often torn.

Whilst it’s important to be open to different ways, you don’t always have to say goodbye to  the old to bring in the new. A tree doesn’t rip up its roots in order to grow and neither should we.

2). Don’t waste time on what ifs

Often whilst traveling I’d bump into situations or people that were too good to be true. Because they were.  This job is so amazing… if only it wasn’t in a bad location. We connect so much… if only they didn’t live here. We became friends so quickly… if only they didn’t need to leave so soon. It’s easy to get frustrated,  as if the world is teasing us, showing us a glimpse of what could have been in an alternate reality. Don’t waste too much time on these what ifs. You only have the options in front of you. Concentrate on them.

3). We all know our own truth

Deep down we all know what is good for us and what decision is best. Often it’s tempting not to listen, to lie to ourselves and make excuses. So easily we slip down the path of comfort and instant gratification. Trust yourself and value yourself enough to take the path best for you, even if it’s the harder one, it’ll pay off in the long run.

4.) There’s beauty in the finite

Living overseas, especially in an expat community you get used to people coming and going. Learn from them, create memories with them, let them leave an impression on you, but don’t be too destroyed when you have to say goodbye. Something doesn’t loose it’s value or ‘sparklyness’ just because it has to end. Appreciate what you had, but also learn to embrace change, rather than working against it. Why pointlessly try to clutch at the wind when you could let it sweep you along to somewhere new and exciting? Arriving at this new destination doesn’t take away from the scenery at the previous stop.

5). At the same time value those that stick around

Appreciate your rocks. The people you can always come back to and amidst all the flutter and craziness of the world offer something strong and indestructible. No matter where you are or how long between talking, you never have to doubt it and you’ll always have each others’ back.

6). Play by your own rules

Ok maybe not when it comes to laws in a new country. But in all other senses, be a (respectful) renegade. You don’t have to always adhere to social norms. These change for every new city you’re in, but that doesn’t mean your own personal standards have to.

-Don’t be scared to explore or experiment or shake things up a bit.

-Don’t restrict yourself or feel caged by what others may think or their inability to get it. People don’t like it when you explore past the realms of what they’ve deemed possible or normal or acceptable, but that’s not your problem and you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

-Don’t ever let customs or stigmas or group mentalities shame you. Do what’s right for you, stand tall by it, own it, be proud and never feel belittled for being different.

7). Get to know flawed people, rather than being disappointed by perfect concepts

Everyone is just trying to get by the best they can. No-one has the answers. Don’t be so hard on yourself or others. If you see someone as a success, a leader, a mother, a partner, a sister then  you fail to see them and love them completely. Accept people for who they are and where they’re at. Accept what they are able to bring to you right here and now rather than expecting the world, or worse,  expecting them to fill yours.

We don’t fall in love with perfection; it’s sharing of insecurities and vulnerabilities that create the most intimacy. Allow yourself to be imperfect and vulnerable. Allow yourself to be a person, not a gleaming product. Get to know people for who they really are. You included. When you see someone as a shiny concept of a person you do everyone a disservice.

8). Allow yourself to change your mind

I moved to Sweden with no return ticket and a head full of rigid plans and expectations. Then I changed my mind. Which is ok. Changing your mind shows you’re thinking things though, listening and actively living. It shows that no matter how set your intentions, you’re giving yourself to a larger force that’s out of your control. Life. Be humble enough to let it surprise you.

Kiruna

I woke up Saturday morning overcome by homesickness. That same morning I boarded a bus that would take me to the top of Sweden and the furthermost point I had ever been from home. 13500 kilometres away from where I was born. More than 24 hours flying time from my family. A frozen place buried in snow, when all I wanted was to smell the heat in the air. To be comforted by a landscape that was as sunburnt as the sandgropers soaking up the sun on Perth’s scorching beaches.

My world has a way of doing this, humouring me. I hadn’t been homesick for six months, then just as I’m about to set off on an exciting adventure, it stabs me with surprise. These contrasts seem to have a way of bumping into me whilst travelling.

-Travelling made me realise that the place that frustrates me the most is the one I miss the most.

-Travelling made me realise how much I can control and simultaneously how much I cannot.

-Travelling made me realise how different human beings can be, yet at the same time how similar.

Since leaving my hometown it often feels like my world has been completely spun on its head. Other times I feel like a bored school girl spinning the classroom globe round and round with her index finger. It doesn’t really matter where the finger lands it’s always the same pattern, the same pace, the same girl. I can pick any country I want but that globe is still held in place by it’s brass frame, it’s not going anywhere. I’m still bound by the rules., by gravity, by reality.

I think it was this realisation that kick started my homesickness. It doesn’t matter how far I go, some things will never change. Even in a new environment you’re still confronted by the same let downs, the same frustrations, the same people in different guises. The only thing is your expectations are much higher; you’re trying so hard to create an experience, busting for a better life where you make the most of everything and leave no potential unexplored. Being in Sweden has thrown dazzling happiness at me, but that shine also lights up the dark corners, revealing what is lacking or what I’m trying to ignore.

Living abroad was supposed to change my life. And it did. But people are still people no matter what accent they have. We’re all bound by our habits, our fears, our assumptions. We’re all living preemptively. How we experience, is determined by the ideas we already have in our head, what we’ve decided is good for us, our past, how we want our future to look. I’m certainly guilty of hastily slapping labels on people or situations, making them fit in with the reality I want to create. And being disappointed or angry when they don’t.

So it’s made me question if human beings really are good at making their own decisions. Are we good at being happy? So often we are stuck in lives that we’re unsatisfied with and often it’s our own choices that lead us there. It stings when I find myself in a different situation, a different culture, different people yet with the same outcome.

It makes me feel like a hamster naively running on a wheel. It doesn’t matter if I sprint, walk, or star jump; I can change my behaviour as much as I want, but nothing will really change. It feels like no matter how hard I try, my life is completely out of my control. This is a frustrating feeling for someone who wants to make things happen not wait for things to happen.

So it leaves me asking, what should I do? Lower my expectations? Accept? Not be hungry for more? Be realistic?

Well sometimes I don’t like the reality I’m given. So I’m going to hold onto the hope that I can create my own.

Maybe that hope is a lie. But I’d prefer to believe in a beautiful lie and I have to believe I’m deserving of that lie too. All I can do is keep trying to forge the life that I want, regardless of the reality around me. I can take inspiration from Kiruna, a place that feels like it’s stubbornly decided to exist even though the elements are against it.

All I really have control over is how I choose to perceive the world, what I choose to make of it. I hope that some day I’ll meet people that will prefer my version of the world too and come join me. But ultimately I can’t force that, all I can do is decide who I am and what I want. Being bold and reckless and taking risks, that’s who I am. Part of that means picking myself up when they don’t pay off. Like this morning when I realised too late that taking the unbeaten, cross country path with snow as deep as a basketball player wasn’t the best plan. But these slips and set backs and moments of homesickness are the price I pay for taking the  path less travelled. Maybe it’s not so safe, but I’d prefer to unknowingly be walking towards  a dragon’s den with hope in my heart than sitting still, settling for a reality that doesn’t make me happy.

 

A New Year In A New Country

My New Year began in August. Before then I was waiting, whinging, getting anxious, getting restless. In August, I finally moved overseas and started building a life of my own creation. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, I was surprised, I was scared, I was drunk , I was foolish, I was embarrassed, I was down at times, but mostly I felt alive. How sad that seems like a success. But there is a big difference between being alive and feeling alive, doing things that make you feel excited and exuberant and glorious. The kind of humble glory, that comes not from a stadium of screaming fans, but from yourself. In my case, successfully buying the right shopping ingredients, amidst rows of foreign labels was a success. It’s that little inner triumph. Happiness. Why is that so difficult to find? Why did I have to cross oceans?

I think it’s because we’re prisoners to our own habits. Almost like the Stockholm syndrome, we find comfort in the familiar, even if the familiar is stopping us from being free. For me, moving overseas was the kick start I needed; a big change that helped me make those important, little changes. Stop working at a job I hated, stop stressing about assignments I didn’t care about, stop hanging out with people that brought me down, stop being lazy, stop getting by. It’s easy to find satisfaction and excitement and challenge in the new, but it doesn’t need to be such a big change as swapping countries. You can find new in the old; new ways of seeing things, of thinking about things, of doing things.It’s easy to write these ideals down, yet in reality, we all have habits that we know are bad for us or will make us feel like crap, but we do them anyway. It’s hard to say goodbye to patterns, but I don’t want my life to be a pattern. I don’t want to wake up feeling predictably numb or mediocre; I want to feel powerful.

When you start living the life you want or attempting to, you realise how many possibilities are out there. Nothing is that far out of reach. Rather than seeing all the countless pathways and unknowns as anxiety riddling, you can see it as promising, motivating. So this year, I want to feel powerful and I want to feel alive. I don’t want power over other people or power over the world, just over my own choices. This year I’m not going to waste another half year waiting, being a prisoner unto myself. This year I’m going to be alive (well hopefully if I survive New Years Eve!), but more significantly, I’m choosing to feel alive too. To live is a verb, we have to actively do it, to partake in it, to be overwhelmed by it. In 2016 I’m not going to tolerate my life, I’m going to live it.

Home Is Where…?

Home Is…?

Where the heart is? Well that doesn’t help me because my heart has been torn and tacked all over the globe.  Little pieces plastered on the walls of Florence,  Sarejevo and Fukuoka, cities I’ve fallen in love with. People have taken pieces with them, my host sister as she returned back to Japan, my Aunty living in Sydney and my best friend when she studied in England. My heart isn’t held in one place and neither it seems am I.

Where you grew up? Perth holds my childhood memories, my history. But I don’t miss it enough to be home. I miss the people, I miss them everyday, but Perth was my safe harbour. I was anchored to the place, stuck. Eventually sails get feed up of fluttering in the breeze. I needed to catch the trade winds, feel the roar of the fierce ocean and the gust of the billowing winds. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or protected the harbour is, if you stay there forever you never get to be challenged or thrilled. Never get to feel the rush of seeing a new shoreline.

Where you choose? Now I’m trying to make a home for myself in Sweden. I love running in the woods in Orebro, riding my bike to the castle and watching the leaves change to a resilient red. Yet you can’t create a home from sheer force of will. Can I find a job? Can I find enough people I click with? Can I enjoy the Winter? All of these aspects are somewhat out of my control and that’s scary. I don’t have a back up plan, and I don’t want to be a ship adrift, floating with no direction, lost.I guess this is when I need to have some faith and  adopt the Aussie attitude of working hard on the things I can control and not stressing about the rest…’No worries’…’She’ll be right.’

Maybe my sense of home is scattered, maybe my heart is pulled in multiple directions, but just as I’ve left scraps of myself, I’ve also collected pieces along the way.  The Aussie mentality, the values my grandparents installed in me,  the love and sense of self belief my mum privileged me with, the running strategy my Father taught me, the sense of belonging and trust from my girlfriends, the laughs I’ve shared with fellow travellers, songs from my brother, the smiles from my little cousins. These things I pack with me no matter which course I steer or steers me. I might not have a home just yet, but maybe I don’t need one.

A home is where you feel familiar, safe, comfortable. Maybe I don’t need those things right now. Maybe I need to be overwhelmed by new experiences, launched into the unknown and opened up to different ideas. Maybe I need to be brave not safe. Once I’ve crammed in as many moments, pitfalls, adventures and emotions as I can, then I’ll have collected enough materials to settle down and build something worthwhile. A home that makes me WANT to stay at the shore, happily moored at the dock, appreciating the beauty of the sunset without wondering what’s beyond that horizon line…

Pride and Acceptance

Everyone deserves to feel included, accepted and recognised  for who they are. Especially within their own community. Örebro’s Pride Parade was a perfect demonstration of a town coming together in celebration.Örebro showed that it was a community that not only tolerated but supported all of its members, a community that allowed people to be themselves, a community that did not condemn people to the the shadows because they were different.

March

young girlfiremen

Whilst I feel fortunate to call Australia home, I was terribly embarrassed to be Australian on Saturday. Marching in the parade was an activity organised by the university as part of the orientation program, and we were joined by fellow students, policemen, politicians, religious groups, parents with children and the elderly. Even the public transport buses raised rainbow flags the week in advance. Unfortunately, I could not feel proud, instead I felt very ashamed. All of the excuses were insufficient. The smiling children seemed well balanced to me, they didn’t  find it so difficult to accept or understand. What about the elderly people that had grown up in a completely different generation? You can’t push change onto them! Well the many MANY elderly citizens of Örebro that showed up in support proved that idea wrong.

old ladies

old man

I think we are discrediting ourselves by allowing these excuses to still pervade our society. It’s 2015, time Australia caught up with the rest of the world. Whilst homosexuality may make some people feel uncomfortable, that is tiny in comparison  to how it must feel to hide who you are. Feeling uncomfortable is not a valid reason to discriminate against someone who is not causing any harm.

After experiencing life in a place (even for a short time) where you are free to be who you like and aren’t restricted because of your sexuality, gender, ability or religion, I really can vouch for the benefits. People’s rights are both socially and formally recognised. That is important. At the end of the parade the whole town gathered for a free concert in the park. A rapper performed, whilst to the side of the stage someone translated his music into sign language so that hearing impaired citizens could understand. There is a big effort made to ensure everyone feels a sense of belonging. You can be an authentic individual whilst also a member of a group.

parade the girls

For me, I often felt in Perth, that I was not included,  treated the same in a professional environment and had massive assumptions made about what I wanted, because I was a women. That’s a tough pill to swallow. It feels like someone is saying, “This is your home but you’re not free to be who you want, you have to be who we want you to be. ” I love Perth, but I think we all win if we try and empathise more; just because we can not understand somebody else’s experience directly does not mean that we can not try to relate or put ourselves in their shoes, I think that is the essence of what makes us human.  Let’s change our culture so that we are less proud and stubbornly stuck in our ways.  Let’s be open to change, then we will have a legitimate reason to be proud. We will have a community where everyone feels accepted, where everyone has the right to belong, where nobody has to hide.  That’s the type of place I want to live in, and I don’t want to have to travel to the other side of the world to find it.

Expectations

I had dangerously high expectations for Sweden.

So far it is everything I hoped it would be and more. The three stopovers, 20 hours of flying time and hellion jet-lag were worth it. EVEN the 11 hours where I sat next to an alternative health “guru,” who wanted to spend the entire flight talking about miracle cures and doing yoga in the aisles was worth it! Now that is saying something!

Arriving in the beautiful city of Stockholm, filled with impeccably dressed people, dad’s pushing prams and stunning waterways, made it hard to be disappointed. The city is modern, sophisticated and admittedly slightly intimidating for a Perth girl.

stockholm

Whilst Stockholm was impressive, the town of Örebro a two hour train ride away, is the perfect fit for me. Quirky, modern art is set against historical buildings and the medieval castle that guards the river.

igloo better

orebro castle brudge view

The centre is thriving and only a ten minute bike ride away from my apartment at the university campus.

bag art

use bike and birds

As Örebro is the bike riding capital of Sweden I have bought myself a bike! Considering that I haven’t ridden a bike since I was eight this has been an interesting learning experience (the first of many more to come I’m sure).

my bike!

ZQcrr

backyard

Luckily, everyone here has been extremely hospitable, so whilst everything is overwhelmingly new at times, help is always close at hand if you ask. The English level is incredible and puts our attitude towards second languages at home to shame. I’m very thankful for this as my Swedish is terrible (something I’m working on). I can’t even pronounce the town name properly and apparently I sound like I am saying ‘Arriba!!’

There are also a lot of other international students, mostly from other parts of Europe, who are in a similar position, and I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some awesome and diverse people. It also helps that we’ve been given a great welcome by some of the lovely Swedish students who have kept us busy with orientation fun and helped us settle in.

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julia and I!

This terrific first impression in itself is scary, because how on earth can it be maintained? I’m sure there will be setbacks, moments of culture shock and homesickness to come. Whilst there definitely are a lot of uncertainties for the next year, I’m trying not to over-think things or get too apprehensive in advance. For now I will pedal fast on my red bike, enjoying the excitement of getting to know my endearing new home and friends; the reality and momentousness of the move can catch up with me another day!

orebro bikes over water

Neither Here Nor There


darker sunset shadows

Folk legends talk about crossroads as a place where two worlds touch. Whilst this may sound romantic, living in limbo can leave us feeling isolated, neither free like the sky or the ocean, but stuck, a horizon line. A crossroad presents a decision. Weighing up all the information; one path over another. Having this much control over your future, something we usually yearn for, can also be daunting. We can end up tortured by choice, worried we may choose the road less desired. It is easy to understand why we feel the need to hesitate, to think things through, to pause. There’s a certain paralysing comfort in being neither here nor there, not having to commit to anything, and sometimes the freedom of our choice can cause us to stay put for longer than necessary.

Folklore offers warnings about lingering at the crossroads; they were seen as places where demons and spirits visited, and therefore should be passed through quickly. It’s easy to get trapped in these liminal spaces, not making any wrong turns but inhibiting progress at the same time. After all, the sun rises but also sets at the horizon line. If we let our fear of the unknown prevent us from making a choice, if we let our own demons encage us at the crossroads, then we may be too late and miss out on opportunities and roads once open to us.

As I wait to leave for Sweden, I can’t help but ask that question, am I making the right choice? Will I regret it? A friend of mine once told me that  you should not regret any decision if you made it to the best of your ability given the information you had at the time. You can not perfectly predict what will come from that choice, and how much more exciting it is that way! Killing time in Perth left me feeling like a black and white hologram of a person walking around in a technicolour world. I saw my friends move on to new things, strive forward with their lives and I was lagging. I didn’t belong. Now the time has finally come to leave the crossroads and my fear behind. I don’t know what is to come or what I’ll be missing out on by not going down the alternate path, but it sure is better than loitering around, waiting for the “right” decision to be made clear, moving nowhere (literally!). Sometimes you’ve just got to plunge into the unknown and commit to the choice you make, even if there’s the possible threat of moose, extremely dark Winters and ridiculously good looking, self-esteem lowering people!