At the tender age of 23, I have moved away from ‘home’ twice - first from Auckland to Wellington to go to university, and then to Bougainville, to pursue my ‘dream job’. I stayed in Wellington for four years, and it was in Wellington that I became an adult, so to speak. I fell in love; with guys, with development studies, with the city, with new friends. I was able to reinvent myself in a way that I had yearned for all throughout high school; to leave behind the people who had known me all through my awkward teenage years and had me labelled, to pursue my passions without being compared to a version of me I had long outgrown. While I still treasured the old friendships that survived the geographical distance, and missed my family like crazy, it was in Wellington that I tried, failed, learned, and discovered who I really wanted to be.
But then I got itchy. After four years of university, of living in the same suburb, of eating at the same burger joints and drinking the same (admittedly amazing) coffee, I wanted a change. I found myself making an even bigger move; to the post-conflict, ‘under-developed’ islands of Bougainville. This move has by far been one of the biggest challenges of my life so far. In all honesty, I have found it lonely, and difficult, and painful at times. But while I’ve been here, I’ve thought a lot about where home is; where do I belong, where do I want to settle down, and how can I be the best possible version of me? I’ve come to the conclusion that moving away, geographically, can be one of the most empowering things a 20-something-year-old can do. Of course, some people in their 20s have responsibilities that hold them to a particular place like children, or a mortgage. I am also aware that travel can be a huge privilege in terms of money unless, like me, you move somewhere through a volunteer position, or with a job to go to. But if you are able to, I highly recommend challenging yourself and leaving your comfort zone for the following five reasons.
“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
There is nothing quite like walking down the street, or sitting on a beach in a completely new place, and realising that people don’t know who you are, where you’re from, who your parents are…and they probably couldn’t care less. You now have a new blank canvas on which to draw a picture of yourself. Whatever you want to be and do, you now have all the chances to explore and create without any influences from people you grew up with.
At first, this can be a lonely experience. When I first moved away from Auckland, I called my mum every night sobbing and wanting to come home. But little by little I discovered that ‘alone’ didn’t necessarily always have to mean ‘lonely’ and that actually, being alone is when you are able to really get to know yourself best. In a new place, you can build a whole new ecosystem around you — be it new friends, a new job, a new flat, new flatmates. You get to really follow your heart and your instinct and, having now seen how huge the world is around you, you can decide on the place you want to occupy within it.
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine
When we first move away from our parents, we relish our newfound independence and think we’ve made it; in the wise words of one of my friends, we “learn how to adult”. But every time you move away, whether it be out of home, or away from your support system of friends, we gain a little more self-reliance.
Being independent takes courage to face your fears and face the unfamiliar. When you move to a new place, the unfamiliarity can be terrifying and incredibly debilitating. But when you practice courage, overcoming your fears becomes easier. Soon you will be discovering the new streets alone, talking to new people, learning to a new public transport system and ordering foreign food in a new language. When you don’t have family nearby to help or familiarity to fall back on, but still succeed and come out stronger, you get to say things like “I CAN DO ANYTHING!!” (I say this as a mantra quite often. Sorry/not sorry).
“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry
While this is third on my list, I honestly think it is the most incredible and important aspect of life itself. But I think that in order to have healthy and life-giving relationships, you have to learn to love yourself first; hence the number three.
With each friend who didn’t grow up in the same place as you, with a similar socioeconomic background, you can learn so much and develop a much more open mind. This is relevant in both overseas and within New Zealand – until I moved to Wellington, the majority of my friends were Pākehā, middle-class and straight. Now, I have a beautiful and diverse group of friends who have supported me, opened my eyes to different experiences and helped me grow into who I am. Moving to another country is even more of a learning-curve regarding relationships. It is your friends in your new home country that will be the ones to teach you how to cook with local ingredients, what is a socially acceptable way to interact with other people, or where the hidden local gems are that the tourists don’t know about. And it is these new friends who will open your eyes to how the world works outside of yourself, and help you realise the common bond we share with all living beings; not just our fellow country-people.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
You likely have a social pattern with your old circle of friends back home: Friday dinners in a certain suburb, drinks at your favorite bar, weekend trips to the markets, a recipe for every social gathering developed over years of interactions. These routines can be wonderful, and I miss them so much, but are they really stretching and exciting you?
I remember my first breath of Bougainvillean air as I stepped out of the airplane; sweet, wet, hot air, full of rainforest and smoke and dusty smells. For me, that is the smell of adventure. To live adventurously is to look every opportunity in the eye and say yes. This time last year, I couldn’t say that I had been trawling for yellowfin tuna, snorkelling with clownfish and giant clams, seen a huge marlin soar out of the water, or kayaked in to the sunset in the New Guinea Islands. But now I have, and I am so grateful for those opportunities. Adventure doesn’t have to mean running away from your friends and family to a different place. But it definitely means taking stock of your life, and making a decision to challenge yourself.
"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself." - Maya Angelou
When I was growing up in Auckland, I was always wishing I was everywhere else, but now that I live far away, I look forward to my time there. I love spending time with my family, catching up with old friends, and just enjoying the place for what it is. Someday, I might return home (except I’m not sure where that is anymore) and put down roots, but for now, there is too much to discover on thie breath-taking planet of ours. They say home is where the heart is; I say the heart can be in many different places. Home is subjective concept, constantly changing as you change yourself. Being away from everything you know and love can have such a clarifying effect on your thoughts and values. And who knows – perhaps once you leave you’ll realise where home is for you after all, wherever that may be.
This post was written with inspiration from the following articles: