October 20, 2015

Thoughts on Moving Abroad

Fear & Excitement for the Unknown

By Jacob in Reflections 4-minute read

This move should terrify me, and yet I’ve hardly been so certain of anything in my life.

I’m not saying I’m not afraid. Fear has its way of surprising me with a random planning detail I may have forgotten, or a sudden awareness that this could be my last autumn in California, or an infinite daydream about how I might see America differently if I ever return. But none of this makes me any less certain about our decision to move, and none of this makes me as scared as I thought I would be.

Why am I so eager? I expected a greater sense of loss, even if it were buoyed by the overwhelming opportunity for adventure. There are many people I will miss. There are many things I will remember fondly. And there are many conveniences I am strangely willing to sacrifice.

A sense of loss

This one thing scares me the most: I’m terrible with goodbyes. I do not feel them until they are past me, because it’s far too easy to assume the good times we have together will last forever.

I tend to connect with fewer people, and more deeply. But when a dear friend recently moved away from Los Angeles for a new job opportunity, it affected me much as our move has… I felt no pain. At first.

The day came and went, and all I could feel was my happiness for him. Now, two months into his move, the feelings of loss have come in waves. I still carry his influence on me. I know that I will always take a part of him with me, and sometimes it’s as if I can hear myself speaking with his voice, or seeing through his eyes. But our inside jokes may fade as they become less present, less immediate. And it will be harder to create new ones, especially as I make new friends.

This is the way of things. This is the process of discovery, adventure, and departure that we all face in our relationships through life. This creates an opportunity to grasp an important lesson I have been learning more deeply over the past few years:

Never take anything for granted.

There are many things I know I will miss, and many more things I will miss – but have absolutely no way of knowing so right now. And that is something beautiful. In the midst of new experiences, my discomfort and yearning is a gentle reminder to stay in the moment and appreciate the present experience in totality, bad and good.

An enduring dream

But, then again, my lack of fear may be even easier to explain: I’ve long had a dream of living abroad.

When I was young, I read James Herriot books and dreamed of journeying to rural British farms as a veterinarian. When I was in high school, I planned to move to a big city and make a life for myself as an energetic young professional. When I was in college, my compassion for the world grew and I hoped to join the Peace Corps and learn to see international politics, finance, and business in a new light so that I could come back and do something that mattered.

So I see two common threads weaving through my life experiences:

  1. I’ve always enjoyed doing something that I feel makes a difference in the world, and doing it exceedingly well.
  2. I’ve kept my eye on the world outside myself and my city, my state, my country.

Something tells me that this sense of purpose and curiosity is going to be crucial to carrying me through the difficult days ahead.

A sense of adventure

Having the company of a loving, strategic – and patient – husband on this journey also calms many of the daily fears that arise. And knowing that we’re joining a company of family and friends already in Europe creates a valuable safety net. I have already started asking many questions about the practicalities of daily life and the challenges of culture shock. I fully plan on building this support network through meet-ups and other groups for expats, designers, and artists.

We also love to travel, so we’ve also started building a list of places we want to visit in Europe (and a savings budget to help support a trip or two in advance). Learning more about the history and culture of a place, studying European languages… this research already helps me feel much less like a stranger, even if I may always be one.

In fact, that’s the most interesting fear that occupies my thoughts. Those who live abroad for any substantial length of time tell me that adapting to a new country will not just change my perspective, it may blur the lines between where I feel “at home.”

I may even feel like a person stuck between two cultures, never fully belonging again at home, but never fully at home where I feel that I belong. And I’m frightfully okay with that.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
– Henry Miller

  1. Sabrina October 20, 2015

    A wonderful blog post. Hits home for me as I feel a little lost having uprooted not too long ago and still haven’t found that I feel ‘at home’ in my new state and city, though a recent visit to LA sure didn’t feel like I was back home at last…. I will definitely be re-reading this post to let it sink in deeper. Thanks.

    • Jacob October 23, 2015

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one, Sabrina… and that the feeling is even more universal than moving to a new country. We think of you two often – especially during this time of year, when we used to all gather at Glen & Doug’s quite regularly – and we hope you might visit us in Amsterdam someday.

  2. Cheria October 20, 2015

    Thanks so much for sharing this Jacob. I recently moved to San Francisco and up until a couple of months ago I thought it was one of the bravest things I would ever do so I can’t even imagine making a move like this and all of the things you must be feeling and processing through. For what it’s worth these are the three things that I have been repeating to myself constantly:

    For ever day use: “Be brave.”

    For when I’m feeling optimistic: “To live will be an awfully big adventure” ~Peter Pan -Hook (ironically in J.M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan, Peter says “to die would be an awfully big adventure”…if you have never actually read Peter Pan I highly recommend it!)

    For when I feel scared/depressed: “In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ~ Albert Camus

    • Jacob October 23, 2015

      These are ridiculously beautiful, Cheria. I’m somewhat of a quote fiend, so these really speak to me.

      I have a feeling this last one will be especially appropriate, in a literal sense, as winters in Europe are very different from winters in California 😉

  3. Mischa October 22, 2015

    Beautiful piece of writing Jake, you have a gift for conveying your thoughts, feelings and contemplations in a most clear and eloquent way.
    As for the upcoming move, I hope Stephen and I can make the culture shock a bit less shocking for you and Rich.
    If you need help with languages, I’ll be happy to be your Dutch language coach, as I’m currently doing with a Turkish student. It could be fun even!
    There is still some time to go, but I’m already looking forward to welcoming you both to Amsterdam!

    • Jacob October 23, 2015

      From hosting us on previous visits, to sending us expat guides and comics in Dutch, you have already been a generous host and an enthusiastic ambassador. Now here’s hoping you’re also a patient teacher…


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