Seven is my favorite number. I was born on the seventh day of the month, there are seven colors of the rainbow and there are seven wonders of the world.
Next week marks seven years since I applied for my work and holiday visa to Australia. I’ve learned a lot since I hit “submit” on my application to be let into a country to which I’d never been, alone, for a year.
1. Don’t be afraid to do shit alone
This is pretty obvious given I moved by myself. But I mean it on a smaller level as well. Go to the beach alone, Eat dinner at a restaurant alone. Go to the movies alone. Try a new class alone. Treat yourself like good company, and you will feel less lonely, be more confident and enjoy life more.
2. Choose friends carefully
I had a lot of friends before I moved to Australia. My circles spanned my hometown, college, former jobs, friends of friends and groups and hobbies in which I was involved. Keeping involved in each of these groups was a bit like spinning plates at times, but it was fun. I always had stuff to do, people with whom to hang out.
In Australia, I had zero friends at the start. I had to work to make companions—some were fleeting like people from my week-long stay in a Bondi hostel and others I still see and keep in touch with to this day. I became more intentional about the types of people with whom I surrounded myself, and found that this process occurred in a remote fashion with pals from back home. I have far fewer people I now count as friends, but I feel like my friendships now run deeper. Shared belief systems, views on travel and on life in general tend to make for more lasting relationships.
3. They world is more beautiful than it is ugly
My youth was marked by anxiety, even from the time I was a young child. I worried not just about my own life—performance in school, my parents being safe—but also more global issues like crime and war. Entering my late adolosecent years during Columbine and 911 didn’t help, nor did the fact that my father died when I was a sophomore in high school.
Living and traveling in Australia and surrounding countries made me realize that, on the whole, the world is fill of rich, natural wonder and kind people. They say a connection with nature eases anxiety, and I found this be true in Australia as I allowed myself to be awed by all its natural wonders.
4. The universe steps in when you need it to
I’m not a religious person, but I do subscribe to a wider plan at play in the universe and believe things happen for a reason. Throughout the last seven years, the universe has kept me humble by throwing in challenges so I don’t get too complacent and taking things off my plate when I feel too overwhelmed. When you feel like it’s all too much, trust that the universe will sweep in and act as a great equalizer.
5. You are stronger than you think you are
I’ve never truly put pen to paper all the major challenges I’ve had to overcome in my still relatively young life. Father died at 16. Grandfather died two months later. Family struggled financially and then with mental illness. Rare, debilitating illness at 22, after which I had to learn how to walk again. My grandmother—my last living grandparent—died six months later. Major breakup while owning a home. Layoff six months later. Personal struggles with anxiety, depression and anger. All of that by the time I was 27.
At times, I didn’t think I’d survive. Other times, I didn’t even want to. But moving alone to a country completely foreign to me and where I knew no one toughened my skin. Australia certainly wan’ts something to overcome like those other challenges, but it did require me to adapt and dig deep. And when you dig deep, you often realize you have untapped grit.
6. The pain of the past fades like a tattoo
Maybe this is a poor analogy, because I don’t have any tattoos. But I think of emotional pain that way. When something terrible happens, there’s that initial shock, like the sting of a tattoo needle piercing your skin. It is a terrible, persistent pain. And then it dulls and becomes raw and the littlest thing can infect it or rip it open. But then over time, the pain completely subsides. You are left with a scar, but it’s no longer one that pains you everyday. In fact, it can appear quite beautiful depending on the lessons you learn from it.
7. We all deserve a time and place of rebirth
Sometimes I think back to my time in Australia and marvel that no one close to me or Brendan died in the several years we were there. That seems an odd thought but not when I add up all the people I’d lost from my life by age 27. Australia was a time and a place in which I could examine the things that had scarred me, get to the depth of that despair and find my way out. I became more of the person I am today and, I think, was meant to be by having those almost 3.5 years to think, explore, meet knew people who didn’t know me in the States, build two new careers, try new things, be awed by nature and try on new ways of being. I will feel incredibly fortunate every day of my life that I had this time, and I think every single person in the world deserves the same, even if it’s a shorter span and not as elaborate as moving continents.
What are the lessons you’ve learned from traveling or living as an expat?