Adios and Goodbye: The (Mixed) Emotional Side of Living Abroad
Listen. If you have the opportunity to experience the wonder of living abroad for however long, my advice is to Nike the situation and Just Do It! Who knows if you’ll ever get this opportunity again? Yes, you will cry and your emotions will be all over the place like New Year’s Eve confetti—but go ahead y vete nena.
And this ain’t just for all my single ladies. This is for all of you in long-term relationships and budding romances too. Whether you are a newlywed, an empty nester, or you’re attempting an air of confidence in front of your husband and three kids, but secretly going to pieces inside—escúchame. This is a modest meditation on the emotional side of surpassing the sojourn and making that big, scary commitment to live abroad.
Oye como va.
A month before the big move, you’re sorting your things and every book you place in storage feels like a child left behind. The night before, your friends and family give you a going away party and you feel like a frontierswoman, thrilled to set off and discover new worlds. They are so proud of you. But as your plane takes off, you panic, “What have I done? I just left everything and everyone I know behind!” Eventually, you arrive at your destination and you throw yourself into creating a sense of home. You even establish a surrogate family comprised of new friends. And as soon as you acclimatize, you start to miss everything back home—especially the hot sauce—but you’re so far away, and you realize they are all moving on without you. Later, sometime in the future, maybe, it’s time to volver.
Before you set off though, here’s a question.
Why are you leaving? If you landed your dream job or plan to save the planet planting one tree at a time, hey more power to you. But—and this is a big JLo but—if you’re leaving because you are escaping something, sometimes even trying to escape yourself, I hate to burst your bubble but you’re going to have to Eat, Pray, Love your way through this. Your problems won’t stay behind just because you widened the distance. If someone broke your heart, it will still be broken when you land on tierra nueva. If you have some internal monsters to deal with, bring that self-help book with you on the plane and meditate often.
If I’ve learned anything from living abroad—and this is my second time doing it—you will have endless new experiences in your new world but at the core, you are still you. And sometimes, you’re a little f*cked up inside. But like I said before, just do it! Vete nena. It makes for a better story if you’re broken hearted against a beautiful backdrop like a beach on the north coast of the Dominican Republic or wandering around alone in the royal gardens of Seville.
Te fuiste and who cares?
You’ll be surprised. People love you. They will want to hear from you and even live vicariously through you. So show your love. Send postcards and letters on fancy stationary. Your nieces and nephews are growing fast but they don’t have to forget their tía. You’re probably a hero to these kids and if anything, at the very least, you’re giving them a geography lesson. Drink deeply from the well of life abroad, pero mi’ja—don’t forget to call your mother!
And here we are.
Missing mami y papi. Missing our girlfriends. Our pets. We hear they’re sick, or depressed or having a hard time making ends meet (well not the dog obviously). We want to run to them. Hug them and place our hands over their hearts. But here we are. Far away. Feelings of guilt set in and you can avert your emotional gaze only for so long. Along with tasting new flavors and dancing to new rhythms, this too—this feeling of having abandoned home base is just as much a part of living abroad.
I set limits for myself. I know that if my mother ever became too ill to look after herself, I would go. But for now, she tells me to stay. I think about the reasons why I made a new life across the ocean and we both agree this is where I need to be. When you get to this moment, because you will, again—just remember why you left. Were you on a mission? Ask yourself if this experience is ‘worth it,’ whatever it is. Assess your emotional limits, cast off regrets, y sigue pa’lante.
Y quizás (shoulder shrug) tu vuelves.
Coming home can be bittersweet. See, this isn’t just about globetrotting and trendsetting. It’s also about being a witness to life and how it goes on with or without you. Some things will remain annoyingly, or lovingly, the same. ¿Quien sabe? And so many things will change. But you’re a wanderer. A traveler. And that’s a chance you just have to take.
¡Como quiera, buena suerte amiga viajera! Have you ever had to deal or cope with mixed emotional feelings about living abroad?
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Maria V. Luna
Maria is an editor and associate lecturer from New Jersey, now living her bilingual life in London. Exploring the world through first-hand travel and celebration of her heritage fuels her passion for creativity, diversity and innovation. Exposure to people from all walks of life inspire her to tell their stories, detailing the idiosyncrasy of their experiences and drawing connections to the human condition we all share. Check out her work at: mariavluna.com and connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org