When I first left home and moved to Thailand two years ago I wasn’t really stressed, anxious or worried before I left. People would ask me if I was scared to go, and I wasn’t at all. I wasn’t really excited either, or didn’t feel as enthusiastic about it as I thought I should. Instead I felt…nothing.
Here was this life-altering change coming up – moving to a new country! – and instead of flying through a range of emotions, which is what I expected, I just felt kind of detached from the whole thing. Like during graduation or (I suspect) what you may actually feel like on your wedding day – when the big event that you’ve been waiting, planning and preparing for actually arrives, it seems a little too surreal to elicit strong emotions.
So when the date came I calmly got on the plane, calmly made the 24+ hour journey around the world, calmly spent the night in the Bangkok airport before catching my early morning flight to Chiang Mai, calmly got a taxi to take me to my hotel room where I would live for the next month while taking my TEFL training course (which started a day later), calmly got into my hotel room, shut the door and just bawled. I completely lost it and immediately started trying to call people back home, look through the few photos I had brought and stay frozen to the bed crying. I managed to make it outside for about 15 minutes to buy some food and then headed straight back to the hotel and hid in my room into the next morning.
After that I was completely fine.
The next month was spent in class during the day and walking around in the evenings trying to figure out where the hell I was and how everything fit together. Everything was different and interesting and fun. I loved my course, reveled in being able to eat outside all the time and ride around on the back of a motorbike exploring the city. After several years of commuting hours each day and being tied to my computer, I was desperate for something different and soaked up the change of scenery and pace. On the other hand, I also felt like I was falling apart since I was constantly hot and sweaty away from my Pacific Northwest climate, battling bug bites, mysterious heat rashes and tummy troubles.
The first moments after moving to a new place are the toughest, when everything is new.
It’s not ‘oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-much-fun’ all the time – you’re not on vacation, unlike what many people back at home might envision. I’ve never traveled to a new place to visit and immediately locked myself in the hotel room because I was so overwhelmed… It’s actually constantly overwhelming and frustrating as you’re continually trying to figure out the simplest things that you already knew and took for granted at home.
Those first moments (days, weeks, months) are also the most fascinating and eye opening.
Everyday is filled with little (and some times major) triumphs and setbacks. You’ll feel accomplished when you set out to find bed sheets and go back home, two hours later, successful. What a productive day! You can take care of yourself in a foreign country where you have no idea what’s going on!
That’s an incredible feeling.
It also forces you to be living in the present and not going about your day to day life on auto pilot. So while it’s not easy, it’s often worth it. And those initial feelings of overwhelm, being lost and unsure of where you are or what you’re doing will quickly shift into a routine with you even realizing it. Once you make those first connections, observations and explorations, you’ll never get back that sense of unknown and discovery. Enjoy it. Relish it, even though it’s difficult.
Have you moved to a new country before? What was it like?
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Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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