By: Kelly D'Souza
After having moved halfway across the world to realize my dreams, I went on to open my duffel bag in which I carefully packed everything I thought necessary to help me survive the shock of a new beginning. During the first six months, I turned to the refuge of handwritten letters from close friends on homesick nights. Living abroad and leaving one’s native land increases self-concept clarity (Adam et al, 2018). But at that time, the adventure wasn’t giving rise to a self-appraisal occasion. I constantly felt fatigued and my self-talk was self-defeating in nature. One of the aspects that prevented me from accepting the positivity of the experience was my approach before I left. I was so eager to arrive at my destination that I missed out on experiencing the things that came along the way when I was leaving. When I did arrive at my destination, I started daydreaming about what “returning back” would look like. Being present in the moment while leaving a native land and arriving at a new destination can facilitate a richer experience. Whether you’re travelling for a year or for a couple of months, the key to self-care is mindful living.
The horror of time zones. I often found myself springing out of bed to read a ton of messages that were sent while I was asleep. I had guilt from leaving people behind and I attempted to make up for it by attending to every single conversation as soon as I could. This stole moments from my morning and took me away from mindful living. The strategy I’m constantly working on is to wake up and become aware of my body, listen to the sounds around me, and focus on the thoughts in my mind without exposing myself to my phone. The non-stop stream of information coming from close ones back home was extremely overwhelming, and practicing self-care included giving my mental inbox a break.
Living in a multicultural city is a unifying experience, but it does raise awareness of differences once in a while. What did "self-care" look like when I was reminded of these differences? Saying “this is who I am” with non-judgmental awareness. One must be mindful that it is a long process.
When you move to a new country or a new place, you might not end up having a space that feels close to the one you had in your own home. Venerable Cheng Yen once said, “Having a wider heart and mind is more important than having a larger house.” It took me a few months to realize that this new place wasn’t going to feel like home – not now, maybe not ever.
Because it is different and also a choice I actively made. Accepting the choice with an open mind and accepting the change with an open heart is what it took to let go of feeling out of place.
Moving to a new place can also uproot your social circle geographically. Taking time to build your support system without pressuring yourself into making friends too soon or comparing old friends to new ones can help you come a long way in this process of change. Life happens, and sometimes we just have to let it happen.
On some days, I’d pretend that a certain place looked like a specific one from back home. I got stuck in a rut of fantasizing about the similarity between the places. My latest self-care routine is to embrace my present environment. For example, focusing on the delicate perfume of a flower or observing the luscious greenery over the summer.
Lastly, self-care while moving abroad lies in mindful living. But that doesn’t mean you deny the experiences you once had or discount feelings of missing friends and family from back home. Part of my self-care routine involves sending out love-thoughts to those close to me before I go to bed.
Once you are able to create a self-care routine around your new experience, you will be better equipped to receive the benefits the experience has to offer.
Adam, H., Obodaru, O., Lu, J. G., Maddux, W. W., & Galinsky, A. D. (2018). The shortest path to oneself leads around the world: Living abroad increases self-concept clarity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 145(C), 16-29.