If you’ve ever felt the urge to sell all of your belongings, buy a plane ticket and start over in a new country, you’re not alone. A study from 2015 revealed that 244 million people live outside their country of origin – and for over half of my life, I’ve been one of them.
Moving across the world is both thrilling and terrifying all at once. I naively assumed that starting a new life in another country would be one big adventure. And honestly, it is… most of the time. On the good days, I’m full of gratitude for the amazing experiences that I’ve gained since stepping off that plane. But on the bad days, I’m curled in a ball weeping at the memory of home.
If you’re feeling conflicted about your decision to move away from what is comfortable and safe, I completely understand. I’ve recently realised that I can’t be the only person who struggles with guilt and homesickness while simultaneously enjoying their new life, and I’m here to tell you that it’s okay.
When I moved away from everything I knew, I felt more lost than ever before. But it was during this confusing, lonely time that I finally found myself after a lifetime of searching.
This will all be worth it, I promise.
It’s okay to feel homesick
When I was a kid, I never wanted to leave the beach and travel home on Sunday evenings. I was having so much fun, and I wanted to keep having fun! When I whined and complained to my Dad, he would always simply say, ‘If you don’t leave, you don’t get to come back.’ That little phrase has always stuck with me – when you return to a place that you love after being away for a while, you get to appreciate it all over again.
Living in New Zealand I took my life for granted – I was used to beautiful scenery, spontaneous trips to the beach and the laid-back attitudes of my fellow Kiwis. Now that I’ve been away for five years, I miss those things terribly. Most of all, I miss my family and friends. Sometimes these feelings become overwhelming and I’m left with a deep sadness. But you know what? This feeling always passes.
I’ve recently realised something. If I left London and moved back to New Zealand, I would feel incredibly homesick for my life here in the UK. Some may say that I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – wherever I live, I’m going to be missing something! But I think that’s a beautiful thing. It gives me a greater appreciation for the current moment, and I no longer take anything (or anyone) for granted.
It’s okay to feel like you don’t fully belong anywhere
My national identity has always been pretty complicated. I was born in England, and moved to New Zealand with my parents and sister as a child. I spent my teenage years and early twenties as a fully-fledged Kiwi, and then moved back to the UK at the age of 23. At this point, I’ve pretty much lived exactly half my life in each country. I have a British passport and New Zealand citizenship. I have a weird hybrid of both accents. So, what am I?
My answer to that question is; does it really matter? I’m just Jenna, a person who has been lucky enough to experience two different ways of life. When I have to fill out a form I put ‘White British’ for convenience. When someone asks me where I’m from I answer ‘New Zealand’ without hesitation. I’m both and neither at the same time. It’s surprisingly freeing!
It’s okay to feel guilty
I struggle with feelings of guilt surrounding my decision to move away from my family almost every day. It’s something I’m working on, and I have to constantly remind myself that it’s completely normal.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed by guilt and sadness, I do my best to see things from a different perspective. When I become a parent, I want my child to explore the world and live wherever they choose to. I would hate for them to feel guilty at the thought of leaving me behind instead of enjoying their wonderful life, and I know my family feel the same way. They may miss me and want me to come home, but at the end of the day they respect my decisions and know that for now, I’m happy where I am.
Feeling guilty won’t change anything. I’m all about action – if going home would genuinely be the best thing for your health and happiness, go ahead and book that plane ticket. If there’s something inside you that still yearns for adventure and doesn’t want to give up, dig in your heels and focus on creating a life that you’re proud of.
It’s okay to think you made the wrong decision
Even now, I have days when I’m overcome with fear and doubt. I find myself questioning my actions and worrying uncontrollably about whether I’m missing out on my parents’ and sister’s lives. When I dig deeper, I always come to the conclusion that I’m terrified of regret. One day, my family will pass away – it’s inevitable (sorry guys, if you’re reading this!) My fear comes from the fact that I’m more aware of time passing, and I don’t want to look back one day and regret this time that I spent away from them.
Now that I’ve met my boyfriend of almost four years (a Londoner through and through) I struggle with questions like, ‘What will I do when I have a child? Where should it grow up? What if I have it here, and my parents don’t get to see it as much as I would like? What if we moved to New Zealand and my boyfriend hated it there?’
First of all, whew. Those are some pretty intense questions and worries! I don’t have all the answers right now, but I have realised a few things.
If you’re worrying that you’ve made the wrong decision, try to work out exactly why you feel this way. At the end of the day, you’re not a bird in a cage – you’re free to spread your wings and fly home if you genuinely feel that you would be happier there.
While it’s definitely sensible to plan for the future, you can only plan for so much. How boring would it be to see your whole life mapped out in front of you? Maybe I’ll move back to New Zealand, maybe I’ll stay here in England, maybe I’ll even settle in Japan – I have no idea, and that’s what makes it so much fun!
It’s okay to feel like you’re doing it ‘wrong’
It’s pretty common for us Kiwis to move to the UK, and you’ll find a surprising amount of us dotted around London! So when I decided to make the jump across the world, I already knew a couple of people who were doing (or had done) the same thing. This was both a blessing and a curse – it was great to already know a few people here in London, but unfortunately it was also an opportunity to compare my new life to theirs.
While I was struggling to find a job in the field I wanted and dealing with a relationship breakdown (my then-boyfriend moved to the UK with me, but we didn’t survive that first rocky year) I was bombarded with Facebook and Instagram posts from my friends who were seemingly having the time of their lives. So why wasn’t I?
Even when things got better and I managed to carve out a wonderful life for myself, I still felt like the odd one out. Everyone seemed to be living right in the middle of central London visiting hip new bars, doing pub crawls with other Kiwis and having wild nights out at the coolest clubs. I was taking long walks in the pretty English countryside, reading all about the history of this fascinating city (the Tower of London and Jack the Ripper are still my favourites!) and exploring the Natural History Museum.
Back then I was less sure of myself, and came to the conclusion that I was doing something wrong. My experience of London was so different to theirs, and I worried that I wasn’t making the most of my time here.
Now I can see that I had nothing to worry about. My friends were having fun and exploring the UK in their own ways, and I was doing the same! As long as you’re happy and doing what you want to do, then you’re on the right track. Plus, social media is a breeding ground for comparison and self-doubt – but that’s a whole different story!
Don’t get me wrong – moving overseas to start fresh in a new country isn’t all doom and gloom. It can also be the most magical experience of your life!
You will meet amazing new people
I remember reading about the ‘red thread of fate’ when I was in high school. According to Chinese legend, the gods tie a red thread around the ankles of people who are destined to meet each other. You may not find the person on the end of your thread for decades, but it’s inevitable that you will someday meet: “The two people connected by the red thread are destined lovers regardless of place, time, or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break.”
I found the person at the end of my thread when I moved across the world. If I hadn’t stepped on that plane back in 2012, who knows how long it would have taken for us to meet?
In the process of unravelling that red thread I met more amazing people than I can count. Each one has taught me a valuable lesson. There are so many potential friends dotted all around the globe – don’t restrict yourself to just one country!
You will grow as a person
I can say with confidence that most of my personal growth has happened within the last five years. And what a coincidence – that’s how long I’ve been living overseas for!
Of course, I would still have grown and matured if I’d stayed in New Zealand. But not to this extent. Moving across the world taught me so much about myself – I learned that I’m stronger and more capable than I ever imagined, and that I can rely on myself no matter what. I now have a clear vision of what I want from life and I know for certain that I’ll stop at nothing to get there.
Growing and stretching can be painful at the time, but the mental strength and clarity that you’ll gain is so, so worth it.
You will have two (or more!) homes
One of the major benefits of moving to a new country is the fact that you acquire a second home. Putting down roots in two or more countries is an amazing feeling – you get the opportunity to experience how other cultures live, gain international work experience (great for the CV!) and of course you figure out the best places to eat around the world!
I feel equally at home in England, New Zealand and Japan. I’ve conquered the public transport, sampled the local cuisines and immersed myself in all three cultures. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.
It’s definitely daunting at first, but I promise you’ll feel like a local in no time!
You will gain a new appreciation for your family and friends
It goes without saying that I’ve always loved my friends and family back in New Zealand. But now that there’s a little (well, a LOT) of distance between us, I realise just how lucky I am to have them in my life.
My sister and I would fight on a regular basis when we both lived at home and often couldn’t stand each other! Now, I can’t remember the last time we had an argument. The same goes for my parents – as a teenager I would furiously rebel against them and always thought I knew best. These days I look forward to our Skype chats every week and feel so grateful to have such wonderful role models! I took my friends for granted too, and assumed that they would always be around. Now that we’re scattered across the globe, I cherish the times that I get to see and speak to them.
It can be painful at times, but the old saying is true: distance really does make the heart grow fonder.
You will have new experiences
If I had stayed in New Zealand, I would never have trekked across a snow-covered mountain searching for Japanese monkeys. I would have never watched the sun rise over Tokyo. I would have never made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam or marvelled at the dinosaur skeletons in the Natural History Museum.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience too many amazing things to list, and it all started with that little spark inside me that whispered, ‘There’s a whole world out there for you to see.’
Don’t ignore that voice – it’s speaking to you for a reason.