In 3 months I will be leaving a country that has come to feel like home. I will be leaving behind friends who feel more like family as well as soon-to-be family that has welcomed me into their lives from the week I stepped onto English soil (soppy as it was on that minging day!). Not only am I leaving people but I am leaving a culture that has had a bigger impact on who I am than I ever considered it could. A city that many of my friends in the US will never have heard of but has been a part of such a significant time in my life. A placement that has taught me more than my uni course required. And a fantastic public transport system 🙂
It’s a strange thing to leave home to go home. It is simultaneously exciting and devastating. I have always said I love to go but I hate to leave. Unfortunately, I have found that in order to grab onto something new you have to let go of something old.
And that is terrifying.
So with the clock ticking down on my time here I am beginning to prepare myself for what will undoubtedly be a difficult transition. I have compiled a list of 10 things that I have found helpful over the years. They come from personal experience as well as wise advice from family and friends. I am splitting them up into 2 parts, the first set are important in preparing to go, the second set are more related to what to do once you get there (but relate to both situations).
First and foremost:
1. Don’t ignore it!
It is there. That fear in the back of your mind. That conflict in your heart. Don’t pretend it’s not, don’t think it will go away if you ignore it. Face it head on, deal with it! This doesn’t mean you should constantly be processing and tapping into your difficult emotions, but you should allow yourself to feel them occasionally.
Talk about it. Read about it (blogs are an incredible resource on this topic). Write about it (if that helps you process, as it does for me). If someone brings it up do not dismiss it so quickly. Sometimes something will trigger it unexpectedly. For James recently, it was packing away some of his books to give away. For me, renewing my rail card for the last time. Nine times out of ten you might joke to cope but allow yourself that tenth time to be vulnerable and real. To say honestly how you are feeling (I know this is especially hard for Brits!) Try to find a way to deal with it constructively rather than pretending it’s not there.
2. Recognize that you are not the only one this impacts
When I was preparing to leave the US I spent a lot of time talking through it with one of my professors at Crown. She pointed out something that has stuck with me over the past three years and that is influencing the way I am thinking about my coming move.
When you are leaving, though it is hard, it is an exciting time. You will be moving on to new opportunities and friendships. There will be points that, wrapped up in your new environment, you will not always think about the people you have left behind. The other side of this looks very different. Those who are close to you will carry on with their lives without much change. They will not necessarily have new exciting opportunities. They will not be distracted by an adventure. They will be going through their day-to-day life but with a significant hole. You will not be there. You are not the only one grieving changes in relationships, the people on the other side of those relationships will also be going through a difficult time. It is important not to underestimate the stress this puts on them. It is not arrogant to recognize that you are an important part of people’s lives and that losing you in this way will not be easy. And though it’s not easy; talk about it. Show them you know it will impact them. That in itself can go a long way.
3. As much as possible, focus on the positives
While it is important to not ignore the difficult emotions, it is also not healthy to dwell on them. You are not just leaving; you are going. And that is exciting! I sometimes get too wrapped up in the disappointment of leaving people and places that I forget I would never have had those relationships in the first place had I not left before. There will be people where you are going! Places to explore, culture to experience. If you don’t go you will never have the opportunity to meet those people, explore those places, and experience that culture! Don’t feel guilty for being excited. You can be gutted to leave and eager to go at the same time. Try to talk to people who are genuinely excited for you. Allow yourself to be sad, but try to continually refocus on the positives. I think there is a lot of truth in the statement ‘life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
4. Do your best to not pull away
You get upset with your friend over small things that never used to matter. You are hanging out less. You come off as disinterested to your friends. You don’t even realize you’re doing it but you are pulling away. It is easier to leave someone you feel less attached to. This does not happen to everyone, but I have experienced it enough to know that it does happen. It’s not always the one leaving. It can be those staying behind. If you feel this happening, try to gently confront it. Chances are they do not even realize they are doing it. Knowing that this is what is happening can make a huge difference. The first time this happened to me I stressed myself out trying to figure out what I had done to make my friend so distant. I was hurt and confused. I was leaving soon and couldn’t bear the thought of parting on such negative terms. So I summoned my courage and ‘confronted’ my friend. We talked it through, realized what was going on (what do you expect from two psych majors!) and made peace! The next time I recognized it much more quickly and was spared a lot of hurt. For some people this is just a natural way of coping. And the first step in dealing with it is simply having the awareness that it is happening and having the courage to talk about the elephant in the room.
5. Find someone who understands what you are going through
Mine is a ‘third culture kid’ (German mom, American dad, grew up in Asia) and she is an absolute lifeline. On my last night in the US I called her up at midnight crying, saying I changed my mind, what was I getting myself into? I was leaving a place I loved. A place that was finally home. Within 20 minutes she was at my door, comforter (duvet) in hand. We laughed, cried, processed, prayed, and ate a lot of chocolate. It was exactly what I needed.
She is always there to listen when I need to rant about changing relationships, culture confusion, amusing missteps, transition, fear, homesickness, culture shock, reverse culture shock, etc. She gets it. She’s been working through these things her whole life. Sympathy is nice, but empathy is better. She points out things in me I don’t even recognize myself. She gives me a heads up on difficulties I am likely to face. She keeps me grounded; listening to my frustrated outbursts without judgement and then helping me refocus.
Yours may be a missionary or MK, may be a military brat, may just be someone with an itch to travel who has moved around a lot. They will be someone who doesn’t just understand why you feel sick booking your first single rather than return ticket, they will have felt that pang of anxiety themselves. For support in the process of transition they are invaluable. And on the flip side, you are now able to support them with a bit more understanding.
I am still writing part 2, it focuses more on what to do once you have relocated, but I think is still helpful in preparing.
As always, would love to hear your thoughts.
Special thanks to Carissa and Dr G.