I moved to Germany two years ago ‘for my job’ but in reality, at the time, I wanted an ex-pat experience. I have traveled a lot but what I wanted to do was actually set up life in another country. So, I used my connections to transition to my company’s EU headquarters in a small city in between Frankfurt and Cologne.
For an American, moving and working in another country is not easy because of the distance and visa restrictions. So I want to start this off by saying that I had it a lot easier because my company handled the visa and move and first few months ‘settling’ in. I can’t speak to the process when you don’t have a company sponsor, but as with most things, there are pluses and minuses to all scenarios.
Even after all of this time, I still marvel at the transition. It is the intricacies of ‘life’ that you take for granted when you are in familiar surroundings, when you speak the language (natively) and you understand the culture. To set up life and to conduct yourself as a professional is a completely different ball game (I wish you could underline that 2x).
Let me explain.
When you are traveling, you are interacting with other tourists or locals who are in the hospitality industry (hotels, transport, restaurants, shops). This means the people with the knowledge or support you need are committed to serving, helping or hosting. Explanations are expected and politely given. More direction is patiently provided. Time is extended to accommodate the need. This mindset and approach is definitely not shared by those who work in the post office, “Bürgeramt” (town office), government office, by parking officials or basically any other ‘life-set-up’ institutions. When you are a foreigner, you just don’t know the basics. Add the language barrier and mailing a package becomes a day-stopper. Registering your vehicle seems as complicated as explaining your thesis. And parking tickets have their own line item in your monthly budget.
When you are traveling, the experience is contained. You have an arrival date and a departure date, where everything in between is an experience, a refresher, a time to be, see or do different things. You may get outside of your comfort zone, but you know that your culture, your language (see how I keep bringing up culture/language?) and your own bed are a mere few days/weeks or maybe months away. When the experience is not bound by time, the extended time outside of your comfort zone can get just plain exhausting (WordPress, if you’re reading this, can you underline that 2x?). It is no longer an experience, it is a life you are required to navigate and the effort is ten fold.
And finally, you question your decision. I will acknowledge that questioning your decisions is part of the fabric of life. But when you sell your house, sell your car, fit your life into three boxes and move away from your friends and family, you really made a hard turn in the road of life. And even two years in, you question if it was the right thing to do.
People ask how I moved abroad. Because what is sexier than moving to Europe?
And I’m pretty honest. It’s hard. It’s lonely.
Despite the hardships, I think I made the right decision.
But I wouldn’t be able to do this, or continue this without my mediation practice. Because the extended time outside of my comfort zone, and the constant unfamiliarity was hard (underline 2x). The smallest things stressed me out (like the hair dresser – would I walk away bald?). I needed to acknowledge that I was going through something hard, which was my first step towards dealing with it. And that is the First Noble Truth which is often referred to as ‘life is suffering’.
Suffering? Was I really suffering? That seems heavy. Too heavy. I [just] have hard.
Binding the First Noble Truth to suffering prevented the connection I needed to the Noble Truth, it made it seem to….much.
But it is important to remember that this English definition is a translation – the Buddha didn’t speak English (shocker). The word used was dukkha which is often translated as suffering but can also mean stress, discomfort, or dissatisfaction.
One monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, used the ‘stress’ for the term dukkha offers the following translation:
“Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful….”
And that sounds a bit more like daily life. Right?
It certainly sounds like my move abroad. I would not have been able to process this change without some sort of mindfulness techniques in my back pocket.
Meditate & be well.