Madrid Part II: Pre-Departure

The life of an ex-pat has its excitements and also its downfalls. To truly be independent, not only being alone, but also adding in the element of living in a foreign country– make it ten times harder when that country isn’t an English native country.

I never knew of life besides the ordinary one I had in Melbourne. It was– still is– a cycle of study, work, rest and repeat. Despite the repetitive nature, I quite enjoyed it and was content with what my day to day activities entailed. I was content because I knew that hard work and sacrifices now, pay off later. The long, gruelling hours of studying and slaving away at my part time job were all done with a sense of satisfaction due to the fact that I knew at my age, few were willing to do the same. Appraisal and acknowledgements by others around me assured me that the vicious cycle of constant work and studying is worthwhile. Few friends at home have the same willingness to succeed. The passion and burning desire of career fulfilment lack in many of my friends– not that it deterred me from surrounding myself around them but my friendship with them lacked substance. It lacked commonality and deeper roots in the sense that our visions and priorities weren’t aligned. It is hard to interact with people who don’t understand what it feels like to spend 12 hours straight trying to interpret lengthy legal textbooks or stress over the deadlines of multiple assessments that inevitably got closer. And on top of that, to have to decline every and all invitations to go out because I have work looming over my shoulders and a mountain of study that I need to do every day– their responses to “sorry I have to study” or “sorry I have work” is that of annoyed and not compassion.

Nevertheless, it was incredibly hard leaving home. I couldn’t help but be saddened by the fact that I was going to ‘miss out’. The excitement and thrill of a new adventure slowly drifted away and an overwhelming sense of homesickness mounted, even though I hadn’t left yet. As I described it to my friends in these exact words, “I don’t want to go anymore because I don’t want to miss out on all the fun”. And for the first time, “fun” was something I just didn’t want to skip out on. Being a full time student with work fulfilling the remainder of my free hours, it never occurred to me to venture out and do ‘fun’ things or that I am missing out on ‘fun’ events. Yet, for the first time, it was something that hindered me from wanting to embark on a new adventure. Of course, this sense of sadness was also attributed to the fact that I was leaving for the entirety of December and January– if you are a fellow Aussie, you know this means summer AND holiday season; unlike the US and Europe, where it is miserably cold and the mid-term of school season. I felt that we were at that pinnacle age where each summer only got more and more exciting. December and January marks the summer break for University in Australia. The hype of an Australian December and January may very well be compared to the likes of an American Spring Break– I think so anyway. But maybe that is just a stereotype depicted from American dramas (and the movie Spring Breakers).

All the joyous feelings and nerves awaiting to depart had slowly faded and as the departure date neared, the more I just wanted to delay it. I reached a point where I was comfortable and content with how life was going in Australia, Madrid no longer appealed to me. It’s difficult leaving what you know and await a place that seemed so out of the ordinary. Not just out of the ordinary, but so different. The fear of not making friends and not enjoying my time in Madrid weighed heavily on my mind. As I have described, I can be such an introvert in certain situations where socialising and making friends become an extra-terrestrial challenge.I feared that my entire stay in Madrid will be spent alone and struggling with homesickness. I did not want to spend the two months hoping and wanting to go home, or to spend the entire two months just gaining an intellectual experience and not a social one. For those that have done something similar, I am sure it’s a common fear to feel emotionally alone– despite the fact that you are physically alone in a foreign country. I am also sure it is a fear for all of us to do something outside our comfort zone. And for a long term, this was the first experience, of its magnitude, that I had done outside anything I’ve known.

Melbourne has always been home. Melbourne was all that I ever knew. But I can now confirm, Melbourne definitely does not feel like home anymore. That is what living abroad does to you. You get so much fulfilment from travelling that you’re so accustomed to the nature of being away and independent. So much so that ‘home’ no longer appeals to you because you’ve discovered a whole new way to live. It happens to the best of us– that’s what they mean when they say you get the ‘post-Europe depression’. And when I refer to ‘travelling’, I can only speak from my point of view as in, living. I am sure you gain a whole lot of insight travelling from place to place as a tourist and travelling for leisure. But you sure get a whole damn lot when you are living in a foreign country, trying to fit in with everyone else there. Where you don’t just get to go see cool tourist places during the day and party by night; you actually have to adapt to the traditions and culture of a new place and experience the stress’ of day to day life. Your day probably consists of working or studying, then coming home to cook yourself dinner. And such a simple routine that seems so familiar back at home, is ten times as challenging when you’re in unfamiliar territory. Then you have the financial burden of ensuring you have enough savings to sustain your living overseas while not getting an income.There is a physical aspect, the need to be careful of what you consume because your body isn’t familiar with the kinds of food you’re eating. That is the difference between an ex-patriate and a regular tourist/traveller. So, taking into account all the burdensome aspects of living abroad, the idea of it all stopped appealing to me. I didn’t want to leave comfort anymore. But that is the pessimistic side of me as I’ve described in an earlier post. Living abroad is definitely not as easy as it may seem. Exciting sure, but not easy.

This is all just pre-departure psych. I have a habit of talking myself out of things when it starts to seem like there’s more bad than good. But boy was I wrong! If I was to give advice to anyone feeling this way prior to their departure, don’t let the fear of challenge stop you from embracing the good that will come out of experiences like these. The difficult times are just as valuable as the fun times. And if I was to do this all over again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. No doubt.

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