When I lived in San Diego, I used to meet foreigners regularly – in bars, at the beach, through friends, etc. Some of them were just passing through on a tour of California, but others were there for a year or more, studying English at one of San Diego’s several language schools. Most of them were Europeans. I made friends with some of the guys and dated a few of the girls, so I had plenty of opportunity to observe their experiences living in a new country. I envied the romance and vitality that so obviously surrounded their experience of the simplest things: going to normal bars, hanging out on normal beaches, visiting normal cities, and meeting normal people. There was a constant excitement about their lives.
Some might have interpreted their zeal for the mundane as evidence for the “Europeans live better” fallacy, but I knew better. I’d felt the same way before myself, several years earlier, when I spent four months in India. I knew that their engagement was a direct result of their inexperience of the culture surrounding them. I knew how intoxicating it could be to step into a new world and be forced to re-learn everything you took for granted, and I missed that feeling.
Some people thrive on repetition, habit, routine – tradition. They love to soak in experiences relived, relationships maintained and places revisited. We all know people like this: your friend who always wants to eat at the same restaurant, your sister who wants to vacation in the same place every year, or your spouse who insists on keeping the family established in one city – maybe even in one house. These people find a deep satisfaction in watching the world (and themselves) change relative to some constant set of activities, people or locations. These traditions or routines – rituals, even – serve as benchmarks against which they measure the progress of their lives, and they understandably develop a deep attachment to them.
I am not one of these people. I prefer experiencing the world by moving through it rather than watching it move around me. I feel most engaged when I am navigating new territory, be it geographical, social, intellectual or otherwise. Repetition switches me off. Novelty, exploration, discovery – these are what motivated me to move away from a great job in a great city. And it was the same hunger for new experiences that pushed me through months of frustrating employment negotiations and visa processing in order to get a job outside the United States. San Diego was a great place, but it had one incorrigible flaw: it was only one place. My job there was great too – arguably perfect; but as I told my boss when I explained why I was leaving, at some point “new” became more important to me than “better” and I knew it was time to move on.
I arrived in Paris three days ago. I have a new job with a large engineering company, and almost no idea where my life will go from here.