I remember how reluctant I was to buy furniture when I finally moved into my own place in San Diego. Until then, I’d always lived with roommates, and they’d furnished the common area. I only owned a bed, some clothes, a cheap bookcase, and desk that Mike had given me and I had no qualms about throwing away. I preferred it that way, because I knew that I could pack up and move in a moments’ notice.
But when I moved into my own place, I finally had to buy my own furniture – that is, if I wanted to live comfortably, and in a way that would prevent my friends from thinking I was a hippie. Suddenly the effort it would take to move increased dramatically. I would either have to sell my furniture, or throw it away and lose everything I’d spent on it – not just the money, but the time I’d invested in measuring, shopping, selecting, buying and transporting everything. I felt tied down.
Moving to a new country isn’t just exciting because of the immersion in a new culture, or the opportunity to learn a new language. It is also exciting because it forces you to sever the ties that bind you to your previous geographical location, and this severance results in an incredible sense of freedom.
In order to move abroad, you have to quit your job, sell your vehicle, cancel your insurance, get rid of your furniture, terminate your lease, purge your belongings (because you can only bring so much on the plane), pay all of your outstanding bills, close your credit cards, your phone plan, your gym membership, etc. You do something similar in your personal and social life: you stop making plans in your home country because the cost of returning to participate in them will be prohibitive. You have to truncate the growth of new friendships and give up any dating opportunities you had in your old location. You say goodbye to your old friends and family, and they immediately expect to hear from you less.
The end result is that you step onto the plane with little more than a few duffel bags and your memory – both of which are conveniently portable. You have no bills, obligations, meetings or responsibilities. You revert to a state of independence that for most is little more than a faint memory. Everything behind you is closed, everything ahead of you is new, and anything could happen. The feeling is something like the one you have on the last day of your final exams in university, when all commitments and ties to your education suddenly expire. Your life lies ahead of you, uncharted and full of potential. It is a powerful feeling, and one that I am realizing plays a much bigger role than I expected in defining the experience of living abroad.