The difference 10-Years-Away-From-Home makes

Monica Nastase
Feb 6, 2016 · Unlisted

Life lessons from abroad

A decade has passed since I flew away from my hometown on the banks of the river Danube to experience the world on my own.

Ten years since I spread my wings, started to travel and, inevitably, to change. Taking me on two continents, living in five cities of four countries, the past ten years gave me these ten essential lessons:

1. Follow the intuition

As I’ve gotten accustomed to planning less and jumping into opportunities more, taking advantage of the present moment, I’ve also learned to listen to my intuition. Its voice grew stronger in me with the years, making me trust my intuition above other ‘rational’ advice I was often voluntarily offered.

Going with your intuition is often safer, not to mention, more fun!

Like some ten years or so ago, when I arrived alone in my new college-town. Johnson City, Tennessee was the last place on Earth where I could bump into someone I knew. It was a bit out of the way for my fellow Romanians to pop up there. But I got there guided by my hunch that I had to be a writer, and feeling it was going to be an experience of a lifetime.

Or when I quit my corporate-America job a few years ago, without a backup plan, but believing I was headed for a more fulfilling and more independent future. And my intuition was right again.

2. It’s all about perspectives

Being outrageously lucky to meet people from all five continents in the past ten years, I’ve learned through their stories that it’s all about perspectives. From Nepal to Australia, from Venezuela to Kenya, to Japan and Argentina, my friends were coming from such diverse cultures, that arguing about normality was a pure fantasy.

There was no right time to have dinner, no right way to celebrate Christmas — if any, no right skin tone. There was no right amount of greeting kisses, or wrong amount of butter in the cooking. You had to simply take it all as it were and roll with it.

3. You can have more than one home

Somehow, the notion of ‘home’ gets always glued together with the notion of ‘family’. Leaving the family nest a decade ago, at first anywhere I’d settle seemed foreign. I was renting, borrowing, using, but I wasn’t anymore in my native space.

Moving on the other side of the planet in a small town in rural USA, when I expected it less, my second home was brought on to me. In the heart of this warm American family, on the porch swing of their dark-red house I understood I could have more than one home. Since then, learning to extend the meaning of home, I’ve left parts of myself in various homes around the world.

4. Lighten up on the stage of life

Ten years ago I believed that being serious, both in attitude and in looks, was the entry ticket to the privileged Circle of Smartness. In the meantime I re-learned that it’s smarter to lighten up and relax, because life is too serious to be taken seriously.

We’re all acting on the stage of life, and we all want the applause at the end. But taking your character too seriously will keep you from enjoying the play. And the winning ticket into the Circle of Smartness is to have a good time while you ride the waves of life.

5. Beating routine with curiosity

Being regularly thrown outside my comfort zone for the past ten years, on average every couple of years, taught me to develop a curious eye. Having to change the routines often made me keep a high level of curiosity, even with familiar places and faces. It felt like I was a kid all over again, back with my childhood friends in Romania, always asking the question why.

Why do the Cubans eat black beans mixed with rice, like I often had in Miami on my lunch breaks? Why do the French eat cheese for desert, like I’ve grown into loving so much? Routine never settles in, when you ask the question why.

6. Kill that fear

Ten years ago, or maybe less, I didn’t even know I was living in fear. I was keeping it as my road companion, without questioning its presence in the seat next to me.

The change came unexpectedly one average, uninteresting day, like it always does. Lounging in the shade on a wooden bench, looking at the turquoise Atlantic, I suddenly thought: what if. What if I would be able to be alone. My heart skipped a beat as I imagined the possibility that I could comfront my fear of being alone. That vision came rushing towards me, so powerful, that I stood up pumped by it. Like a fighter in the ring, I suddenly didn’t see anyone and anything around, living only to kill that fear.

As it turned out, the fear was only a product of my mind. I kicked it out from the seat next to me, finally able to be alone without being lonely, and to love it.

7. The big picture

The last decade also showed me the view from the top. First, country-crossing my way on night trains to get from my hometown to my college town. No matter how many worries I had through the dark night, like the gypsies trying to rob me once while sleeping, the bright morning would always come, close to my destination.

I also got to see the view from the top more literally than ever, from the dozens of airplanes I took. I saw with my own eyes that no matter how gloomy the times were, the sun was always there beyond the clouds. I never again doubted that, after I saw the sunrise — twice! — on a transatlantic early morning flight.

8. Happiness is in the back yard

The modern culture teaches us to look for happiness outside, so we constantly run, like a wheel-mouse to chase the un-chasable.

Ten years ago, I ‘knew’ I had to go away from home as far as possible, to find my way and my happiness. Meanwhile, I’ve learned that all I was running away from ran together with me. To find happiness sometimes you don’t even need to get out of your back yard. I’ve stopped running and have taught myself to find and enjoy happiness in the smallest of things. Like soaking up the sun one spring morning on the riverbank in Frankfurt, Germany, when a rainy day had been forecasted.

9. Possessions

When I was packing up to leave the US, after 3 years of accumulating a studio’s worth of stuff, I knew I had to leave behind a great deal of items. From bulky souvenirs, heavy books and household stuff, I cleaned my house and my baggage.

It was an eye-opening experience. I realized I was taking with me the memories of all of them, of the events when I got each object, which was what really mattered. I still have the memories, but fewer kilos to pay the extra-baggage for. I learned to travel light, to make room for more memories. After all, life is about doing and sharing, not about owning and gathering.

10. Dare the Universe with your dreams

More than 10 years ago, I’d heard the saying that if you really wished for something, it will come true one day. And I did believe it, but with a hidden seed or two of doubt.

After all, when you are a little girl from a poor town in a closed communist country and your dream is to live one day on a tropical island, with palm trees and white sands, you’ve got to have at least a seed of doubt about that, just to prove your mental sanity. But my dreams had a way of their own of becoming reality and showing me I’d better watch out what I’m dreaming of.

Ten years ago I had a blurry idea of what my life’s passion could be and what I could do with it. Today I know that it’s writing, and most of all I know that life is made to live your passions. The rest, just discipline.

A decade ago I was embarking on that proverbial initiating journey outside the family nest. Today, after all that learning and un-learning, archiving of old memories to make space for new ones, changing world views and dreams, I am left thinking how much of myself is still the same person I was ten years ago.

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Monica Nastase

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I asked to be born in this world so I can write. Creative writing, fiction, poetry, copywriting, content marketing. Sometimes all at once.

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