As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.
I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning. When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe. But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.
And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand. But again, life has a funny way of working.
Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa. What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world. We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.
And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?
Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences. But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted. (Idiotic logic, right?)
But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa. By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.
I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique. On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.
And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.
I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice. I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason. Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what. And I swam like hell.
As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now. And what I think of to say is this:
It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience. The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.
And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure: I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.
Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa. You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known. And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.