A couple of days ago I was on the flight to Geneva and read a really interesting article in the EasyJet Traveller magazine about generation of roamers or what I call nomads. These people move abroad with just a couple of suitcases on a regular basis in search of professional or personal opportunities. Being a self-proclaimed nomad, I moved abroad more than once and lived in different countries around the world. So today, I wanted to explore this topic a bit more and share my insights into what it takes to move abroad and become a nomad.
1. Being flexible and ready to push your boundaries
Moving to another country, let alone continent, is a bit of a logistical and emotional task and I can see how many people wouldn’t be comfortable with it. It’s scary, it sounds complicated, risky and is full of uncertainty. Will I find a job (unless you are moving for a specific job offer)? Where will I live? Will I be able to meet people and make friends? Will I miss my family and my social network? All of these questions are valid and will make the idea of move even more intimidating. But sometimes pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do for yourself and is the most rewarding experience.
Taking a leap often leads you to new opportunities you didn’t know existed and makes you realize that you can conquer the world and make it home wherever you are. Once you have done it you’ll feel confident and proud of yourself not only for overcoming the logistical hurdle, but more importantly overcoming your own fears and insecurities. You’ll come out a much stronger person, feeling more knowledgeable, experienced and enriched.
2. Having hunger for new experiences and knowledge
Moving abroad will require adapting to a new culture and learning a new language, which can be very different to yours. For example, when I moved to the States in the late 1990s as a 20-something year old, even though I already spoke good English, I had to adapt to a new set of cultural norms and way of thinking. Apart from embracing American culture and its traditions, I had to learn quickly how to be independent, work hard to achieve the “American dream,” stay competitive and be self-reliant and pragmatic.
However, when I moved to UK I had to quickly shed my self-promotional American side and become little bit more modest and learn more subtle ways of communicating with my fellow Brits. Manners, politeness and being reserved are particular features of the British culture. This kind of appreciation and respect of the host culture is a must if you want to succeed and enjoy your living abroad experience. And as you become exposed to many cultures, you adopt some of their best features that become a part of who you are and make you a better person and a highly skilled professional.
3. Knowing what you want
I believe only by going to different places you can truly explore who you are and know what you want and what you need to feel comfortable and happy. There are cities I visit and think ‘God, not in a million of years could I live here,’ even though plenty of other people settle down there and seem quite content with their choice. And then there are places you come to and feel an instant connection – they feel like a long lost home.
Part of this chemistry is the fits between what the place has to offer and what you like and need to make it an enjoyable experience. For me the ability to speak a local language is a must to be able to fully immerse myself in the local culture. I also have to be in a big city with vibrant social and cultural life, good infrastructure/security and comparable quality of life. I felt such connection with a few cities already – I really love Kiev and could definitely see myself living there again. I lived in DC for a long time and miss it already. I also fell in love with London the first time I visited as a tourist and quickly realized I had to find a way to move here. I did and my life has changed forever!
4. Ability to reflect on yourself and own culture
Moving abroad and learning about another culture and its values, it’s impossible not to start reflecting and appreciating your own! Spending a lot of time away from your usual social network and being on your own a lot, you begin looking inside and learning something new about yourself. As I mentioned above, you realize you are capable of much more than you thought – you feel empowered, mobile and comfortable with the change.
You also start comparing your own culture against the host country’s. Things and traits you might have disliked before, you will appreciate and miss. For example, living in the West where social norms and values are often based on individualism and self-centredness, I had a newfound appreciation for my collectivist upbringing in the Soviet Union that focused on helping others and a strong sense of social justice and community support. So don’t be surprised that the new ways of thinking will challenge your own views and opinions. Some will contradict what you are used to and strongly believe in, while others will feel more familiar. Whatever they are, it is good to constantly challenge yourself and find your core values that makes you who you truly are.
5. Letting go and making sacrifices
One of the greatest freeing experiences is actually letting go of you old lifestyle and possessions. I remember making the decision to move to London on my own and severing emotional attachment to my personal belongings as I sold my bits and pieces and rented my apartment out. I took just two suitcases to make the move as easy as possible but it made me realize the freedom I gained to move anywhere at any time.
Nothing or no one was any longer holding me down and I could be the master of my own fate. My attitude to life changed – I realized it was no longer about the possessions I was so focused on in America, it was more about personal experiences, memories and human connections I made in each place I lived. Basically, all those priceless things that make you happy and money can’t buy. You let go of those material possessions but gain so much more in return. You become a much better, rounded and empathetic person, humble and grateful for the experiences others may not be so fortunate to live through.