The following guest blog post was written by Ariel Moniz, my multi-talented friend who is an author, blogger, and poet. Her travel blog is All the Wonders You Seek and her poetry blog is Kiss of the Seventh Star. Last year, Ariel moved from Hawai’i all the way to Germany. As a mental health advocate who deals with depression, anxiety, and OCD, her story contains important considerations for those considering the expat life and for those dealing with things like fear of flying.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing all the changes she’s gone through since our days at college and watching as she took steps to gradually build a better life for herself, even when it meant making hard decisions. Her story is the third story in the miniseries exclusive to my blog: “Moving with Courage: Overcoming Mental Challenges During a Big Move.”
There are moments in your life that change everything that comes after it, even if you don’t recognize it at the time. One of the most notable of these moments for me was boarding the first of three flights the night of my graduation from university in the summer of 2016– the flights that would take me to my first ever international destination. I had been planning the trip to Ireland for a ten day study abroad program for nearly five months— submitting paperwork, budgeting finances, and working daily to keep the warring emotions of unbridled excitement and piercing anxiety in check.
I didn’t know at this time that the decision to get on this plane and visit Ireland would lead me to making the biggest decision of my life nearly three years later. After this trip, a terrible depression episode of six months, then nearly two years of working and saving money, and finally a four month solo trip through Europe, I would find myself faced with the decision of what I wanted to do with my life— remain in the town that I had always known, which was unfulfilling but familiar and filled with those I loved, or take a chance by stepping enormously outside of my comfort zone and pursue a fresh start with the love of my life on the other end of the world.
I am certainly not the first nor the last person to make such a life altering decision, and this experience is so different for everyone. No one but you can decide if moving abroad is the right decision for you, but I am hoping that sharing some advice about the things that have helped me through will encourage those who are considering making this life altering decision to make the most of the possibilities.
Don’t Let Fear and “What If” Stop You
Moving abroad— just like taking that first international trip— seemed nearly impossible for me. I had never even thought of visiting Germany before I was invited there. I didn’t know anything about the language or the people, the daily culture or the lifestyle of living there. I certainly knew nothing of the legal process of moving or living there, or what it would mean for the future I had previously envisioned for myself. Of course, a series of “what if” scenarios moved across my mind— what if I’m not allowed to stay, what if I’m not able to get around or communicate with anyone by myself, what if something happens and I don’t know what to do, what if I run out of money… and so on and so on.
I was very lucky to have someone waiting for me on the other side— my lovely husband. Just knowing that he would be on the other end of the stressful process of moving, the terrifying flights, and the uncertainty made it possible for me to make the move across two oceans and a continent. And of course, everything was fine. But before going through with it part of me had been so convinced that it wouldn’t be.
I will never forget how I felt as I boarded the plane that would get me to Dublin on that first international trip. I was stiff with anxiety, and I couldn’t breathe. As I made my way down the aisle, looking for my seat, a series of thoughts were marching across my mental landscape. The faces of my family, the emotional goodbye with my boyfriend, and the fear, the inescapable thought— this is the last time I will ever see them, planes crash all the time. You see, I am terrified of flying. I am not an anxious flyer. I am an utterly horrified flyer, who genuinely believes every time I step on a plane that it will crash. No one and nothing can convince me that I will survive until I have landed and exited the plane on the other side.
That series of flights and the trip that followed— starting in Ireland, and then London, Paris, and Amsterdam— opened up the world wider than I had ever seen it before. It changed everything for me—especially my goals for my future and my belief in myself. It is what made my next trip— a four month solo trip through Europe possible almost three years later— possible, and what also led to me moving from Hawaii to Germany to be with the love of my life in 2019.
The what if scenarios and my fear of flying nearly ended my adventures before they even began. I can’t even imagine how unfulfilling and empty my life would be if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone and overcame those fears and my anxiety. No matter what fear you may be feeling in the moment, it’s always worth it when you get to the other side.
Weigh the Pros and Cons & Be Honest With Yourself
The hardest part about moving for me was leaving my grandparents, the people who raised me and who I care for most in the world. Even thinking of leaving meant that I had to face a lot of questions about myself and what my life at home meant to me. Especially coming from a very family oriented culture like I do, the idea of moving to the other side of the island would be a cause for concern— moving to the other side of the globe was both an emotional and moral dilemma of proportions previously unseen.
I spent weeks thinking over my decision. I wrote a list of pros and cons for staying and going, I meditated on it, I talked to friends and loved ones, I talked a lot to myself… and eventually I knew there was a decision I felt I should make and there was a decision that I had known all along was the right one for me. Being honest about having to leave— to follow my heart, to start a life with my partner, to remove myself from the island that was smothering me and the toxicity that was strangling me— was difficult. It’s the most difficult decision I have ever made.
It’s important to be analytical, thinking about the technicalities of the move and the realities of moving abroad, of course, but even more important is being honest and devoted to your reasons for moving. If you can do that, no matter what obstacles you may face— and you will face obstacles at one point or another— you will be able to accept them and overcome them with the grace of someone who knows they are on their right path.
Integration— Fulfilling and Exhausting
As someone moving from the island life of Hawaii to Germany, I can tell you that integrating is exhausting and a bit soul crushing at its worst and fulfilling and motivating at its best. When I first arrived, I knew about ten words in German, I was tanned from many hours in the tropic sun, most of my wardrobe comprised of summer dresses, and I was ready to get to know this new country that I was to call home. It took some serious adjustment for me in more ways than one.
Thankfully, I have a husband who is German, so I was spared much of the bureaucratic trouble of translating all of the paperwork for my move and our marriage. This also allowed me to have somewhere safe and secure to touch down, and someone to help me navigate the big and small things people find most difficult after a move— everything from finding out how to get around to what the label on that item in the grocery store says. I am beyond thankful for that, but there are some facets of integration that I have had to do on my own.
Learning how to interact with people appropriately in a culture completely different from your own can take some practice. I know that I’ve made more than a few people uncomfortable with my laid back Aloha State attitude— it is simply outside of the cultural safe zone of public interaction here. Sometimes these sorts of situations can leave you feeling deflated or out of place, but it’s all part of the acclimation process. You have to check in with yourself and address how much you feel comfortable changing yourself to adapt to your adopted country. And I also suggest this— be willing to look silly at times, and be humble. You may say the wrong word or create an awkward moment through your lack of language or cultural knowledge. Don’t get too embarrassed— learn from it and move on. Remember, you’re learning!
Besides these cultural and personal adjustments there are of course the technical realities of moving abroad, such as visa regulations, which play a huge part in the integration process when entering a new country. For example, my visa states that I need to attend a German language course for eight months, in order to reach the B1 level in German language. Without this, working in Germany is extremely difficult, and so is fully becoming a member of the nation— both legally and socially. I am happy to be taking the course, as it has been a life-long dream to become bilingual, but this is a reminder to be aware of the extent of the process that you may have to undergo in your new country, and ask yourself if it is what you want.
Dealing With Homesickness
I can’t say that I get homesick. But I do miss my family. I miss the ocean. I miss being able to jump in my car, drive to the store, get a poke bowl, and eat it while sitting on the beach. Sometimes when you are in a new country it takes quite a while for anything to feel like “home”. For those moments, there are three things that have helped me—
Research places to go or things that you’d like to do in your area. On the days that the technicalities of integrating or the homesickness becomes too much, even a short walk to a little café or a park can change your outlook and help you refresh yourself.
If you can, carve out a space for yourself. Even if it’s just a corner of a room or your bed, try to have somewhere you feel you belong. This can help you remember that you do have a place in your new life and that things will get better.
Be patient with yourself— not everything will happen at once and that’s okay. Learning the language, integrating culturally, finding your routine, making friends, and feeling at home will all take time. Remember that moving is a process that last much longer than when you first step off the plane.
Moving abroad is a giant step to take. When you have a family that you’re leaving behind, a menagerie of mental illnesses (including anxiety, depression, and OCD) as well as a crippling fear of flying, and the looming mound of bureaucracy that accompanies most visa processes, an international move can feel impossible. But it’s really not. Truly know why you are moving and stay strong in your decision. Don’t allow what if scenarios to scare you away from your goals. Accept that the integration process may be difficult and take some time, but know that it will be worth it.
Only you can decide if moving abroad is right for you. Be diligent in researching the technicalities of the move, but don’t allow the obstacles of bureaucracy and distance to scare you away from making the decision if it feels right for you. There are so many doors that may feel temporarily closed when you first arrive but will open after some time abroad. So if you’re reading this and thinking that you want to make that move but you don’t know if or how you can— do it. It’s my sincere hope that anyone who is reading this who is considering traveling or moving abroad follows their dreams to do so.
Ariel is the author of a travel blog, All the Wonders You Seek, and a poetry blog, Kiss of the Seventh Star. She has had her poetry published in numerous publications and is a mental health advocate on both of her platforms. Originally from Hawai’i, in 2019 she moved to Germany and married the love of her life. When she’s not writing, she’s probably spending time with her husband, drinking tea, reading, or dreaming of holidays in Italy. 🙂 Aside from her blogs, you can also follow her on Pinterest and Instagram (travel and poetry).