This is my first “home” Christmas in four years. Everyone knows there’s “no place like home for the holidays,” but I also have to acknowledge that there is a part of me that misses what Christmas was like while living abroad. It is true that travel changes you. After three years of living in Shanghai and returning to my hometown a few months ago, I have noticed these four beautiful ways my life has changed for the better because I moved away from home.
1. You realize that your life IS movable.
Moving away from home, whether within the U.S. or internationally, often seems impossible at first. For years, I kept myself from seriously entertaining the thought of moving away because the list of things to take care of seemed insurmountable. What about my job, my car, my furniture, my house, all my possessions, my significant other? The first step to overcoming these issues is simply to decide you are going to do it. If you think you could someday look back on your life and say “I wish I had…,” then it is time to make it happen. Once you simply make the commitment that this IS happening, it is amazing how quickly you will simply figure it all out. So, find a job online, sell your car, rent out your house, and just make it happen! People do it everyday!
2. You discover a new sense of confidence and independence.
Once you navigate a month-long backpacking trip through 5 different countries in which you don’t speak the language, there are few things you feel intimidated by. I think I approach challenges with much more of a “can-do” attitude, and I have found that I assume leadership positions more readily as well.
3. You start to view current issues through a global lens.
The cross-cultural understanding that traveling promotes is probably the most valuable thing you gain by moving away from home. Seeing what life is like outside your hometown allows you to gain a broader perspective on issues you may have never even questioned before you traveled. You are truly able to appreciate both the pros and the cons of life in your hometown, and you are better able to promote meaningful change in your community when you return.
4. You learn that you truly can build yourself a family.
One of the biggest issues people have with moving away from home is leaving family and friends. While you won’t be able to replace your family or your hometown friends, you will be surprised to find that if you give it time, you truly can build yourself a new family in your home-away-from-home. Don’t get me wrong: there will probably be days early on that will feel a little lonely. But, within about six months I had found a solid group of both local and expat friends that, after a couple years, truly felt like family. We traveled the world together, celebrated the holidays together, and now I find myself really missing our annual Christmas trip to the hot springs this year. We helped friends deal with break-ups and propose to their significant others. We attended weddings and baby showers as my little group of friends grew and matured. My husband even served as best man in our Chinese friend’s wedding! If I had never left home, not only would I have never made these friends, but I never would have known how truly fulfilling my life could be even when I don’t have that built-in support system close by.
So, enjoy your holiday with your family! But if you’re feeling that itch to make a move, keep in mind that Christmas can be wonderful no matter where you celebrate it, if you find the right people
Caitlin is currently a high school history teacher at her alma mater, the Institute of Notre Dame, in Baltimore City. She recently returned to her hometown of Baltimore after four years of living and working in China.