I Moved Across an Ocean and Didn’t Join the Circus

This whole post started out as an attempt to explain what moving to a new country taught me, but it is impossible to try and sum up all of that in a single post. I probably don’t even actively notice all of the phrases I’ve picked up and behaviours I’ve adopted. I definitely love tea much more now, and the idea of sleeping with a top sheet seems ludicrous. That being said, not everything I have learned

comes from where I’ve been living.
So much simply came as a result of leaving my bubble. Warning: the conclusion of this post may be glaringly obvious to many of you out there, so I apologise in advance for being slow on the uptake here.

I graduated from a small high school in a small town in a small state. If it wasn’t for my parents’ love of travel, I would have been exposed to a very limited view of the world. Everyone knows everyone, at least they do when there are only 200 people in your school. When I was in high school, I was very aware of how everyone knew my family, and I loved it, but it was hard to see myself as something outside of that unit. I began to crave an experience that was completely my own. I shared a bedroom for 16 years. Being able to call something 100% mine was a rare occurrence.

The first time I went abroad without my family was in my junior year of high school. I applied and was accepted to take part in a one month exchange to a girl’s school in England. Now this was a big step for me as I could barely handle staying over a single night at my school without getting insanely homesick. And I only lived seven minutes away. I am that much of a baby. I could not tell you why, but that’s how it was (and still is sometimes). I was the trifecta of shy, introverted, and insecure. I wanted to try new things, but I felt that if I went out I would either make a fool of myself or fail entirely. Or both.

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Baby Genna taking England by storm

Going on exchange to England was exactly the kind of thing I dreamed of but didn’t think I could actually do, but I wanted it. I wanted to go so badly. And, as I expected, that first experience was really hard. The first day I was on the phone to my mom sobbing and asking to come home. But she just told me to go to bed and make it through one day at a time. And day by day, it got easier. I even (wait for it) began to enjoy myself. I survived the whole month, and despite some bumps and bruises, I felt like I had accomplished something. I slowly began to think in terms of what I wanted to do rather than what I thought I could realistically manage.

When the time came to apply to colleges, it was a similar situation. The UK schools looked amazing, they fit my criteria, and it would be an adventure. When I actually got some offers, the wheels began turning. I mean it was shorter (3 as opposed to 4 years) and cheaper than similarly ranked schools in the US (woohoo practicality!), but I still wasn’t sure if I had the balls to go through with it. It was like I was throwing down a challenge to myself. I had managed a month once before, why stop there? I decided not to dwell on that fear of living across an ocean and instead focus on how unbelievably cool it would be to live in the UK again. Next thing I knew, I was on my way back to England.

There are very few times in my life where I have been genuinely terrified, but that trip across the ocean was one of them. I distinctly remember sitting at the gate waiting to board the plane when I felt my stomach drop, like physically drop, and I realized that it was really happening. All that I had been ignoring hit me at once. What if it was terrible? What if I got homesick and I couldn’t deal on my own? What if no one liked me?

Luckily, my parents were there with me, and when I voiced my concerns, my mother simply told me ‘Well, if you really hate it, you can always drop out and join the circus’. As silly as that sounds, it made me feel better. I was still scared, but I knew that even if it didn’t work out, I would still have my family’s support.

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Durham Cathedral

As it turns out, I didn’t hate it. In fact, it’s one of the greatest things I have ever done. I found Durham, I applied, I got in, and I lived there all on my own. It gave me the opportunity to find out who I was outside of everything and everyone I knew. My identity no longer felt like it was relative to someone else. One day I woke up and realized that I was functioning on my own in a strange new place on my own terms. It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies and happy musical montages (shout out to my siblings for our late night skype calls), but I found good people and knew that no matter what, my family had my back. The first subscriber to this blog was my dad, and that makes me infinitely happy.

Moving across an ocean and all that came with it taught me that I don’t need to be so scared. And honestly, you don’t need to move across an ocean to see that. It could be going to college, moving to a new city, or conquering one of your fears. It’s not always a ‘good’ experience, but you do learn from it. Not to mention, it puts into perspective what you left. I have never appreciated being home more than I do now.

MORAL OF THE STORY: doing something that absolutely scares the pants off of you and living to tell the tale can show you that you can handle more than you think. It doesn’t have to be a complete leap of faith. It took a lot of baby steps for me to get to the place where this was all possible, more than I can list here. And that is totally okay. Go at your own pace, but don’t let your fear limit how far you can go.

Because of this whole experience, I now attempt to take on things that scare me. If I feel that familiar hesitation, I go for it (within reason – there is a difference between irrational, self-imposed fear and survival instincts, people). There are still days where this is hard, but it’s a work in progress. Like I said, baby steps. It’s an obvious thing, and I have been told it many times before, but I never felt brave enough to go out there and push myself until now.

Go out there and (responsibly) do all the things! Whatever it is that has been holding you back from what you want, you can find a way around it, over it, or through it. You do you, friend. If all else fails, you can always go join the circus.

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Geneva 2015

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