June marks my anniversary of working as a matchmaker. Let me tell you, it has been a crazy, rewarding, and deeply challenging ride. I have touched the lives of hundreds of people and curated almost 200 dates!
Whenever I share with someone that I’m a matchmaker, their eyes go big. Telling people you’re a matchmaker is kind of like saying you’re a fairy god mother! The instant follow up question is, “How do you even get into that line of work!?”
I usually just tell people, “Oh, it’s a long story,” because it is, and came at the climax of a long personal, academic, and professional journey that I usually don’t want to go into. But now, in honor of my matchmaker-versary I’m telling the whole story.
There are so so many reasons I became a matchmaker. In fact, falling into this profession was so kismet I know matchmaking is a huge part of my life’s purpose.
First things first, education.
I got my BA in Religious Studies. People thought I was NUTS to major in such a “fringe” topic. More on why I made that choice in a later article. But the fact is, Religious Studies was the perfect background for matchmaking.
While studying religion, I had become weirdly obsessed with the field of Nationalism Studies. The idea of getting a job out of college sounded soul crushing and I didn’t want to continue working in non-profit because I was deeply burned out, so I decided to give academia a chance. I moved to Budapest, Hungary to continue my study of nationalism at Central European University.
The entire time I was in grad school, I was sick with anxiety. Because yeah, graduate school is fucking hard, but also because I was sure I would never find a job.
What kind of job does a person with my background get???
Surprisingly, there were a few options on the table for me after grad school. One of them was even seemingly a “dream” opportunity, exactly related to my field of study and background. I would have made great connections and lived in New York City. But when my would-be future boss called to ask when I could fly into New York to meet the Executive Director and take a writing test, my stomach dropped and time stood still. I couldn’t imagine a future for myself in New York. I looked out at the sun coming through my window and somehow knew there was no way I was going to be leaving Budapest. I had zero desire to live in NYC and frankly, I really couldn’t afford it. I told him I had decided to stay in Hungary, and he said he couldn’t blame me.
But suddenly I was unemployed!
I figured I’d live off of my savings for a few months while applying for jobs in Budapest. In the meantime, I could pick up some freelance writing gigs here and there.
Pretty soon, I was making more money as a freelance writer than I would working an office job in Budapest. And I loved the freedom of it, the ability to control my income month to month. I had full autonomy over my life! I loved all the random gigs I got that forced me to learn something new every day. But pretty soon, I burned out on writing. Something that was once a relaxing hobby became the source of my anxiety.
I hated the solitude of my work; there was no team backing me up. Finding my own clients was exhausting and my income was always uncertain. Over the course of a year, more and more writing jobs got outsourced to Kenya and the Philippines. My wages dropped, I felt like I was fighting for every gig, editors treated me terribly, including sexual harassment, and the once well written essays on international politics I had been contracted for became a gig churning out the fakest of the fake news. Living with a deadline always hanging over my head started to feel like the sword of Damocles. I had constant anxiety.
I was spent and I knew I needed a change.
Thanks to an organization called Remote Year, I knew that more and more organizations were hiring fully remote teams, which meant being able to travel AND work. I started stalking a job board called We Work Remotely. I had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I wanted to help people and I wanted to be able to work from home (or anywhere). Partially so I could continue traveling the world and partially because I had a really painful autoimmune disease that sometimes would prevent me from being able to work or drive a car.
In the meantime, I had picked up a badly paid job writing about relationships and dating. The pay was embarrassing, but it published with a byline and a gut feeling told me to accept it because it would lead to other things.
On a personal note, I had just gone through a TERRIBLE breakup. I mean truly, I had hit the rockiest of rock bottom. My personal life was a complete mess. I had temporarily left Budapest to come back to the US so I could work with a hypnotherapist and fix my relationship with myself and with men. Most of my free time was spent learning about relationships and making sense of everything I was going through.
One night at 3 am I saw a job posting for a matchmaking company on We Work Remotely. A MATCHMAKING COMPANY. I had no idea that was a real thing AND they hired remotely!!! My dream in high school had been to be a matchmaker, but I had no idea it was a real thing outside of reality television.
I stayed up until 4 am and completed the application mostly just because I thought it was funny. I remembered to include some of my recently published articles on dating in my cover letter. I submitted my application pretty sure they wouldn’t hire me, then fell asleep.
By the time I woke up in the morning, I had been invited to a group interview. I got hired 6 days later.
During my one-on-one interview I spoke candidly about my experiences in abusive relationships and that I thought I could really help women who had been through abuse and were hoping to date again. I reflected on my experiences learning about religion and how it might help me understand my clients better. I led with my heart and was honest about who I was and what I could deliver.
As it turns out, my background in Religious Studies, Nationalism Studies, and politics was perfect for matchmaking. 99% of my client have ethnic, political, or religious preferences, usually, all of the above. If I didn’t have my academic background, I probably wouldn’t be able to serve my clients the high level, bespoke experience they expect. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to understand where they were coming from.
I have the freedom to set my own hours and to work from wherever I want. I help people every day. I get to be creative and to bring more love into the world daily. I actually use my degrees, which are luckily in subjects I care about deeply. I got here by following what I was passionate about and what interested me. I said no to opportunities that looked great, but felt wrong. I dreamed big and believed in myself. And I make the crazy leaps other people might have shied away from. I trusted my gut.
Sometimes late at night I think, “Where would I be if I had listened to all of the people who thought they knew what was best for me?” and shudder.
Whether you know what you want your dream life to look like or not, you can get there. It’s about listening to your inner voice, focusing on your own healing, and taking risks. Never in a million years did I ever think I would be living a life this easy and this magical.
So tell me, what does your dream life look like?
Do you fucking hate #travelcouples on Instagram?
Or do you secretly love the ridiculously romantic shots and seemingly stress free relationships?
Whether you love them or hate them, the reality is, deep down you’re probably at least a little bit envious. Who wouldn’t want to spend their lives traveling to far flung destinations with the love of their life?
I can’t lie, I love scrolling through the heavily edited pictures on Instagram. I love looking at a snapshot of fabricated perfection. But the reality is, travel is never perfect. Neither are relationships. But even though the pictures of travel couples might not be exactly real, it IS possible to travel full time with your partner.
I know that seems like a fantasy for a lot of people, but it’s not. It’s totally possible. I also know it’s hard to believe until you hear the stories of people who actually made it happen for themselves.
With that in mind, I wanted to start a series of interviews with couples who travel together IRL. I wanted to show you that it is possible, but it’s not necessarily as romantic and picture perfect as it seems on the Gram.
While Instagram may make full time travel with your beaux look like a dream, it’s actually pretty challenging. Missed flights, little personal space, and the inevitable food poisoning can either ruin a relationship or take you to deeper levels of intimacy than you had imagined. That’s why travel is such a great exercise for couples.
For the first in this series I had the honor of interviewing my friends Courtney and Andrew. Courtney and Andrew met while they were both working on their environmental studies degrees in undergrad. They’re passionate about travel, urban planning, AND not destroying this planet we all live on (rad). With these passions in mind, they quit their jobs and spent eight months circling the globe together. While on the move, they founded The Homage Project, a really important project about urban development around the world, which provided a beautiful intention and framework to their travels. It’s also a testament to the idea that you can indeed collaborate with your partner without murdering them.
But the real reason I love this interview is that they get real about what travel really looked like for them. Yes, it was incredible. But it had it’s not so glamorous moments (cleaning toilets) and some moments that weren’t easy on their relationship (bad haircuts).
1) You guys are a couple! How did you meet? How long have you been together?
Ha yep, we sure are a couple. We met at Rollins in January of 2013 in an environmental studies class. Definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but Andrew persevered and by December of that year, we were dating. We’ve been together four and a half years though (due to a one-year break in the middle there—oopsies lol).
But actually, the break (which was while I spent my junior year abroad) was super important. It helped me realize how much I valued my partnership with Andrew; how much I valued the experience of being abroad; and how much I wanted to be able to be abroad with him. So then I persevered to get him back, with the full disclosure that I would be going abroad and he better join me, or else that’d be the real end of us.
2) How did you decide to travel together?
I’d dreamed of spending a significant part of my 20s abroad since I was a young teen, brimming with pent-up anger about my suburban upbringing. I didn’t know what exactly the “Abroad Experience” would look like, but I don’t think I envisioned working at hostels cleaning toilets, or “teaching English” in an over-crowded, dirty tube house in far-out Hanoi. But dammit, I knew it would happen!
Andrew, he had no clue. I think he’s missing the gene that makes people obsess over the future. Both a good and bad trait. In my mind, I’m already a grandma.
I originally planned to leave right after graduation, but Andrew wasn’t ready then. He had an urban planning internship in Orlando and wanted to see it through, but agreed to leaving within two-ish years. So I got a job and stayed put, which at first seemed disappointing and lame, but was in fact wonderful. Knowing we wouldn’t be in Orlando indefinitely allowed us to better appreciate our time there, and the people and friends and food and beaches.
The experience of working was also paramount. My first job doing commuter outreach for the Florida Department of Transportation significantly impacted the quest of our journey, and made me realize how fired up I get about mobility. In a practical matter, working also helped cushion the bank account and make the traveling possible financially. So thank you, Andrew from two and a half years ago, for being so wise.
Kotor, Montenegro (courtesy of @homageproject)
3) How did travel impact your relationship?
This is a bit personal, and I kind of wish I had thought about this more or people had talked about this more. I also am not confident enough to openly talk about intimacy on a public platform so I also only graze the surface.
Traveling was one of the best things we ever did for our relationship, and also one of the worst. I was constantly obsessed about our finances and made us track every single expense we made—a practice we kept up even after the traveling. The financial stress of seeing our bank accounts steadily dwindle was tough. And because we were trying to do things on the cheap, we often opted for dorm beds or work-trade situations where we’d be staying in dorm rooms for weeks at a time with no chance of privacy.
That was a hard change from people who had previously lived together in an apartment. In that sense, traveling felt like a step back for our relationship. Plus, the future was so uncertain. Would we get jobs? Would we have to move in with our parents? Would we be able to see each other regularly? Would we want to live in the place where the other got a job? Again, fortunate Andrew and his gene mutation didn’t get weighed down by these pondering nearly as much as I.
But on the flip side, it was the most glorious experience. We got to spend every day for eight months with our favorite person in the whole world. We got to stumble upon beaches in the Balkans that took our breath away, slurp down some kumquat tea in a smoky alleyway in Vietnam, and watch with awe at people and their gazillion bikes in Osaka—together. I wish we could spend the rest of our lives that way: exploring and learning and being together every day.
But oh, there were tough times. Like the time Andrew got a haircut I didn’t like (which sounds minor, but I’m ashamed to say it affected us for about two weeks), or the time I was so stressed about Money and The Future that I couldn’t even be concerned about my partner.
I think we both feel the trip is better in retrospect. Being on the road for so long is tough. Long bus rides; cheap accommodation; lack of typical outlets (like a clean, safe place to go for a run); and other stresses made me feel I wasn’t always the best version of myself. And it’s hard to shine when basic needs aren’t guaranteed. Now that we have a clean, beautiful home, steady income, and constant access to good food, it’s easier to be nice to each other and to ourselves. It’s also easier to look back at that sketchy hotel in Hanoi with moldy walls and sticky sheets and laugh.
4) How did you come up with the idea for the Homage Project? What was it like collaborating as a couple?
We were used to working together on school projects and extracurriculars, so collaborating on the Homage Project was a breeze. (Andrew wasn’t blindsided by my critical, perfectionist nature.) From my time studying abroad with SIT, I knew I wanted to bring a more clear intention and question to the traveling, because I felt that the quest to really learn about place is what made studying abroad way more enriching than just passing through.
Melaka, Malaysia (courtesy of @homageproject)
My job with the Florida Department of Transportation, academic background, and overall frustration with the built environment in Central Florida made the mobility and city design quest of the journey a natural fit. Andrew had a similar academic, professional, and personal interest in planning, so he was also in.
5) What did your family think about you taking a year to travel?
Family members differed. For the most part, our parents were a bit reluctant to see the benefit of such a decision. They didn’t say we shouldn’t do it, but they also didn’t say we should. My mom, though, was all about the Homage Project. She was eager to encourage creative pursuits, and appreciated that we were trying to build a professional element into the very unprofessional decision. She also knew I had always dreamed of traveling for an extended amount of time, and wasn’t surprised when I actually told her I was doing it. I think all of our parents were glad we were going together. Especially for my parents, they were comforted that their young daughter would have someone with her.
6) Any words of advice for people who want to travel full time?
The most important thing someone considering traveling—or just considering life—can do is to ask why. Why do you want to do this? What do you want to get out of it? What do you think traveling will be like? What do you say when you mean “travel?”
We met dozens of other long-term travelers while on the road, and each of them approached the journey differently. Some had been traveling for YEARS, and spent no more than a few days in each place. Some had been traveling for years, but spent a few months—maybe even longer—in each place. I always thought we would rent a room for a month or two and stay put in one place—get to know it and the people there. Because that seems like a true break from work and from your same old town but without the stress of being truly on the road. But for some reason, we never did. We stayed put while working at hostels, but that wasn’t exactly the same as the getaway I had imagined.
We also have a friend who thought she’d do the same thing, and had even begun planning for her departure and journey months in advance. But then, she realized her desires had changed. She liked her life and realized it wasn’t the right time. I found this so beautiful, because if the purpose of traveling is to love each day a little more, then why wait until you’re someplace else to start? You never know what’s going to happen—that big trip you’ve been cooking up in your mind may never come. But today is here, so what are you going to do to make today worth it?
Where Are They Now?
Courtney and Andrew returned to the US and continued traveling for another month while applying for jobs. They both live in LA where Courtney works as an urban planner and Andrew works in non-profit helping people with high barriers to employment (felony convictions, homelessness, drug addictions) get jobs. Their latest project? Conquering car-free living in Los Angeles!
When I was in college, I wanted to work for a think tank in a research role. Today, I’m a matchmaker and expat coach.
How the hell did that happen?
In college, I imagined that I wanted to spend my days doing research. But once I finished graduate school, the last thing I wanted was to do was more research. I actually loved research, (still do!) but I wanted a career that gave me more flexibility, more travel experience, and more human to human interactions.
I had to let go of the idea of what I thought my career would look like in order to find what I really wanted.
I had absolutely no idea what kind of career I wanted.
But rather than obsessing over the “I don’t know” part, I just jumped in and tried a bunch of different things. I saw each opportunity as a paid learning experience. My only requirement was that I had to be able to work from home.
I ended up spending a year freelancing. I did freelance writing, VA work, and research, before landing a gig writing about relationships for a lifestyle blog. The job did not pay well, but I had a feeling it would lead into something else. It did! I ended up getting a job as a matchmaker a month later.
Matchmaking is not a career I ever expected. But it actually fits in perfectly with my academic background, while utilizing my research and writing skills, as well as my experience in self management developed through freelancing. Matchmaking also showed me that I’m really good at recruitment. Back in college, I would have never expected that recruitment would become one of my major skills and passions. Plus, it taught me how to be an entrepreneur, which inspired me to launch my own coaching business.
I have a lot of friends who struggle with jobs they hate, underemployment, or even unemployment. But when I ask them what they would rather be doing, they have no idea.
That’s the problem. Not that they have no idea what they want to be doing, but that they let their indecision keep them frozen in a situation they don’t like. I work with a lot of clients who have the same issue! The problem is that they need to shift their mindset around work.
If you take a job, you don’t have to be there for 30 years. You may be there for a few years at most, but you always have the power to move into a different field, to quit and travel the world, to go back to school, whatever… You are in the driver’s seat and each job you take, is just another learning experience that will bring you closer to where you really want to be.
Here’s the secret.
I wish someone had told me this when I was job hunting… you’re not going to know what you want to do. In fact, it’s better if you don’t! Finding the career that’s right for you will take trying a bunch of different opportunities. The more you experiment, the faster what you should really be doing will land in your lap. That’s why it’s so important to do plenty of internships and volunteer work when you’re still in school.
Exploring all of those different opportunities is not wasted time. In each of those roles, you’ll get a better sense of who you are, what you’re good at, and what you really want. And you’ll be developing skills that will make it possible to actually get your dream job. Every job, not matter how insignificant it seems is really such a gift, if only because it presents the ability to continue your education (and pay your bills)!
Another word of caution.
I see a lot of people turn down great opportunities just because it isn’t exactly what they want. Most people don’t wake up the day after graduation and find their dream job. I had a friend turn down a job that would have allowed her to travel the world for fun and for work just because she didn’t want to work in sales.
Don’t turn down good learning opportunities just because they aren’t exactly what you imagined. Your career path is going to take many twists and turns. I am so far from where I thought I would be and couldn’t be happier about it! Be open to trying new things and trust that every opportunity is taking you closer to where you really want to be.
When I was a senior in college, the idea of getting a job and working full time in an office sounded like literal hell. Even though college had been really hard on me and I was a chronic overachiever, I couldn’t imagine giving up the freedom I had as a student.
I remember telling my academic advisor that I worked best at night and wanted something with flexible hours. He recommended freelance work, but I didn’t know how to get freelance work and didn’t know anyone who had ever pulled it off. Working as a freelance writer sounded like a fantasy.
Earlier in my senior year I had been considering graduate school. I had been working for the past two years in non-profit and I wanted to continue in that space, but I was already burned out. I had studied abroad in the Czech Republic and Poland, so I knew that I wanted to learn more about the region. I had no idea what I would do with that experience or how it would benefit me, but the calling was deep, so I knew I had to follow it.
My professors and advisors were telling me to go to grad school in the US. One even told me if I didn’t go to an Ivy League school it would be a waste of time. But when I crunched the numbers, it just didn’t make sense. I would have to take out student loans and spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on tuition. It would take two to three years to get my degree. That meant not only would I be deep in debt from school, I would also be living in a costly US city like New York or Boston.
When I imagined what my future would look like following the path of an American grad school, honestly, it looked terrible. I would be sacrificing my quality of life in a big way for at least a few years. I would have to spend hundreds of dollars and hours preparing for the GRE.
Plus, by taking out loans, I would be sacrificing my freedom. With debt breathing down my neck, I would feel pressured to study something that was “practical” but that I wasn’t passionate about. I would spend the next few years wondering whether I had made an enormous and costly mistake before taking the best paying job that came my way to pay off my debt, rather than pursuing my passions.
I stepped back and took a serious look at what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to be. Honestly, I couldn’t come up with any answers and with a degree in Religious Studies, my prospects didn’t exactly feel red hot.
At the time, I let the pressures of the situation distract me and I was totally out of alignment with myself and what I wanted. What I did know was, A. I wasn’t ready for a full time job, not mentally and not on paper. B. I was really passionate about travel. And C. I was being called to study the post-Soviet space more deeply.
With all of this swimming around in my mind, a full class load, two jobs, and two thesis projects, I was headed straight for a nervous breakdown. Somehow, while doing research for a paper, I discovered a small university in Budapest, Hungary. I had never been to Budapest, but it had been at the top of my list for some time.
It was an English language graduate school that offered American accredited degrees, but at a European price tag. Plus, it followed the European education model, meaning degrees were 10 months to 2 years long. On top of that, the cost of living in Budapest is significantly less than the average American city. According to Numbeo, the cost of living in Budapest is 68% lower than that of New York City. The university also had way more funding available than the average American institution.
And since the Universe works in magical ways, my university in Budapest was one of only two universities in the world that offered a degree in the specific field I had been studying for the past two years. I didn’t realize that this seemingly random passion I had developed for Nationalism Studies could be parlayed into a graduate degree.
I applied as a failsafe. I figured if I didn’t get a job I would just go to grad school. That’s exactly what I did.
I ended up getting 75% of my degree covered by scholarships, which meant I paid less than four thousand dollars for my MA.
Because I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone both academically and literally, I also expedited my personal and professional growth in a way I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish in the US. But more on that later!
You just can’t concentrate at work anymore. You spend most of the day on Instagram scrolling through travel pictures. You’re job doesn’t light you up and you spend most of the day wondering if you’ll ever break out of the soulsucking rat race. Your commute is beginning to feel like torture.
If you’re being honest, there’s probably at least a tiny part of you that wants to just drop everything and move to a new country. Set sail and travel full time. I get that. Life is short and we live on a beautiful planet. It would be a tragedy to go through life and only see a small sliver of all the beauty this world has to offer.
That’s why I moved to Budapest, Hungary when I was 22.
Unfortunately, at the time, expat coaching wasn’t really a thing and I didn’t have anyone to offer me honest advice on how to move abroad.
The reality is, moving to a different country is hard. Even in the best of circumstances, the culture shock, language barrier, and stresses of everyday life can have a SERIOUS impact on your mental health. I know it impacted mine.
That’s why I’m writing this blog series to give you all of the information I wish I had before I showed up completely alone in a country I had never been to before.
Looking back, it was nuts of me to do this without any help. Luckily, you don’t have to.
1. Ego Calls vs. Soul Calls
Some people feel the call to travel, some people don’t. If you are feeling the call, before you uproot your life, you need to figure out where that call is coming from. If you are inspired to travel by the Instagram models you follow, if you imagine this journey is going to be easy and glamorous, and if you fantasize about showing off how cool and exciting your life is, it’s probably your ego that wants to travel. If that is the case, you aren’t going to have the stamina that it takes to move abroad full time. When shit gets hard, your ego is going to get bored real fast.
On the other hand, you might be experiencing a call to travel that comes from deep in your soul. You will feel this call throughout your entire body. Your desire to travel comes from wanting to see more of this gorgeous planet we live on. If your soul is asking you to travel, it is coming from a desire to expand and grow. It is only with this growth mindset that you will be able to overcome the literal and emotional hurdles that come with long term travel.
2. If Your Call is Genuine, It Isn’t Going Away
Soul calls come to us for a reason and ignoring them will not make them go away. You may be too afraid to quit your job and move abroad. That’s normal, but that doesn’t mean your desire is going anywhere. If you have a soul call to travel (or to do anything really) you need to answer it in earnest. The good news is that if it is a genuine soul desire, the Universe will move things around to make it happen, as long as you take the leap and make the effort.
Before I moved abroad, I was sick with nerves. Each day I got closer to the move, I felt sicker and sicker, but I knew my desire to see the world was bigger than my fear of change and airplanes. I took the leap and the Universe opened doors for me, both in my career and in my personal growth.
3. You Need Help
When I moved to Budapest, I did not have the help or support I needed. I actually didn’t even have that when I studied abroad in college. It wasn’t until I had been living in Budapest for almost two years that I learned there was an industry supporting expats with everything from coaching, to accounting, to in person events.
Living abroad is wildly stressful at times. Simple things waiting in line at customs and going to the doctor sometimes make you want to give it all up and move back to safety. But getting yourself the support you need will make this experience so much more viable and save yourself unnecessary suffering.
4. You Need to Study the Language
Note that I didn’t say you need to learn the language! Learning the language is great and will seriously improve your career cred, but it’s not totally necessary. It is necessary to study the language and do your best to use it in everyday life.
For one, it’s just good etiquette when you move to a new country, but it goes deeper than that. Studying the language will help you acclimate more to living in a new place. But it will also open you up for richer experiences.
Locals know learning a new language is hard, and they will so appreciate your efforts, even if they laugh at your mispronunciations. People will be kinder and help you more which makes all of the study well worth it. And nothing can beat that feeling of accomplishment when you are finally able to negotiate with street vendors or order in a cafe in a new language. If you can manage it, start studying the language before you get there. Even if you only know a few words, it will ease your transition.
5. Transplant Shock is Not Just for Plants
Transplant shock is when you move a plant from one spot to another and no matter what you do, it just can’t thrive. This totally applies to humans as well. (Note: I’m kind of stealing this idea from Venessa Rodriguez of the Wildly Rooted Podcast).
When you move to a new place, your system is going to be in shock for awhile. Your circadian rhythm is going to have to adjust. It’s actually normal for women to miss their periods when they move to a new country, I always do. The new foods may be hard on your digestive system. And you may find yourself depressed, homesick, and emotionally fried. This is a normal part of the process, but there are ways to diminish these symptoms. (link to other article)
6. There Are Options
A lot of people have preconceived notions about what their career is going to look like when they move abroad. Some people think their only option is to teach English. Others envision a remote job or working locally. There are pros and cons to all of these work options but try to keep an open-mind. There are more options that you are capable of seeing right now, so remain open to seeing the benefits of these different career paths or even trying multiple options at the same time. Not every job you have is going to be your dream job, but with the right mindset, every job can be a step towards living your dream life.
Yep, you read that right. Transplant shock isn’t just for plants!
If you aren’t a gardener, transplant shock is when you uproot a plant and move it somewhere else, where it fails to thrive. In some cases, the plant will even die.
Like plants, we humans are rooted into our environments. Our roots may be less literal, like our social networks, family, and habits, but it doesn’t mean we are any less deeply rooted. Just like plants, our bodies have also acclimated to the environment around you and the food you are eating. A move can have physical and emotional impacts on your wellness.
When you uproot yourself and move to a new country, the shock can be just as traumatic as it is for plants. For me, it was almost tortuous to go from the Sunshine state to Eastern European winters. Wow, talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder!
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
What I am saying is the a move takes foresight and strategy. If you want to thrive in your new home, you need to make the effort to do so.
One of the reasons I started this blog was to help people like me avoid the mistakes that I made when I moved abroad. So if you want to really commit to your wellness and making your move successful on all levels, I seriously recommend follow these tips.
1. No Trips Abroad for 3 Months
So I know you moved abroad because you want to see the world, but when you first move to a new country, you need to focus on settling down first to avoid transplant shock. In other words, you need to let your roots ground in so you can thrive in your new home long term. Taking trips to other countries right away will not only be disorienting, but will also get in the way of forming an intimate relationship with your new city. Depending on your visa situation, you may not even be able to leave the country for the first few months anyway. Focus on really getting to know your new city and don’t leave until it has started to really feel like home.
2. Time in Nature
One of the most important things you can do to diminish transplant shock is to get out in nature. I believe every country and every city has its own energy. When you’re moving out of one energy and into another, it may be a shock to your system. Going exploring in nature will not just help you fall in love with your new home, but I believe the subtle energy of plants has profoundly healing effects. Get out into nature anytime you’re feeling homesick or disconnected and you will acclimate much more quickly.
3. Move in Summer
If you’re moving more than a few time zones away, your circadian rhythm is going to be totally fucked. This impacts people to different degrees, but for me, it’s an absolute nightmare and it can take weeks before I feel like a normal human again.
One of the best ways (maybe the only way!) to align your circadian rhythm and get your sleep schedule back on track is sunlight. If you are moving to a place that experiences winter, you should really move in the summer. Otherwise, you will not have access to the kind of sunlight that will align your sleep cycles. This can cause insomnia, fatigue, depression, and MAJOR transplant shock.
When I was in graduate school, I spent 6 weeks in the US for winter break and traveled around the US while I was there. This was such a big mistake. It disrupted my process of settling into life abroad and totally fucked up my circadian rhythm. When I got back to Hungary it was the dead of winter and there was almost no sunlight. I got sick, depressed, homesick, and exhausted. And I don’t mean a little sad or a little sluggish. I mean full blown depression and an inability to get out of bed and go to class.
I totally understand the desire to want to go home and see your family over the holidays, but it can set back your process of acclimation back in a lot of ways. It may be worth it to skip your first year or to have them visit you instead.
4. Study the Language
Not only is this a practical tool that will make your life easier, but I believe that each language has its own vibration. Practicing the language will help you acclimate more to the energy of the country and help you form that intimacy you want with your new home.
5. Limit Contact with Friends Back Home
I know this makes me sound like a hardass, but it is totally necessary. I don’t mean you should ghost all of your friends, but you should be mindful in your contact when you first move.
When you have those difficult moments, you’re going to want to reach out to something familiar. But the more you rely on your network back home, the more you are going to want to go back.
Right now, you are trying to make a new home for yourself, so it is vitally important that you push yourself to develop a local support network as soon as you can. This is where having an expat coach can really help you. It is someone familiar you can turn to when you need support, but not someone you had a pre-existing relationship with that is going to distract you or tempt you to give up.
6. Connect with People Before You Move
Friendship might be the biggest tool towards helping you feel more rooted in your new home. Connecting with people and organizations before you get there will help you a lot. Join local expat organizations for events and support in finding an apartment. Join local Facebook pages and post in the groups introducing yourself. Having someone you can reach out to to ask questions before you get there and knowing you will have chances to socialize as soon as you move will be such a balm for your anxiety.
One group I’m a part of Women of Budapest, is a support network for Hungarian and expat women living in Budapest (obviously). They host social events, travel together, post jobs, and answer even your most embarrassing questions (where can I find an English speaking doctor that does paps?). Having a support network like this before arriving will change your experience.
7. Get Your Own Space ASAP
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is taking too long to find an apartment. You should have all of your basic research on apartment hunting covered before you even move. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend signing a lease before you get there, but you should already have showings booked. The longer it takes to get into your own space, unpack, and start to build your nest, the more stressed you’re going to be and the less it will feel like home.