What Moving Over 7,000 Miles Away from Home Feels Like

What Moving Over 7,000 Miles Away from Home Feels Like

How does it feel to say bye to everyone you know, drop out of college, and move to the other side of the world on your own?

Three months ago, I got a job that brought me outside of the United States for the first time in my life.

I was only 19, still fresh in the middle of my third college semester. My only experience with moving away was when I left sunny Southern California to the deserts of Arizona during the summer of 2012.

My first move, from California to Arizona, was difficult but I had been preparing since I was 14. Admittedly, I detached myself much more than I should have in preparation for the move. It wasn’t until I only had one year left in California that I let my guard down and began to really let people in.

Learning to stop distancing myself from others and enjoying the time we have together in the present was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Moving 7,700 Miles Away

I stopped looking at moving as goodbyes and viewed them as see you laters. It wasn’t healthy to distance myself just because I knew I’d be leaving.

But my move to the Philippines was different. It wasn’t just driving 550 miles to the next state over. I got on an airplane by myself and flew to the other side of the world. This was saying bye to all my friends and family, everyone, that I had ever met without a set date of return.

However excited I was, I can’t deny that I was afraid I was making a mistake. What if things don’t work out with my new company? What if I realize I can’t handle being away from my friends and family? What if I get killed?

My family thought I was crazy for leaving in the middle of a semester, taking a break from school for a year, and disappearing into the other side of the world. My friends thought I had nerves of steel. I, on the other hand, didn’t know what to think of myself.

I will say that the time I’ve spent in the Philippines opened my eyes to more of my characteristic flaws that were unknown to me before. That’s something I’m grateful for because it means I know what to focus on improving.

I spent Christmas and New Years in another country. That’s still insane to me.

Christmas and New Years

Never having been outside of the U.S. meant that I merely heard stories from second-hand sources. When the opportunity to move came up I had already decided that leaving the U.S. for a while wouldn’t be a bad idea if it meant expanding my knowledge of the world.

Dealing With Misconceptions

Unfortunately, my family had nothing but negative things to say about the Philippines. As I boarded my plane, I was worried their criticisms would be valid and that was making a huge mistake.

Mere minutes after arriving I knew the things my family told me were far off target. People here are amazing and I think the Philippines has an extra level of hospitality you wouldn’t expect.

When I first arrived at the airport I saw just how nice people here were. There was an employee at the airport who spent at least an hour with me and another passenger helping us get to where we need to be and made sure we got everything we needed, no questions asked.

The other passenger I was with made sure I knew everything I needed. He warned me about the dangers of the country, shared his best tips on making the best of my stay, told me his life story, and made sure I was comfortable being so far away from home.

These first two people I met before I even arrived in my city made me optimistic about my stay and gave me a great first impression of the Philippines.

Admiring Cultural Differences

Something I can’t help but admire is the poor’s ability to find great contentment in daily life despite having very little.

I was talking with my taxi driver about the differences in the way people in the Philippines carried themselves compared to the states. He noted that people in the U.S. are very rushed and genuinely believe “time is money.”

That doesn’t happen here. Everyone relaxes and takes things slowly. Seriously, try asking for your restaurant bill and prepare to wait another 15 minutes. People are okay with that here, but try to make someone wait 15 minutes for anything in the states and heads will roll.

The first lesson I learned after leaving home was not to take others’ account of different cultures as absolute fact. Yes, that means not even what I’m saying here.

People will say the nastiest things and could have it all wrong. Maybe there’s some truth to it, but to generalize like my family did and dismiss an entire country with its own unique culture is cruel. Meanwhile, I may be a bit optimistic and your experiences may differ.

Either way, seeing a different culture will be good for you. It makes you question what your home “has wrong” and brings you on an interesting journey of self-discovery.

Back home, I thought the belief that time was money was just a fact of life. Not here it isn’t. People are happy taking their time and living day by day. You adjust and get used to it, then you start to wish it was more common everywhere.

Moving by myself was scary at first but now I think having adventures on your own may be better than going with familiar friends. It forces you to adapt to radical change. Having people I already knew out here would make me feel too comfortable and I wouldn’t be as challenged.

You always hear about how traveling is a good experience. I now understand why.

So, I ask again, how does it feel to (temporarily) say bye to everyone you know, drop out of college, and move to the other side of the world on your own?

Vincent Nguyen in a Suit
You tell me.

Photo Credit: symmetry_mind – Flickr

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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20 responses to What Moving Over 7,000 Miles Away from Home Feels Like

  1. Nice report on how expatriation feels from the inside 🙂
    I wasn’t as bold as you in my 20’s, but back then I dropped everything to become a Buddhist Monk, I was longing for a radical shift of perspective. I got what I wanted, and it challenged most of my certainties.
    Looking back, that’s what I’m most grateful for. Now 40, I’m still happy to be taught unexpected lessons by new people, new situations, and getting to understand how every single human has a story worth listening…and learning from.

  2. Hey Vincent! Glad to hear you’ve adapted well to your new surroundings! 🙂 There’s always fear when making a change as huge as that, but provided you go in with an open mind, it turns out to be a positive experience!
    I’ve been moving around the world my entire life – I’m German, but have never actually lived there. Saying goodbye to friends at school would happen every 4 or so years, before facing an entirely different school. What all the moving has taught me is that people are generally speaking, very nice, no matter where you go. We’re all human, and we generally extend the same amount of respect to each other no matter where you’re from.
    I also learned very quickly that goodbye’s are not forever. Many of the friends I made 10 years ago, I reconnect with when we happen to be in the same country. And if the friendship is true enough, it will be as if you were never apart – no matter that you haven’t spoken in 5 years! So don’t worry, the important frienships will still be there for you when you get back!

    • I also believe that people are generally nicer than not! Maybe we’re optimistic, but that isn’t so bad.

      Is it upsetting when you’ve created tons of close friendships only to move and say bye again? Do you find yourself thinking about them all the time? I’m curious. 🙂

  3. Oh and I so know what you mean about people having pre-conceived notions about places they’ve never been to – I’ve lived in the Middle East and in Russia, and when I moved to New Zealand, people at school thought I had been living in the cold war, and in a desert war zone where I couldn’t show my hair in public or I would be stoned.. interesting how the media shapes our perspective – that’s why travel is so, so important!

  4. Very proud of you, Vincent! So glad we connected on Tribe Writers, and that you’re doing so well!


  5. This is the first article you showed a lot of photos of yourself in PI. Haha. I was envious because you were able to join Torotot festival last new year (which I wasn’t able to attend because I got sick) Hahaha. I’m glad you’re enjoying your stay in the country. I agree with you that travelling teaches us to be open-minded and to not accept other’s criticisms at face value. I’ve been able to travel a lot around PH and learned that hasty generalizations by others about a particular place are most of the time not true.

    Just a disclaimer here. I think 15 minutes is too long to wait for a bill. If that happens in the busy part of the city where there are lots of officeworkers and students, the waiter would be scolded. And people are always rushing at the busy part of the city. Maybe it depends on the restaurant. And the time. Expensive restaurants usually takes their time.But yes, outside work, Filipinos usually take their time.

    I admire your bravery Vince. I can’t imagine living 7,000 miles away from home. Continue to enjoy your stay here.

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
    ― Mark Twain

    • Hah, it seemed to make sense to have them in there. Then again, having them in my other PI post would have been good too…

      That 15 minutes might have been a slight exaggerations. I can’t deny that most places do make you wait quite a while though. I do notice when restaurants are quick because of how unexpected it is. 🙂

  6. I probably did the exact opposite when I moved to Singapore from the Philippines 5 years ago (without yet my wife and baby). I did not have that ‘goodbye anxiety’ in the beginning because I left with my mind set having to go back home after 3 weeks for the Lunar New Year. I was always emotionally off-ground so maybe even when I came back after the New year, I was numb. But soon, I felt some kind of loneliness. I sought for something! That was indeed a struggle. Oh my joy was overwhelming when my family followed after 6 months. 🙂

  7. Wow! Just remembered my first memories of moving alone 4500 miles from home, family & friends were. Although scared of being on my own, I was very excited & hell-bent on proving to everyone it is the right decision for me. The very people who discouraged my move & gave my personality as an excuse to stop me from moving are surprised at how much I changed (in a positive, stronger way). It is the one of the best decisions I ever made in life. It really helped me to learn about myself & the world. I finally reached ‘my home’!

    • I’m interested to hear about the people who gave you the most resistance. Did this discourage you while you were away from home or did you use it as fuel to prove them wrong?

      • They were mostly extended family & friends. Actually, they were all pretty worried that I’ll not be able to survive on my own & end up depressed or something. I was never away from hometown & was quite naive then, maybe they were trying to protect me but I felt too suffocated. At some point before my move, I realised I have to get out of there if want to do something on my own. So yeah, all the resistance fuelled me to show – i can. Now they can’t stop saying how proud they are of me 😉

        • They mean well though, right? I try to remind myself that my family means well too, but their “help” still gets on my nerves at times. I have a short fuse. 😛

          Glad to know your move was a good choice.

  8. Ohh, the same thoughts are in my mind right now. I am planning to move from past few years but I think this is the year when my college will be over and I will be out my own. I don’t want to disrespect my parents by just leaving everything behind and doing my own things. Lets see how the stuff comes up by the the end of this year.

    Still, do the questions still come to your mind? Like who is there to care for you? What if you get killed? What if someone tried to rob you? Where would you go if something happens, like right now I call my father. all these type of questions. I want to know what you feel about them know?

    • Honestly, there aren’t any concerns regarding safety anymore. I’m sure it’d be different if I were in a more dangerous part of the country, but Davao is the fourth safest city in the world. That definitely makes it very easy to relax and not keep my guard up too much.

      As for worrying about getting killed or robbed, that really could happen anywhere. In fact, I think I lived in more dangerous areas back in the states than I do now. When you live somewhere for a while you don’t really worry about things like that because the odds are so ridiculously low. You can’t really expect to get held at gunpoint every time you walk down the street. It’s just too rare to even think about.

      We’re living in the safest period of history right now (there are tons of studies to back that up.) Media only shows the worst things that happen and we have more access to news than ever before. Makes the world seem a lot scarier than it is.

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