This is what people won’t tell you about moving abroad

The power of displacement

January 2015. A distressed friend of mine, Sharon, sends me a link to one of TED lectures: Meg Jay’s Why 30 is not the new 20. The video implies that you should start the life of your dreams when you are twenty-something.

Apparently this is when the most formative, fertile and defining time of your life unfolds. This is the time to invest in your identity and add value to who you are. This is also the time to do something meaningful with your life and capitalise on it in your thirties and beyond.

So instead of treating your twenties as an extended period of adolescence, do something constructive.

This added a completely new dimension to her life: the feeling of displacement.

Or so we thought on that day.

In my early twenties I had already lived in 3.5 countries

Poland, Germany, England and Scotland (the two UK countries get the total of 1.5 ;) )

My first stay abroad was a six-month student exchange that turned me into a cross-country vagabond for a good few years. I was on the move most of the time, travelling and moving around.

In my twenties I managed to experience all sort of existential confusion that I can think of.

At 29 I arrived back in my home country, Poland. At the time I was tormented by one thought: nothing big or defining seemed to have happened in my life.

I didn’t start my own family. I didn’t make a big career. I didn’t possess any significant savings. Interestingly, I never procrastinated on big life decisions, but big life decisions procrastinated on meeting me half-way.

Worst of all, though, I had no clue where I wanted to live.

I felt stuck in a no-exit situation. After I graduated, the carefree life of a foreign student in the UK wasn’t part of my agenda anymore. I loved London and enjoyed working there, but I was on my own and my beloved family were back in my home country.

My life in the British capital was thrilling but I felt forlorn, displaced and anonymous in a big city. Eventually, my inner conflict brought me down to a state of semi-depression. I reached a tipping point.

The view of Tower Bridge, much as I loved it, wasn’t enough to keep me in London. I wanted out.

Parties, exciting cultural events, fun friends and busy office environments had to go, at least for some time. I went back home to my parents’ place to quiet my mind and get away from the toxicity of a big city in every possible sense.

I also wanted to get away (ironically) from the life of an eternal vagabond.

At that time I began to read plenty of online materials about studying, working and living abroad. Voluntary cross-country movement of young people was happening on an unprecedented, massive scale. (Btw, apparently, it’s been even more on the brink of Brexit and in the coronavirus times, according to some estimates.)

I found plenty of information on the pros and cons of living abroad, especially the pros. Relocation abroad was well promoted in a globalised world.

I found it essential, though, to go beyond the advantages and disadvantages of living abroad. What I got curious about was…

The evolution of a young person’s character brought about by their relocation abroad

I was interested in the role of mobility in their later life. It may seem straightforward to pack a suitcase and relocate to a different country. The real challenge, though, quite often begins when it’s time to unpack the same suitcase back in one’s home country.

Or … never pack it back to return.

A lot of my displaced friends would drag their suitcases around for many years. Moving from country to country, they felt lost: emotionally, mentally and culturally.

Having lived myself in 3.5 countries, I knew the feeling well. Finally, I was struck by an idea: all displaced people could use some inspiration and motivation. Something that would go beyond the pros and cons of living abroad. After all, international experiences are supposed to be a blessing, not a curse.

So I started writing a book “The Power of Displacement” to touch upon the many aspects of the search of global vagabonds for a global meaning.

Whether you’re an Erasmus student, economic migrant, EU expat worker, American in the Eastern Hemisphere or a compulsive traveller, you’re bound to experience some sort of displacement. You may be trying to redefine your life purpose to find a place you could call ‘home’.

Many young people cannot help their hunger for adventure and exploration. After one stay abroad, they’re likely to want more. They may choose to move from country to country and often take longer to enter adulthood. They may actually feel paralysed by their displacement, preferring to procrastinate on serious life decisions.

Life in a few countries has certainly made me a life-purpose seeker who has had to learn a few lessons the hard way. Probably the most important one is that life is nothing but a collection of choices: trusting your guts and inner GPS will certainly help you make the best ones.

Displacement used to be my chronic ailment

At some point I lost faith that things would ever fall into place. I felt stuck in my meaningless life of a vagabond that I began to curse. Then one day it dawned on me: I had to embrace my displacement and acknowledge its immense power.

I stopped equating displacement with an inescapable doom and gloom. I stopped seeing my way of life as always having to be on the move, which most likely helped me to escape responsibility. I replaced my confusion and procrastination with focused actions.

In my head popped up a new concept: the power of displacement.

If you feel that you might be suffering from the displacement syndrome, remember that you’re not alone at international crossroads. A lot of articles on my Medium will be just about that.

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Karolina Kulach

Non-fiction writer & content manager. Author of “The power of displacement”. Keen reality and people observer. Loves writing catchy, rhyming poems.