Ex-Expat.

Itchy feet. It seems like an undying condition that is all too common for those whom have traveled and those that have lived abroad. For me, this feeling is the story of my life.  

A nomadic upbringing and often being the "new girl" has left me always feeling slightly on the outside, never really a true, integral part of any social circle. In fact, it usually left me feeling sad and left out. Being associated with a social group through a connection with a boyfriend, for example, allowed me to feel slightly more connected and accepted which was momentarily nice. My wildly awkward physical appearance as a young girl circumvented social growth; even now, I don't feel as adequate as my current outward appearance should make me feel socially. (F ormer Rugby teammates from the third high-school I attended expressed that I had the Ugly-Duckling-Syndrome after seeing childhood photos. Ha. Ha.). All to say, is we all have silent hang-ups, such as being the skinny, flat-chested girl with "summer teeth" (sum-are-here-sum-are-there), that keep us from allowing ourselves to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Usually it is our own self-talk and perceived shortcomings that limit us and inhibit us from feeling a part of something - the sense of belonging.

Somehow, I felt most at home living life as an expat interacting with others that have a strong taste for travel and living life with a  slim collection of material and social attachments.  Self-discovery has always fascinated me - in fact it has purely engrossed me, and travel always seems to inspire moments of growth that would otherwise go quietly unnoticed. 

Over the past few years I've discovered that I am indeed an extroverted introvert. Allow me to explain: I often have worked in jobs that require an extroverted demeanour and spirit, which I enjoyed, but most inevitably left me drained. I would (and still do) recharge my batteries by spending time alone working out, reading, writing, cleaning, thinking, and daydreaming. I have been known to evade social plans outside of work for the undue anxiety and stress they incite in me. I do find lots of joy in interacting with others; I equally (if not more) enjoy being in the quiet company of myself. The tricky part is walking the fine line between enjoying alone time and being lonely. 

Being back home in Ottawa after several stints abroad, looking to extend and grow substantial and meaningful roots, continues to feel foreign and contrived at times. Many of my friendships have naturally disintegrated at the cost of my anxiety and desire to travel and live abroad. The common threads of those friendships have frayed with little to recover. The handful of close friendships that remain in-tact are the ones in which I am accepted as myself as opposed to largely misunderstood! Fitting in, per se,has just never been my jam. And, I'm okay with that - now more than ever.

Anyways, lately, I have been strongly fighting the all-too-familiar urge to purchase a one-way-ticket to a far-away land and feel alive. You know, the feeling you get that borders on fright that makes your heart beat and your blood push through your veins? The feeling of the unknown.  The feeling of figuring out something foreign. And, knowing that everything is going to be okay. Alright, willingly putting myself in a risky situation as such probably doesn't quite align with being an introvert. But remember, I'm an extroverted introvert! For me, travel is a catalyst for self-discovery, ah-ha-moments, and simply feeling alive and oh-so-grateful. I long to feel so alive in my "hometown" but struggle with bouts of feeling underwhelmed. My fellow expats know what I mean, right?

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU FELT ALIVE?

Here is a little thought I jotted down when living in Japan where I taught English to the most special human beings ever. In this story, I reflect on feeling alive...that amazing, total-body sensation!

The Radish Flower
May 10, 2008 at 11:43am

I’ve discovered my new, favourite restaurant. It is called The Radish Flower, when translated directly from Japanese. The feelings of inexplicable gratitude and euphoric happiness that I’ve been experiencing recently are as peculiar as this restaurant’s name.

In the past year I’ve been faced with some interesting times - a great deal of highs and many lows. I sought out an experience that would push me to my limits and far exceed the unspoken boundaries of my comfort zone. The experience I chose to pursue was a faint dream that I had wanted to make a reality for quite some time; put simply, I just didn’t have the gall to make it a reality. Ultimately, all it took was some raw courage and determination to make this dream come true - and timing played a huge role in me finding this courage and determination.

And so, I am here in the beautiful land of the rising sun. It is nearly overwhelming how I feel. I feel calm from the excitement in my life. Yes, it sounds strange, but there is no other way to describe it. I am grateful for the challenges I face each day in this foreign country that is now my home. A steady state of contentment has begun to pump and flow through me.

It feels great to literally laugh out loud to yourself. When was the last time you did that? If feels incredible to smile from ear-to-ear, when no one is around to see it. When was the last time you did that? Tonight, after a extraordinary meal at my new favourite restaurant, I said thank you and goodbye to my new friends. The woman, dressed in a silk Geisha-style kimono offered me an umbrella from the restaurant for the ride home. Masaya (my Japanese friend) asked me: “Can you ride a bike and hold an umbrella at the same time?” At this remark, two things crossed my mind. Firstly, I thought, it is funny how Japanese people will ask questions such as “Can you eat raw fish?” or “Can you use chopsticks?” and are entirely awestruck with amazement when you tell them, “Yes, I can!” Then I thought that perhaps this task truly required a unique Japanese skill - nonsense. I accepted the offer to take the umbrella after two initial refusals. Once out of courtesy. Second, out of self-doubt. The woman watched me from the entrance to The Radish Flower. As she bowed and said “Arigato gozaimasu” and “Goodbye” in her best English. I struggled to mount my bike, clumsily finding balance like a bear on a unicycle at a circus. On my drive home, I smiled ear-to-ear and laughed out lout to myself feeling nothing but utter bliss and knowing that the only person in the world that would understand and have the ability to appreciate this one unforgettable moment was me.

Will I always have the fantastical, near-escapism desire to seek adventure in order to feel at once alive and still? Am I settling  when I strive to create a steady, happy life here in Ottawa? What is this resistance I am met with? Some people look at expats and question: what is it that you are running from? I always framed that question as: what am I running to? 

Now that I'm here, in this present moment, I ponder that this adventure of building a life in one spot is perhaps the biggest learning curve of them all - the most exhilarating task I've been met with yet. I will strive to consistently find excitement and beauty in the ebb-and-flow of the every-day. There is truly no requirement to up and leave to find excitement and adventure, I must instead be adamant in aknowldgkng and re-setting my perception via-à-vis what represents feeling alive. I will aim to feel alive and still while resisting nomadic pulls in every single direction around the globe I will soak up everything in my backyard.

I will start this weekend with a small  adventure to one of my dearest friend's lakeside cottage to celebrate her birthday, our friendship and Canada's beauty. 

Be good to you.

W xo