Written by Jenny Hayes of MyJobcation
The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.
It is never of any use to oneself.
- Oscar Wilde
He paused. Hesitated. His eyes looked pass me. In hindsight, I think he was slow to speak not because he did not know what to say, but because he was skeptical. I had asked him for advice. He must’ve just known that I was unlikely to take it. Who could blame him? Maybe by passing on Jonathan’s words of wisdom to you, you’ll have a bit more success than I managed.
I was 18, itching to change the world, and I could not help but to believe that everything up until this point counted for something. Dangit, as I think about it, I guess I was just proud and ignorant. Opting to take a gap year before "doing the college thing," I was headed to a mid-size Russian city to work with a humanitarian organization.
Jonathan was an immigrant who had come to the United States at 18: he knew something about assimilating in a new place. I don't know if he finally offered his advice because he actually believed I would take it, but he shrugged:
"Let go of the rope."
Seeing that I was hardly satisfied with this succinct response, he shrugged again. Looking back, he was absolutely aware of the challenges ahead. Yet, Jonathan knew that no amount of advice would prepare me for the unique experience of starting life all over again. As a consolation, he allowed a bit more detail, suggesting that I forget about trying to live in two places at once. Everything was about to change.
My comfortable life, my best friends, my committed family , and my "accomplishments" well-suited for a college application - these were the fibers shaping my American identity. They would soon be meaningless to everyone. The rope tethering me to my comfortable life only stretched so far. If I clung to it, I'd most certainly be unhappy and useless in Russia, suspended between the new and the old. If I tried to climb back up it, reaching for my American life, I would tire by attempting to pull my mind outside of my body. If I were to just let go of the rope, I would fall... and that was really the only way to do it.
During the nine months living in Russia before college, the two years living in Israel after college, and ten months in the American wilderness, I came back to this advice frequently. Even when I did manage to let go of the rope, eventually I would find myself reaching up for it again. If you've experienced long-term travel, maybe you can relate.
So, what does it mean to let go of the rope?
Let go of the rope tying you to your home life.
While it is essential to stay in touch with your close friends and family, you MUST accept that you aren't physically there and no amount of Skype or social media bingeing will change that. A Facebook "like" on your best friend's wedding photo does seem disingenuous after you've missed the wedding. Life goes on in a different way for the people you spent your "past life" with, and you will all have new experiences. Don't try to make it the same, lest you neglect the people sitting beside you. By letting go of the rope, yes you can expect those awkward 'getting-to-know-you' scenarios, but they will be a right of passage for some of the most worthwhile friendships. It will be tough, but let go and give yourself an opportunity to have new inside jokes with new people. Those you'll have forever.
Let go of the rope tying you to your customs, traditions, and holidays.
Your traditions, your holidays, your customs - let 'em go. If you cling to them. You'll only experience their absence more acutely, and that will make you sad. Instead, consider the present and even have a little fun with the non-traditional.
It's time for a story and a confession: My first Christmas away from home, I reached back up for the rope and measured the moments by activities my family must've been experiencing simultaneously without me. That dang rope. I was sad. Years later, on a Christmas Eve in Jerusalem, I feasted on pork cuisine in an Asian restaurant owned by Palestinian Christians, as Arabic Christmas carols played in the background. The Korean beside me also downed his pork, while the Jewish pastor abstained but celebrated nonetheless. I have no idea where the rope went that Christmas, I just know that "O Little Town of Bethlehem" sounds much different when sung in Arabic and with Bethlehem really being the little town down the road.
Let go of the rope tying you to your daily expectations.
If you are an American, adjusting to life in another culture, and are on the lookout for ways to put yourself in a bad mood, I can give you the secret recipe. Go grocery shopping and expect it to be just like home. Ha! Are you mental yet? From guessing which meat is which, to finding toothpaste, to waiting in line, if you don't let go of the rope connecting you to your daily expectations, you WILL be crazy by tonight. When you go to a new place, don't entertain the idea that the stuff you do everyday, those things that you take for granted, will be remotely similar to home. This goes for grocery shopping, customer service, haggling (or not haggling), navigating public transit, driving, and even hanging out. This goes for... well... everything. It's all different: experience it anew.
Living life in another country or in a completely new place is like being born again, into a new world and a new identity. If you wake up each day expecting to fall on your face because you know nothing of the language, the culture, the customs - you are on your way to contentment. When you resolve to see your new place with brand new eyes, to learn everything all over again, you're off to a good start (or at least on your way to sanity). You'll learn to be more flexible, congenial, and maybe even cultured.
Quit asking why, and just go with it.
Let go of the rope.
Bio: The "Where are you from?" question is one Jenny Hayes always asks and never can answer. She's working on a website, myjobcation.com for people combine work with travel. If you're reading this, Jenny's drinking coffee.