Lessons from 9 months of splitting time between home and abroad

I have been quiet here about my travel experiences after my big move to Asia. But I’ve written religiously about my adventures, albeit in private channels. Here are the lessons I uncovered while living in Southeast Asia in the past 9 months.

1. Moving is hard.

Nothing is new here. I was fully aware of the difficulties in moving and I’ve mentioned this before I physically moved. But the challenges I encountered while moving is nothing like I anticipated. I’m not new to moving, in fact, many will consider me an expert in travel due to my constant jetsetting (mostly fun, but not without stress). Still, moving introduces a new set of existential questions, emotions, and experiences that are rewarding to have gone through in hindsight, but painful to endure.

2. It forces you constantly shift your perspective.

When you’re new to travel, it’s exhilarating. There are so many adventures to be had, so many varied sights to discover, so many new people to meet. It’s mostly a blissful experience as you’re traveling. Yet if you do it constantly, a feeling of unsettledness ensues. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then you get used to it. And you realize that getting used to it doesn’t make it easier. While it introduces you to entertain new ways of thinking and helps you discover new ideas, which keeps you sharp, you also get used to movement as a survival mechanism. Since it’s something you must do, it becomes something you expect.

3. You get antsy when you’re still.

The constant movement excites you, and helps with dream big. When a plane takes off, it reintroduces you to the horizon and the sky, which helps with dreaming up new things. You get used to bouncing off ideas and plans not just professionally (innovation!) but personally as well (ie. planning parties with friends) and not completing them because you’re not in one place for long stretches of time.

4. Friendships are put on hold, even temporarily.

We tend to create groups of friends in places where we spend a lot of time. So when we live in two places at the same time, we create two groups of friends (and multiple sub-groups of these friends), one at home, and another in the place where you spend a lot of time. When I’m in LA, I hang out and catch up with people from LA. When I’m in Manila, I hang out and catch up with people from Manila. Of course, I keep in touch with both groups even when I’m in the other location, but I realize it’s hard to jive remotely with local culture. When I’m in LA, I’m completely Angeleno, and it’s hard to ride with jokes and stories of people from Manila, when I’m not there. When I’m in Manila, it’s hard to be on top of LA trends and culture.

This is something I’m trying to improve: to represent who I am fully no matter where I am, and uphold the activities and thinking that define myself, and not be susceptible to changes in the environment too much. This reminds me of the existential question I’ve asked myself so many times: how do I adapt to the environment I’m in (to connect with locals) while fully being who I am (which may introduces differences)?

5. You become a more dynamic person.

In spite of the difficulties of traveling across places, the ultimate reward is you become a more aware and global. You may experience the stress of cultural acculturation, and there are times when you think you’re losing a part of yourself for the sake of fitting in, in order to survive. But really, you’re growing into a new kind of person– one that is culturally sensitive, curious and sharp– even if it’s hard to realize it while waiting in airports or being in transit.

Even if it feels like losing yourself, you don’t lose yourself, you are still who you define yourself as. Your definition of yourself is something that no one can take away from you. I believe that one’s definition of identity does not shrink. It expands as you gain new experiences and become immersed in new environments.

People always ask me, after having lived exactly the same amount of time in the US and Asia, if I’m more American or Asian. And I always answer: I’m not half of one or the other, in fact, I’m whole of both.


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