Welcome back to Women Who Wander. This series focuses encouraging women to seek out solo travel. Empowering and inspiring both seasoned Solo Travellers and those who have yet to venture out on their own. Reading these posts every week inspires me to no end, and I hope it does the same for you. This week, Arielle is sharing her story of moving abroad to teach English in Poland, and deciding not to come home (yet).
After graduating from college, Arielle decided to leave her native California and has lived in Kansas City, Missouri and Wrocław, Poland as a primary school teacher. She documents her adventures around Europe and the US on her blog, trying to balance funny stories with serious meditations on living abroad, politics, and the privilege of traveling. You can find her complaining about Polish grammar or drinking cocktails at Whiskey Sour Wayfarer. You can also follow her on Instagram
Taking the Leap
What’s the hardest part about going abroad? No, I’m not talking about the reverse culture shock or post-vacation blues so many people write about upon returning home from a long trip. (Those articles are completely egregious and the people writing them need to relax.) I’m talking about the real difficulties and rewards of establishing and maintaining a life away from your home country. Not studying abroad for a semester or two. Actually making the decision to immigrate without knowing when (or if) you’ll return.
Two years ago, I applied for teaching jobs in several different countries and finally settled on one in Wrocław, Poland, where I have lived ever since. I am moving to Murcia, Spain in October to get my master’s degree. I don’t yet know what I will do after that, but I have no plans to move back to my native Los Angeles.
A New Way of Life
Now it’s not to say that everything about moving abroad is all bad. (Obviously it isn’t, or I wouldn’t be doing it voluntarily!) The most obvious: moving to a new country is incredibly exciting! If you speak the language, it is a great chance for you to practice your skills. If you don’t speak the language, you can learn to speak a new language like a drunk toddler! (Just kidding, drunk toddlers speak much better Polish than I do.)
Either way, you can learn about a new culture and challenge your pre-conceived notions about every day life, things that you didn’t even realize were culturally ingrained. Like, why do Americans smile at each other so much? Or why do we ask “How are you?” when we don’t actually want to know how you are? Or why do we say “I’m good” even if we’re not really good? (These are all questions Polish people have asked me that I never had to think about before.)
A Whole Continent Just a Train Ride Away
Then you have the possibility of exploring a whole new city, country, or continent! Wrocław is a mid-size city by European standards, and it has plenty to keep me occupied for a while. Then there’s the opportunities to travel to places previously a long-haul flight away from home. Since I moved to Poland, I have visited 18 new countries! I’ve been to places I never thought I’d see. I never thought I’d have the time or money to do a months-long backpacking trip.
I have been to popular destinations (Paris, London, Berlin, Barcelona, etc) but also small towns that really hold no attraction other than I’ve made friends that live there. Would you ever think of going to Weimar, Germany or Biel, Switzerland or Żagan, Poland? My guess is ‘no’, because I certainly never did. I’ve been able to meet so many people that I never could have expected. (and no, not just American or Australian backpackers). I’ve had long conversations with Slovenian journalists in a sidewalk cafe, talked politics with a Polish woman over a bus ride from Berlin. Debated grammar with a Norwegian teacher whose English might be better than mine, and had a German guy named Hans offer to give me free drugs.
There is so much you learn living and working in a new country; things you don’t quite get while studying abroad. When you live and work on a more permanent basis, you have to find friends, deal with neighbours, landlords, immigration officials, old ladies who either really nice or really mean (there is no in-between in Poland) cashiers who don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, not to mention the dating scene, and there is no counselor or advisor to help you. As frustrating as some of these things might be, they teach you more about a new culture than any vacation or study abroad.
The Guilt of Leaving Home vs. a New Exciting Life?
But while there may be a million little annoying things about moving abroad, by far the hardest thing for me is the guilt I feel. I guilty about leaving my family and friends, watching their lives pass me by on social media. For many immigrants, returning to their homeland is not feasible at all. For those of us who have the privilege of going home at least once a year, we have to decide which events and milestones are the most important. Do I go home for big holidays like Christmas? Or save my visits for important birthdays, weddings, or graduations?
Then there is the guilt of leaving my community and my country. In our current fraught political situation, I often feel like there is more I could do to help set things in the right direction back home. Who am I to gallivant around Europe, enjoying myself? I could be putting my talents and energies into important causes back home?
Besides these big gaps, I miss the small things: dinners or drinks with friends, weekend barbecues with nieces and nephews as they grow up. Because as much as I love traveling, adventure, and seeing new things every weekend, there’s something to be said for putting down roots. For deepening bonds with people over months, years, decades. I worry that I’m being reckless and selfish. That when or if I do come back, there won’t be a place for me anymore.
So after all that, what’ll it be? Stay or leave? As much as I struggle, I’m still here in Europe and I haven’t given up my dream of living on every continent. Except Antarctica.
Finally, If you are interested in writing for Women Who Wander, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t wait to share your stories
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