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Authored by Brett DeColyse

For those of us who grew up with the spoils and comforts of the Western world, there is often little or no reason to relocate our entire lives to a place thousands of miles from home; especially if we have limited understanding of the local culture, cannot speak the language, and may have only visited for a few weeks or months prior to the move.  To do so would be irresponsible, reckless, financially stressful, physically dangerous, and dare I say it: just plain stupid!

Growing up in suburban New York, I’d be lying if I said I never felt that way. But after finishing up university, I thought it might be fun to move to sunny Southern California – so I did just that and built a pretty great life for myself.  I had amazing friends, a great job, lots of time in the ocean, weekend barbeques, and perfect weather pretty much every day.

If you asked me five or six years ago if I would ever leave San Diego, I would have said it’s simply not happening.  Period.  Who would want to leave a life where they were perfectly content?  But then I began traveling more frequently…

A very typical view from the balcony in San Diego, California.

A very typical view from the balcony in San Diego, California.

While it may not happen on your first trip abroad, there will absolutely be a travel adventure that changes your life forever. For me it was in December 2011 when a friend and I took a trip to China. Our agenda – Hong Kong, Guilin, Shanghai.

My previous travels had always taken me to English and Spanish speaking countries where communication was not a problem for me. But this time things were very different. I really had to stretch my patience – shuffling through busy streets and subways, not being able to read street signs and menus (many had English characters but pronunciation was a whole other challenge), and accepting that many times I would simply not be able to communicate my needs.  It was tough.  And I loved every minute of it.

There is something about traveling to a foreign land, learning local customs and behaviors,  meeting amazing people and leaving with a greater understanding of yourself that only those who have been through the same experience will understand.

In my opinion, it is something everyone must do in their life. Although, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you know this already!

Getting lost while wandering the streets of Hong Kong for the first time.

Getting lost while wandering the streets of Hong Kong for the first time.

It was during the Shanghai leg of this fateful trip to China in 2011 that I met my girlfriend and everything just clicked. I knew when I left Shanghai that it would not be long before I saw her again. And it wasn’t. Within a few months of exchanging daily Facebook messages and weekly phone calls we were planning our first meet up in Thailand. A few months later, she was visiting me in San Diego. And then we had “the talk”.

Obviously a long distance relationship wasn’t going to work and one of us would have to relocate. From my standpoint, I figured if things kept going well, she would just come to California. But somehow she managed to ask the question first, “Why don’t you move to Shanghai?”

And that’s when I had to look deep within myself and ask, what would it take for me to make this decision? What do I have to be able to do to survive in China? What will I tell my parents?

Beyond obvious answers like needing to learn Mandarin, trying to find steady income, and finding new hobbies that didn’t involve going to the beach, there was one clear catch-all answer that really sums up what anyone needs to do before making a decision like moving from San Diego to Shanghai – You have to let go of the fear that is holding you back.

It may sound cliché, but immediately my boundaries began to break down, and instead of risk, I began to see opportunity – opportunity to learn a new and different way of living that would test my determination and resolve, opportunity to break the monotony of doing all the things we’re “supposed to do”, and opportunity to be with the person who made me happiest.

Not quite a Southern California sunset, but a beautiful view nonetheless taken from my balcony in Shanghai.

Not quite a Southern California sunset, but a beautiful view nonetheless taken from my balcony in Shanghai.

So I did it. I let go of the fear and took the plunge. And here I am, 18 months later. Still in Shanghai, and not doing so bad.

My Mandarin is functional (though much improvement is needed), I’ve made  true friends from all over the world, I get to be a part of two amazing startups – one local and one international, and get to spend every day with the best person I know.

I’ve also traveled more in the past 18 months than I did in the 3 years prior, exploring Vietnam, The Philippines, Nepal and, of course, many parts of China.

My girlfriend, Monica, and I taking a small break while hiking in Nepal during just one of our many adventures together.

My girlfriend, Monica, and I taking a small break while hiking in Nepal during just one of our many adventures together.

Again, if you asked me a few years ago if I would ever leave my comfortable life in California, I would have said no. But then again I also would have said there is no way I’d speak Mandarin, start my own company, or move across the planet for love.

But amazing things can happen when you let go of your fears and pursue adventure.

Brett DeColyse is an avid traveler based in Shanghai where he aspires to improve his Mandarin fluency and explore as much of Asia as possible. Brett is co-founder of the adventure travel website Embark.org, a site dedicated to better connect the world with meaningful and engaging travel experiences.

You can connect with Brett directly and get the latest Embark.org updates via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.

    10 Comments

  1. This post was just what I needed to read! I’m heading off travelling long-term in 3 weeks and am terrified of leaving my comfortable little bubble. However, I am doing what you did – letting go of the fear and taking the plunge! Thanks for the inspiration :)

    • Glad you liked the post, Christie. Best of luck on your upcoming trip. I don’t think it’s possible to ever feel FULLY prepared, so your best bet is to take the plunge and enjoy the ride. Enjoy!

  2. Great post! I myself am from SoCal (OC, went to college in SD), and am currently reading this from Portugal, where I am visiting the man I fell in love with 5 months ago when he was traveling to California. He ended up coming back to me in CA first and spending 2 months, now I am here. Our story is a little different than yours and your girlfriend’s, in that we are both divorced single parents with 2 kids apiece. Still, we are determined to make it work, even if it means splitting time between countries for parts of the year. I love reading stories like yours about people who took the leap and are making it work!

    • Wow Melissa your story is amazing, so inspired by your courage and determination to make it work! I’m a huge advocate for long distance relationships working if you give them the chance to & are willing to put in the hard work.

      Best wishes to you and your partner and congrats! Happy & safe travels.

  3. Five years ago we sold everything, bought a boat and set off sailing around the world. One of our biggest fears was not being understood in the various countries we visited. The fear was unfounded as we have never had a problem. You do find a way and it is amazing how hand signals can speak for themselves.
    Really enjoyed this blog and anyone else worried about going aboard because of language barriers… don’t.

    • So glad you enjoyed the blog Mark – and congrats on facing your fears and taking the leap to realize your dream. Sailing around the world sounds absolutely amazing!!

      Not being understood I think is a very common fear – though as you rightly pointed out, you’d be surprised with just how far sign language will take you! And people around the world are generally very friendly and welcoming towards foreigners nowadays – sign language and hand gestures I’ve found, is actually a brilliant way to break the ice!!

      Great message – thanks for stopping by! And happy travels/sails!

  4. How I agree with a bit about moving to a different country to try and live there! I think if you truly want to know yourself you really should do it, no matter what. My husband and I moved abroad and do not regret it a bit! Apart from having quite an adventure all the time, we started traveling more and discovered that we can now afford our new passion. There is nothing more rewarding than trying to live abroad for some time. And there is always a possibility to discover that new place is exciting and can add more colours to your life! Although it is a bit scary at first, it is worth it!

    • Absolutely, thanks for sharing your insights Monika! I’m so glad you took the leap with your husband and are now enjoying living and traveling abroad, the experience truly does add more color to your life.

      I’ve always said that starting and taking that first step is the hardest part, and then you’ll wonder why you hadn’t taken the plunge sooner!

      Happy travels!

  5. How I can related to this! Five years ago I moved to the UK and currently I’m living in Turkey. I have the same fears but also the same excitement whenever I’m moving. I’m currently in a long distance relationship as well but since both of us are still studying, relocating isn’t an option. But as soon as we’re done, bring it on!

    • SO glad to hear you can relate Nussaibah, and it sounds like you have the right positive attitude which will get you through any hurdle. I can tell you first hand that long distance relationships can work if you truly want to make them happen – trust me, you’ll both be finished studying before you know it and you’ll eventually forget that you ever spent time apart!

      Best of luck to you and happy continued travels!

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