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…
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!
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.
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.
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.