I’m suddenly feeling all shy but here it goes! Hello, I’m Sarah. Welcome to Expat of the World!
Difficult question- I’m still figuring it out. In short, I’m a 23-year-old Essex gal currently living in the Canary Islands. I hesitate over ‘Essex’ since I’d sooner resonate with being a Jew than a member of TOWIE! English doesn’t feel quite right and after devastating Brexit, I wonder if I’m even British.
I don’t feel like I’m ‘from‘ somewhere in particular because for the last 4 years I’ve allowed myself to fold into the places and people around me. Even my accent is distorted, coming across sort of Australian with a hint of Mediterranean (which makes me nervous to speak sometimes).
That isn’t to say I’ve ‘lost‘ myself or the edges that make me who I am. On the contrary, I’ve discovered versions of myself. By moving around the world I find places I resonate with and thrive in.
So why all the drama?
It’s been said I’m unconventional, this I don’t mind, it beats ‘weird‘. My life is always being judged one way or another, either I’m too lucky or I’m wasting valuable time. Some people don’t like me, others are inspired by me. I find introducing myself so difficult because it always leads to more questions, questions like, “Well what do you do?”, “You didn’t graduate?”, “Surely you can’t keep it up forever?” etc.
I’m tired of sticking up for myself and the life I’m actively creating but this, in a nutshell, is how Expat of the World started.
“Well what do you do?”
I practice yoga, I try and learn something new every day, I delve into different cultures, religions, diets and lifestyles.Sometimes writing, reading, learning languages. I work on being open, aware and kind. I’m in the process of letting go of my past and constantly throwing myself into the unknown.
Oh, you mean how do I make money? I teach English as a Foreign Language (cue disappointed faces). I devote the majority of my time to my students. Whether it’s planning exciting lessons, watching kids finger paint for the first time or explaining why we don’t say “I didn’t went”. It’s the most uplifting, challenging, incredible, tiring, wonderful cultural experience and the fact I get paid is just a bonus.
That isn’t to say this is it for me! This is what I do now. If there comes a point when I dread going into school, I’ll simply stop. (Yes, it’s that simple). What will I do then? Nothing to fall back on ya-de-ya-de-ya, heard it all before. If I stop teaching English it will be because life takes me somewhere else. Much like when I write, I don’t know what will come of it. I just sit back and embrace it.
“You didn’t graduate?”
No. I dropped out. Twice. The hazy, best-forgotten time I spent at the University of York was my ‘rock bottom’. I surrounded myself in toxic habits: I drank to feel numb. got into fights, dabbled in drugs and hit a real low point with my wrists. I started with a deep interest and great grades but became enervated with life. My heart was broken and my self-worth still battered by my childhood. I had the freedom I’d always craved, and yet I felt caged in and hopeless.
I entered a cycle of self-loathing. The long sleepless nights drove me so mad I started working night shifts in McDonalds. This way I could sleep all day and avoid seeing anyone. When my Ex repeatedly staggered up to my till at 4 in the morning for a Chicken Sandwich I wondered how my life had become so astonishingly pointless.
I looked into ‘how to get the hell away‘ and stumbled across the world of TEFL. This simple discovery altered the direction of my life forever.
While my classmates entered their 2nd year of studies, I lived in Vietnam and backpacked Italy. In their final year I was celebrating Eid in Maldives. In the years after graduation, I’ve lived in Italy, spent 2 months in Kenya, moved back to Italy (Sicily), taught new teachers at summer camp, visited India and moved to the Canaries.
Later in Sicily, the anxiety I had carried with me for about 10 years slapped me in the face and took over me. I struggled in every public setting, even in the shared kitchen of my apartment. Nerves made me sweat and shake and every day I felt faint and nauseated. I was a little girl again who just wanted a home.
The anxiety attacks were so severe I flew home. Home is my god-mothers house in England, who isn’t even my actual god-mother. She took me in when no-one else would. She taught me I wasn’t a piece of shit. You see, I grew up in two ‘broken homes’ as the phrase was back then. Most of my childhood I was ignored and hated in my mother’s house, predominately by my stepfather- for no other reason than I wasn’t his child. I was petrified of him. Then I was booted out every weekend to my dad’s house where my two older sisters detested my presence so much they wouldn’t share food with me. I lived on microwave fries and cereal- their payback since I lived with mum. They didn’t know about him.
I finally moved out when I was 15, and to my surprise, my eldest sister took me in. While it was luxurious to be allowed to talk at the table- I even remember him reprimanding me for breathing too loudly- and to play with my nephew without being told “When I get home from work I can’t bare to see you”, it was also a challenging few years. As my sister was struggling with her own issues, I spent a lot of time with my nephew- I still remember his first steps before falling into my arms. I juggled attending college, working evenings and helping to bring up a little boy, on top of all that teenage stuff of hormones, fall-outs and young love.
So that’s why I went to university and also why it fell to pieces. What sort of foundation was I starting adult life on? It was all a gigantic mess.
Now I’m building up those foundations. I needed a lot of scaffolding and time to heal, but I’m doing it. I shouldn’t link ‘living in England’ with ‘memories of pain and torment’ but I do and so I can’t live there. (Though I should point out that on the whole, my family and I have made peace).
The best advice I’ve ever had was from the doctor who diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia at uni (a chronic pain condition). When he told me there wasn’t much to do and would I like more painkillers, I burst into tears. Passing me a leaflet about taking hot baths, he said not everything has a quick fix. He explained how the years of trauma have resulted with this condition. I mumbled something about not being happy in this country but not knowing if leaving is the right thing to do. I can’t ask my parents, I said, I don’t have anyone to ask. He shuffled some papers and said I should absolutely do it, said the warmer climates would be good for the symptoms.
So I did.
Expat of the World documents my journey, not to any destination in particular, but of the day to day. It focuses on the learning processes of growing up, adapting, letting go, taking in, being strong and never giving up on yourself. My aim is to connect and inspire. To show how painful pasts or health issues don’t have to hold us back. That we live in a world where anything and everything is possible.
“Within the scale of the life of the cosmos, a human life is no more than a tiny blip. What greater folly could there be than to spend this short time lonely, unhappy, and in conflict with our fellow visitors? Far better to use our short time in pursuing a meaningful life, enriched by a sense of connection with and service towards others.” – Dalai Lama.