By Alexandra Corrine Ryan
Before me sits the suitcase: a blank slate, a new life waiting to begin. It doesn’t matter what part of the world I am currently living in. When it comes time to pack, the process is always the same. It evokes a set of pulsing emotions, a cocktail of excitement, anxiety and curiosity of what is about to begin.
Packing for life abroad, away from home, is not about the clothing you choose to take with you. It’s not about making sure you’ve covered all the basic hygienic and cosmetic needs. It’s not even about making sure you’ve stashed away a small supply of your favorite snacks and goodies from home.
It’s about closing doors and beginning new chapters. It’s about leaving behind much more than you take with you. It’s about saying goodbye to the life you have been comfortably living, as you pull the zipper around the suitcase, sealing your life away until the next destination.
Since graduating college in 2011, I have moved six times, each time requiring a plane flight or a minimum of at least a ten hour drive away from my hometown. I’ve been in the snow covered mountains of Lake Tahoe, America’s machine of politics (Washington DC), beach side in Southern California, in the North and South of Thailand, and finally, I have stopped to catch my breath in Japan. Though each time requires me to pack different types of weather and socially appropriate wardrobes, I spend much more time thinking about the things that are not clothing that will go in my bag as well as be left behind.
Moving is exciting, especially when your destination is a new country, but there are so many more emotions that you experience just as strongly. The days leading up to my flight release waves of excitement, nervousness, fear, hope, and most of all, a total feeling of letting go. Of jumping into the unknown. Leaving home for a new adventure means temporarily leaving behind friends and family. It means leaving behind the familiar and often easy environment that you exist in. When I pack my bag I make an effort to include some objects from home that will remind me of where I’m from. I bring photographs of friends, as well as gifted artwork and old mix tapes. I keep something special with me that will make me think of my family. I keep with me a tiny collar with a bow on it that was once worn by my dog. Sentimental objects will vary from person to person, but these are the few things I need with me to feel at home in any space I find myself in. As much as I make sure to keep these few things with me, I also am just as careful to leave much more behind. Traveling from destination to destination, starting new chapters in foreign countries isn’t about keeping all of the comforts of home with you. You’re there to explore yourself and your environment, and to collect new memories as well as new sentimental objects. Living abroad means creating new stories, not working through old ones.
If you find yourself packing for life abroad, don’t spend an overwhelming amount of time and effort on the clothing you want to bring. Don’t over pack with things from home, because as you travel and live life abroad, you will collect more with every new place you go. Leave room in your suitcase for new memories, for new adventures. Pack light and be open to the life that lies ahead of you. As excited as you are to get on the plane and fly halfway around the world, remember all the people who love you who are not coming with you. Spend that extra minute hugging the people you love, and most importantly, tell them, “I love you.” Just because you’re off and away, does not mean the life that you left stands still. Things happen while you’re abroad, and make sure that those who matter know that despite where you are in the world, they still matter just as much. Take a moment to look around your room and appreciate the place that you are currently in. Most airlines have a fifty pound limit on luggage, and while that sounds like a lot, it doesn’t even begin to cover the weight of what you are leaving behind.
She combined her love of foreign cultures, spontaneous adventures, working with children and art, and let it carry her to Thailand, where she worked as a kindergarden teacher. After finishing the year in Thailand, she moved to Japan, and currently works at an international preschool, where she started the school’s first blog. Her blog, Blue Eyed Sensei, documents a foreigner’s experience in a Japanese school. She documents her other adventures at Taking Up Your Precious Time.