Are you the type who breaks out in a cold sweat every time they think they will settle in a country for the rest of your life?
Do you feel you want to run fast and far away when you envision staying in the same place forever?
Do you imagine living in different countries in your lifetime?
If you answer yes to any of these then you’re like me who face commitment issues when it comes to choosing countries.
Like jobs, I have tried my fair share of trying out different countries. I have already lived in five countries before my 30s and moved from one to another in 2 months. I have visited and even started the migration process for Australia and New Zealand (I’m even a licensed teacher in New Zealand).
Whenever I think that I was going to live in one country for the rest of my life, I get cold feet and my mind just shuts down. I start finding things wrong with the country (too boring, too far from everywhere else, too cold) and the prospect of being permanently chained to that feels like an irrevocable decision. What if I make the biggest mistake that I’m stuck with forever? The thought terrifies me (welcome to how everyone feels on their wedding day).
That’s when I hit upon the answer in the book The Renaissance Souls. In my previous post, I mentioned the book gave me hope in exploring all my career interests and still have a sustainable career. It’s for people who have a vast and bottomless hunger for learning different interests and cannot just hold on to one job for long.
This time I want to explore Renaissance Souls in the perspective of travel and living abroad. As free spirits, traveler love to flit from place to place. Ask any of them to settle in one place forever and they’d hoist their backpack and run for the nearest bus. Ask any expat if they’d be willing to live in their adopted country for the rest of their lives and see them hop on their bike and drive away.
Conservatives would say these people need to put down roots, buy a house and get a mortgage, pay their taxes and join the real world for God’s sake!
What if they don’t want to? What if they still want to look at the Swiss Alps when they wake up, learn tango in Argentina and study kung fu in China?
And that’s where I found the answer. Apply the Focal Point Sampler.
The Focal Point Sampler in the Renaissance Soul is a concept where a person chooses to sample three-four interests he would love to do now and do them. If he loves his sampler palate, then he can invest more time in them and commit. If he doesn’t like it, he can always switch to a new interest.
The same could be said if you can’t decide on settling and living in a new place the rest of your life (like climbing one career ladder forever). Try sampling two-three different places and then decide if you can live longer in one. Or try living in one place and once you’ve outgrown it, you can freely switch.
Here are some thoughts to consider for this experiment:
- Have a purpose. Traveling around the place is vastly different than living in a place. Having a purpose helps in putting down roots and getting to know the community around you. Try volunteering for a cause, studying the language, doing a photography project, writing, doing a meditation course or a retreat. I studied Spanish for four months in Chile and got to form deep relationships with the people around me. Four months was enough of a commitment for me to know Chile wasn’t for me so I was able to move on.
- One or two months will be ideal. Three days to one week doesn’t cut it. You must stay a little longer to put down a little bit of roots and deepen and get to know the people around you. Also, it’ll give you some time to know the place well enough to have a favorite restaurant, a hang out place, a go to place for friends and a routine that simulates you have lived in that place. Sometimes you can even give them nicknames. In China, my friends and I have nicknamed restaurants like The Tofu Place, Muslim Noodle Place and Mr Wong’s Kitchen even though they weren’t the actual name of the restaurants.
This will be really difficult to do if you have a 9-5 job especially in countries that give really short annual leave like the US and Japan. But there are alternatives. What if you can take unpaid leave like my friend from Boston who took a whole month off for Colombia? Or my friend in Minnesota who struck a deal to do telecommute for 6 months and moved with his family to study Mandarin in China?
- Have a home base. At that time when I was jumping from one country to another last year, I often had a base to go home to – the Philippines. A base is great to decompress and think about either continuing or trying out another country sampler.
In my case, since I couldn’t decide on a country, I’ve decided to do this Focal Point Sampler experiment and sample different countries in small bites. No commitment. Perhaps find a summer teaching job in Oman, rent a house in Madagascar for a month, study Italian in Italy. The list goes on. And perhaps one day I can finally decide to settle in one country for a year.