Did you know our security guard in Fiji used to earn $2 an hour?
That’s two Fijian dollars. If you do the math, I’m pretty sure you spend three or four times that on your daily latte.
DOES LIVING ABROAD CHANGE YOUR LIFE FOREVER?
Just over 12 months ago we made what could be considered a life-changing decision.
We packed up our life in New Zealand to take hold of an opportunity.
That opportunity was to move to a tropical island for eight months. Fiji became our home. Island life was our new norm.
Twelve months on, it’s hard to believe that our life in Fiji has already been and gone, and we’re back in New Zealand, trying to figure out our future plans once more.
It’s been one heck of a journey.
It’s also our first blogiversary – 12 months since we launched Snorkels to Snow travel blog. Originally designed to be a blog about scuba diving and skiing, it quickly became a story of our life in Fiji too and other adventures. We feel lucky to have this online album of memories of our time in the islands.
I knew there were things I would learn about myself in this time abroad, but it takes time to reflect on the journey.
It’s only now, a few months after reintegrating back into New Zealand life, now that the Fiji journey has ended, that I can start to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learnt – not necessarily from living abroad, but from coming home.
LESSONS FROM MOVING HOME AFTER LIVING ABROAD
Life back in New Zealand initially felt strange and foreign. Overwhelming.
Soon it felt like Fiji had never happened in the first place.
How can life go back to normal so quickly, after all our experiences abroad? All the people we met, the encounters we shared and the pain we felt at various times throughout our journey?
We lived a pretty simple life over in Fiji, compared to NZ. We didn’t live it up like rich tourists and spend thousands of dollars on island hopping and fancy cocktails. We didn’t drink away our expat earnings – although it would have been easy to do.
We tried to buy local and live an as authentic life as possible, as much as you can do, when you are still clearly earning and living well above the line.
It’s funny how all of that now feels like a distant memory. How quickly you revert back to old habits after travelling.
I don’t think either of us had any life-changing experiences. Our experience living in the islands will no doubt shape certain parts of us, but I don’t think either of us are fundamentally different to who we were before we left.
What I do know, is less about change, and more about what I’ve learnt about myself.
Here are my lessons from moving home after living abroad.
1. EVERYONE NEEDS A PLACE TO BELONG
Connection and belonging are so important. While in Fiji, I struggled to find my ‘place’. We had a reasonably social time over there and I made a couple of close friends, but I never really felt like I belonged to a particular group.
All my life I’ve been involved in a working or office environment, sports clubs, music groups or community groups. I loved living in Fiji, but I can’t say I felt like I belonged anywhere in particular. My strongest network was my online network of travel bloggers and other digital nomads (a great network, might I add!).
I didn’t know I needed that network and those connections until I returned home to New Zealand.
I re-started figure skating and doing a little coaching work and instantly I remembered what it was like to belong to a club, another family, and just how important that was to my wellbeing.
2. I’M MORE OF AN EXTROVERT THAN I REALISED
By extrovert, I don’t mean that I’m the loudest person in the room. Or the person attracting dozens of people at any given moment.
It means that I’m energised by people.
In contrast, John is more of an introvert than I realised, in that he draws energy from solitude.
I never realised how much I missed my social circles until I came back to New Zealand.
I’m also the youngest of five siblings so I’m used to always having people around. As my sister said on recent visit to see me, hanging out with family is ‘better than therapy’.
As much as I loved Fiji, and I wouldn’t change anything, the truth is, I was also terribly lonely at times. Not that I realised that at the time.
3. I’M MORE ADVENTUROUS THAN I THOUGHT
I’ve always been the outdoorsy type, but never a thrillseeker.
Again, John is the opposite. If you’ve followed our adventures, you’ll know he’s the Chief Adventurer, the Never-The-Let-The-Heart-Rate-Drop-Below-120bpm type.
If it wasn’t for him, this blog would not exist. Or at least not in this current form. He’s the one who got me into scuba diving, who encouraged me to take up skiing.
He’s the one that pushes the boundaries and would rather be four-wheel driving up a cliff than lying on the beach.
In Fiji, I often wished for a quiet relaxing Sunday afternoon. But the reality was usually some giant adventure in the middle of Viti Levu with no cellphone reception and no idea where we were actually headed for and a good chance of getting lost.
If I’m really honest with you, I miss those adventures.
4. BUT I ALSO KNOW MY LIMITS – AND I’M OKAY WITH THAT
As much as I love adventuring, I also know my limits.
And I’m okay with not pushing beyond certain limits. I don’t feel the need to prove myself on every single activity I touch, only the things I’m truly passionate about.
John and I are both exceptionally driven, we are goal-setters and highly motivated to succeed. But I’ve also learnt that it’s okay to not push yourself past the goalpost in every situation.
5. NOTHING REPLACES FAMILY
I don’t need to explain this one too much. I love family. They’re my people. They’re my support network. And out of everything in the world, they were the ones I missed the most in Fiji.
When you spend any extended time away from family, you get used to not having them around. And when you come back, and get to see them more often and talk to them more frequently, you wonder how on earth you coped without them.
Especially when you get together with your big sister and do silly poses in front of the camera:
6. I REALLY DO LOVE MY CUPS OF TEA
I come from a long line of tea drinkers.
Cups of tea helped me through a lot.
7. AND THERE’S NOTHING QUITE LIKE A DOUBLE SHOT FLAT WHITE, MADE WITH FRESH COW’S MILK
I’ve always been a coffee drinker, but one of the weird things about living in Fiji was the lack of fresh milk – let alone any milk alternatives such as soy or almond milk, unless you were happy to sell your left kidney to pay for it.
I had been relatively dairy-free prior to moving to Fiji and used to have almond milk in my flat white coffees. In Fiji we only had the choice of using UHT milk. We began to crave fresh milk.
Coming home and enjoying coffees made with fresh cow’s milk was a dream. I don’t care about the dairy-free thing anymore, even if it doesn’t always sit well in my tummy. Just give me all the milk and cheese.
8. WHEN TRAVELLING AS A COUPLE, YOUR SPOUSE CANNOT BE YOUR EVERYTHING
I loved my time in Fiji. I wouldn’t change it; I’d do it all again.
But I’m not going to lie – living abroad with your partner, in unfamiliar circumstances, without your usual support crew, can be really tough at times.
Because we are two humans. Two imperfect humans trying to create a perfect marriage.
Ridiculous, when you think about it like that.
We had our fair share of conflict. We had some great times and have some amazing memories, but we’ve also had some doozy arguments, exacerbated by our circumstances.
When your spouse is your everything, what happens when your heads are clashing?
It’s one hell of an expectation and pressure for your other half. So if you’re both struggling to cope with things, expecting your spouse will be everything you need simply doesn’t work.
And looking back on my time in Fiji, John was my everything. I was reliant on him for so much of my journey in Fiji. And that’s a huge load for one person to carry. I wish I’d had a little more independence.
A lot comes back to connections. Your sense of belonging.
Where do you belong when you are travelling or living abroad?
Who are your connections when you are away from home?
9. YOU VOW NEVER TO TAKE THINGS FOR GRANTED, THEN YOU DO
In Fiji, we were high income earners. We were wealthy. Local wages could not come anywhere near what the expats can earn. It doesn’t seem right that foreigners can come in and earn significantly higher wages and salaries, often with housing allowances.
Many people assume Fiji is made up of pristine beaches and luxury resorts, with small pockets of poverty and basic island living.
But it’s the opposite.
Many people live in little shacks, many without electricity or access to clean water or sanitation. The tourist images of Fiji are just in little pockets.
After living in Fiji, I thought we would never take things for granted again. People in Fiji express wonderful gratitude – so we learnt to be a heck of a lot more grateful.
But how easy it is to quickly return to old thinking.
Our complaints about the price of avocados in New Zealand! Or not being able to purchase our dream home. Frustrations over the electrician not turning up on time. And money. Why we don’t have enough. Why we need more. The fight to earn more so we can have a more comfortable life.
Where did our gratitude go?
We apparently left it in Fiji.
WRITING A TRAVEL MEMOIR
While living in Fiji I was determined to write a book about my experience there. Every day I witnessed new things I wanted to write about.
But I couldn’t seem to really get stuck into it. The inspiration was there, but the words did not come.
Perhaps it was because the story was still unfolding. Can you start writing a story when you don’t know how it ends?
It’s only now remembering and reflecting on this journey that I feel like I can finally start to write down our experience. Maybe I am now learning what I was supposed to learn.
Maybe now the shape of our story is complete enough for me to begin.
I will write the book, the memoir. It might take some years, but I will write it. I have to.
Because I refuse to ever forget our journey.
MORE ON FIJI:
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- Island Travel Carry-On Essentials
- Why You Need To Visit Fiji
- 7 Things That Happen When You Move To Fiji
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- Isa Lei: Farewell Fiji
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DISCUSS: What lessons have you learnt from moving home after living abroad?