As I approached 40, I worked out that I had spent close to a decade living abroad, which was a quarter of my life. Why did I do that? Why did I feel the need to live outside the UK? Was I running away, or chasing something?
3 months away on a kibbutz in Israel, age 18
At 18 I was desperate to go somewhere exotic, far away from my hometown, from school, from my family. I had not enjoyed school, particularly throughout my teenage years, and counted down the days until I could begin my gap year.
I spent three months working on a kibbutz in Israel, which I’ve written about here. It was a revelation, to live away from home, among people I had never met before; free to make new friends, free to reinvent myself, free to discover who I really was.
Looking back, I was running away from everyone’s perceptions of me (that I was quiet, studious, serious, shy) and wanted to become a different version of myself, a better version. I needed to do it.
3 years away in Japan teaching English, by 28
After my gap year I went to university for three years, followed by working in uninspiring jobs for a couple of years. At 24 I was desperate for a change, from what I considered to be a repetitive existence; working Monday to Friday 9-5, drinking in the same pubs every Friday night with the same friends, week after week after week. It wasn’t the life I wanted to live.
So what did I do? I moved to Japan for three years, to teach English. I’ve written about my experiences here. At that time in my life I was chasing my dream of living and working abroad; I knew that staying in the UK was not what I wanted to do. There’s a whole world out there, so why not explore it? I wasn’t so much running away, rather I was running into a new adventure, and not pausing to look back.
A year away in Canada at 31
This was Gap Year 2.0. I ran away from a failed life; a doomed romantic relationship, a dead-end job, and deaths. It was my last chance to flee on a legit gap year before I got too old (I was just young enough to get a work visa in Canada on the BUNAC program). So yes, I was running away, but I was also hoping to find love. Amazingly I found it, although of course, it was where I least expected it to be. Leaping into the unknown really paid off.
6 years away in America, by 40
Naturally, living in Canada, I fell in love with an American. We got married, and moved to Wisconsin, and thus began my six years living in the United States. This time, for once, I was neither running away nor chasing a dream; I was simply living my life, with my wife, in her home country.
Running or chasing?
Sometimes I ran away, but sometimes I was chasing a dream. Both are legitimate reasons for trying something new. In all instances, I am glad I was courageous enough to take the chance.