As I craned my neck, sprawled across the three central seats on the almost empty airplane, I hoped the guy sitting at the window cross the aisle didn’t think I was checking him out. I’d been twisting and turning trying to see out the window for awhile, and he kept catching my eye. Awkward. I really just wanted a glimpse of where I was about to land.
And it wasn’t until I caught that first hint of green and grey out the tiny oval window that it dawned on me that I had no return ticket booked. Rationally, I knew I could easily book a return ticket to Australia any time I wanted, but the fact that there was no return date, and that my landing card said “visit period: 2 years” finally made the pieces click.
Never-mind that I’d spent the previous two weeks saying goodbyes to friends and family, selling everything in my house, every piece of furniture and homeware that I’d painstakingly selected, ruthlessly disposed of in any way I could. None of it had felt like it was real until that moment.
I was caught between a sense of dread, excitement and panic. I realised I must be completely mental moving to a country where I not only didn’t know anyone, but also had no job and no family close by. This was the first time in my adult life that I was without work; I had been working since I was sixteen and had never had a period where I was transitioning between jobs. And now I was moving country during a “transition” period with nothing lined up. Oh…and I made the move with two cats, just to complicate things. I’ve always loved challenges and adventures, but for some reason this felt like I was jumping out of a plane without having checked whether the backpack I was wearing really did have a parachute.
The way around the mounting panic? I kept telling myself I’m just here on a long holiday. It seemed to ease the constriction in my throat just enough so that I could breath again. The only way out of the panic was through it, so that’s what I did. One step, then another, one foot, then the next. I tried not to think beyond the next thing I had to do. Like hit the loo before the plane began its descent, then of course I needed to make sure I had my new Bose headphones properly stored, and I had to check that I had all my essentials, like my passport and visa before I got off the plane. It wasn’t until I was pressing my index finger onto the electronic scanner at Border Control, and explaining that I was going to be spending the next two years travelling and working in Scotland, that I began to freak out a little again. Thankfully my freak outs are very calm and placid events (externally). No one can really tell on the outside that inside I’m a puddle of twitching nerves and irregular heartbeats.
The next few hours were filled with chores, signing leases, organising food, and finally checking out the place I’d blindly agreed to lease for 12 months. The first surprise was that it was a basement flat. The last time I had been in Edinburgh, the one thing I had told myself was that I could never imagine living in one of those tiny places beneath the buildings, so it was pretty ironic to find myself navigating the stairs with my suitcase and hand luggage towards a basement flat. The location however is excellent; a ten minute hike up to Grassmarket and an easy stroll down the road to The Meadows. Some things struck me as exceedingly odd – such as carpet in the entry hallway. Especially cream coloured carpet when you live in a country where it rains most of the time.
And then trying to figure out the heating system in a house that felt like the inside of an ice cream truck was another adventure. Gas meters aren’t billed like they do in Australia…they come with a top up card that you need to take with you to top up at PayPoint locations around the city.
Torn between abject exhaustion, and excitement, as well as a continuous litany “what the f**k” have I done” on repeat in my head, I made my way through the house and tried to take everything in my stride. Thankfully, whilst the front of the house might be below street level, my bedroom is at ground level looking out onto the garden. But there is no mesh on the window…on any of the windows…The bathroom and shower were much smaller than I expected from the photos, but the kitchen was a decent size.
Then I realised there was nothing in the kitchen – no pots, pans, glasses, cups, cutting boards or knives. I was, maybe stupidly, planning on cooking my first meal in the house that evening, and had an order of groceries to be delivered later that afternoon. But the address I had been given wasn’t quite right and the deliveries kept going to my neighbours who weren’t pleased by the constant interruptions. On and on it went, with ups and downs and sideway slides throughout the day and that was just in the first six hours of landing.
My stomach, shoulders and back were in knots as well, because I had had no contact from the agnecy who were importing my cats to Scotland. And I was having issues with my phone, so had spent the next morning after I had landed running around trying to sort out internet access and a local number. I had no idea how much we rely on our smartphones until I landed and found myself without access to emails, and documents that were stored on my phone.
It’s only now, three days later with the cats happily settled in, that I’m finally begin to find my feet and make this space my own. Despite the load of extra expenses, and the ups and downs, I’ve been able to take things in my stride by reminding myself that there is plenty of time ahead, that I need to enjoy the experience, and enjoy the journey. Writing this has been a good reminder of why I decided to do this in the first place. Being an expat puts you out of your comfort zone, even when you’re moving to a place where the culture is very similar to your own. I decided to make this move because I wanted a challenge, I wanted a change. Being a stranger in a strange land isn’t new, but it is a new experience doing it without my family nearby, and without any close support system where I am. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would test my character, that would help me grow, learn and become someone who is open, accepting and kind in a world that is currently demonstrating the opposite. I wanted to give myself the space, the time and the opportunity to see who I am now, and to figure out who I want to be, who I can be on my own.
So, here’s to new beginnings, to learning acceptance and surrender, to being open to new experiences, to meeting new people and most of all, here’s to growing into the best version of the person I can be someone.