Whether you create yearly New Year’s resolutions or not, the fact remains that most people start the year with a renewed sense of hope. Bundled into the strands of this intangible word is the belief that the coming year will be better than the preceding one. With countless factors surrounding the likelihood of success or failure, prosperity or poverty, sickness or health, and dozens of other potential conflicting scenarios, one needs to remain optimistic to avoid despair. A positive mental attitude can easily become a lifeboat propelling someone out of turbulent waters.
The notable author, Willa Cather (1847-1947), lived in a different era, but many of her words resonate today.
There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in a storm.
The flexibility to adapt to one’s surroundings is as important today as it was back in Cather’s time.
A decade ago, I stepped outside my comfort zone when I left suburban Denver to become an international teacher in Bangalore, India. A series of events sent me on this unforgettable journey recalled in my award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life.
Up until that point in time, I never imagined that I would ever live in a developing country. I was content to remain within my comfort zone and not wander anywhere. However, when my husband’s business opportunities were affected by the 2008 recession, I adapted. India suddenly appeared on my radar when our eldest son, Josh, suggested we think out of the box and consider working in Asia.
In my memoir, I recount how I was not prepared for my new life in India. Culture shock hit me head-on and knocked me off my feet. For decades, I had lived comfortably in suburban American. I had grown accustomed to the conveniences of American life that most of my peers take for granted. Immediately, I was forced to do without many of the things that were part of my everyday life. (a car, reliable electricity, immediate hot water, safe drinking water, a vacuum cleaner, a clothes dryer, an oven, etc.)
While many of today’s politicians and their constituents chastise American society, I have a very different perspective after living abroad. I appreciate the immense benefits of being an American and wholeheartedly cherish my American citizenship. It’s hard for me to understand people who don’t value the freedoms and modern conveniences associated with life in the United States. I encourage individuals who are extremely critical of American life to spend six to twelve months in a developing country.
Lessons Learned From Expat Experience
From my expat experience, I learned the importance of having a balanced life with my husband and family as the focal point. Living apart from my husband for an extended period did not align with our family values. For over three decades, the focal point of our marriage had been our home and our children. In India, our lives were merely connected by a computer or a phone. Near the end of my book, I share a quote from Noah ben Shea:
Our magnetic north is love, for some of us it is fear, for some of us it is power. If love is our magnetic north, we will embrace our experiences with calm and support. If fear is our magnetic north, then we will be ruled by insecurity and doubt. If power is our magnetic north, then control and worry about who is in charge will fill our life. Whatever is our magnetic north is the veil through which we see the world.
By removing myself from my daily routine and immersing myself in a foreign environment, my life was significantly affected as I was forced to cope with the unfamiliar. Fears and anxieties clouded my judgment. As my perspective evolved my wellbeing improved. Even my darkest days in India became sprinkled with sparks of light. But, I eventually realized my time in India needed to be limited, especially after my health was significantly compromised.
My life was enhanced by my fifth-grade students. As an American trained teacher, I introduced my students to totally different methods of instruction and content. My international class, on the other hand, taught me something new each day. Most of these students viewed the world very differently from their American counterparts. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching these polite and respectful children. A decade later, these children have matured into young adults who are most likely attending college somewhere in the world.
While a series of unforeseen events prevented me from completing what I set out to accomplish, I returned to the U.S. knowing that every subsequent year could become the best year of my life. The key was maintaining my True North. No matter what external obstacles were placed in front of me, I had to remain balanced. A solid relationship with my husband became the main ingredient for success.
This month, I encourage you to identify your True North so 2020 may become the best year of your life.
When Sandy isn’t trekking or writing in the Colorado Rockies, she is traveling. She has visited more than 40 countries and lived as an international teacher in Bangalore, India.
Sandy shares her lifestyle and travel experiences with international and domestic online sites and print media. Her stories have appeared in Hemispheres, Destinations Magazine, KUHL’s Born in the Mountain blog, Grand Magazine, Wandering Educators, Golden Living, One Travel, Miles Away, Canadian Jewish News, Getting On Travel, Far and Wide, Colorado Parent, Traveler Confidential, Family Circle- Momster, and others. As the content coordinator for Golden Living, a Best Version Media publication mailed to Golden, Colorado residents, she writes family and business feature stories and a monthly travel tip column.