Turning 25 was like emotional limbo for me. For a full year, I felt like I wasn’t the same person as I was in my early 20s, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I was ready to face my late 20s just yet. At 25, nothing felt as stable as I would have liked it to be – I just moved back home after working abroad for two years, I was looking for a job, I was reconnecting with old friends, I was experiencing reverse culture shock. It is a fallacy when they say that things stay the same back home when you move abroad, at least in my case. In many ways, moving back home felt like I took a two year vacation from life, because while I was enjoying my time abroad, time had changed the place and the people I left behind. Some of my friends got engaged, some are now managers and building their careers, some I have lost touch with. Life back home did not stop when I left – in fact, in some ways I felt as if it left me behind. There I was, at 25 and back home, processing the years that were, returning to what was familiar and in denial about the things that are different, uncertain about what to do next or where to be, alternating between bursts of anxiety and creativity as I entertained the numerous possibilities of what life could have in store for me to top that grand adventure of living abroad.
I was still in Hong Kong when I turned 25 in January 2013. I moved back home June of the same year, since I did not renew my contract at the university I worked in. I never expected nor desired to work abroad when I graduated in 2010, or expected that I would stretch an initial nine-month contract to two years. When I left my previous job in 2011 I had no plan of what to do next, and the only job I applied to was my job in Hong Kong. With the help of networks and the guiding hand of destiny, my application process went smoothly and before I knew it, I was flat-hunting in Hong Kong with complete strangers at the time, who are now lifelong friends.
Those two years in Hong Kong are filled with such wonderful memories that even the most unpleasant ones now bring a smile to my face. Those two years portrayed everything a 20-something reads and watches online about what it’s like to live abroad – the friends you meet from all over the world, the travel adventures you have, the parties, the crushes, the local culture, the sights, sounds, smells and spirit of a city who’s pulse and energy becomes your own. In many ways the lives of 20-somethings abroad are very similar. It’s a new and exciting stage where you feel and experience the same things wherever you are in the world, but it’s how those experiences change you that makes the difference.
I found myself telling a friend I met in Hong Kong that the greatest lesson you’ll learn from your time abroad will reveal itself not necessarily when you go back home, but when you begin to fill those precious memories with new ones. In my case, after five months since coming back home I was lucky enough to be offered a consultancy project in a local company. Like everything new, it was an adjustment to get back to that 8 – 5 routine in my old-new city. But thankfully, my current job allows for flexibility in the way I do my work. I also have nice coworkers who, beyond our jobs, teach me new things about life simply by sharing about themselves. It is too early to tell if my current job is something I want to pursue long term, but simply establishing a routine back home by committing to a job helped me transition from living abroad to moving back home. Apart from the support of family and friends here and abroad, I have made a conscious effort to get in touch with my uncle who does informal career counseling, and occasionally see a professional counselor to help me stay focused on my goals.
It has been eight months since I moved back home. In between then and now, the answer to the greatest lesson I learned from living abroad was achieving the reason of why I left home in the first place – to discover who I was outside what defined me back home. In Hong Kong, a dynamic and international city where anything and everything was possible, I found the strength to stay true to what I valued, I realized how much I wanted to spend more time with my parents who are getting older, I realized the worth of my relationship, and I finally understood what it meant to invest and sacrifice for the future versus simply frolicking in the present.
My quarter-life crisis was set in the backdrop of transitioning from living abroad to moving back home. It was during this time when life unexpectedly sat me down and engaged me in year long dialogue – it asked me if what I was doing with my time was in line with who I wanted to be, it forced me to move on from romanticizing the past, pinpoint and be grounded in my values and begin my vision for the future. My uncle wisely put that instead of escaping reality by moving countries or daydreaming life away, it was about time I created and built the reality I wanted, right where I am and right now.
I have come a long way since packing my life into two suitcases back in 2011. It is now 2014, and I am now 26. At this point, I feel more at peace with my decision to move back home. From here, at least for now, I will continue to build my skills as I plan for what is next. Nothing is certain (will anything ever be?) but the wheels of life are in motion, and I am driving towards a vision that is slowly materializing in the distance.