In 2011, I made the decision to move to Georgia, USA, the state that I was born in but with only snippets of memories to accompany it, as we had seldom visit there over the years. At this stage, I had just completed my BA in Fine Art and was residing in Limerick. Funnily enough, I had been looking into moving to New Zealand but funds were quite low immediately after college came to a close. That summer, close friends of the family from Augusta asked me if I would be interested in moving out there, and unlike my character of weighing up decisions, I had made up my mind by the end of the day. I knew that I was suppose to go here and it taught me a few things while I was there.
1. When returning to a place that accompanies your name on all important documents yet has no sentimental value…well… it’s a strange thing. I was so grateful for the opportunity to return here as an adult and make some memories and connections. Perhaps you have experienced growing up with two cultures present and always wondering things such as ‘what would it be like if I had stayed there?’ or “what would I have been like?’. But these are not questions that we can really answer. It is so easy to idolize the place of your childhood and this cause discontentment in your current place of residence. Not only did I feel like I was making connections with more of the American part of my identity, but it was also a realisation that there are goods and bads about every place and to stop living in the ‘if only’s’ and fantasies of distant lands. It taught me that wherever you may be, to not focus on what is missing but to enjoy and be thankful for what you do have in that place.
2. When you are new to a place, it is important to bring that open mindset and attitude with you. Believe me, no one likes a person who is coming into your country and complaining about everything -the rain, the food, the roads, the people…. Whatever it may be. We are all different and different cultures do things differently so give yourself the time to properly adapt ( and avoid the temptation to verbalise the comparisons to your own country if it will come across negatively or offensively). Although it can be energy draining at first, absorb everything. The language, as even if they speak English there will be some sort of a barrier or misunderstanding at times! The way of life, whether it be quite relaxed or very schedule based. The people, from the common mannerisims to the mentality. It’s exciting to go to a new place so learn what you can. Although, I have American connections, I still had so much to learn when I moved to GA. How was I to know that they said ‘deposit’ instead of ‘lodge’ at the bank and that hanging out your clothes during pollen season will give you swollen eyes and a shower of neon powder?
3. Try not to have too many expectations in your imaginings of a new place or the people who live there. This goes alongside of the open mindset. It is possible that our expectations can limit our experiences as we view them through our narrow lens. Therefore, approach all the newness with a flexibility, allowing yourself to stand back and appreciate what is in front of you- for what it is and not for what you thought it might have been!
4. As well as an open mindset, it is always important to ask questions. Not only will it answer your questions but it will always be an opportunity to talk with others and sometimes that is even more important than what you may be looking for. It can also display an interest and usually those who are from the area are eager to highlight with a sense of local pride.
5. As human beings, we are not meant to do life completely on our own so no matter how scary it may be to reach out to those around you. Sometimes, having a job is an easy way to do this or meeting with others at church or in a group with common interests. There are places, perhaps small towns, who are quite happy to continue on with their own circle of friends and are not so inclusive or inviting but that can be a lesson too. Maybe, one day you will be the person who is the first to step out and welcome a new person to town because you will have experienced being on the other side. I’m not saying that this happened in GA but it was one of the things I thought about while I was there. I ended up becoming friends with this chica whose works hours and thirst for outdoor activities matched mine. She was also from out of town so perhaps that made us more available to get to know each other quickly. That is one thing I enjoy about life- when you meet those people who for such a short time, leave some sort of impression for years to come.
6. Say ‘YES’ to acitivites and invitations. Perhaps a games night or the sport they are watching, isn’t exactly how you would spend your free time at home, but if it’s the chance to get to know people, then jump right in. Or before you know it you may have missed out on some quality time for building relationships. Everyone needs some sort of family unit so don’t shy away from this possibility just because you are uninterested in the activity!
Rock for Dough, Concert at a golf course during the Masters.
7. There are kind people in every part of the world and when you are in a position where you don’t know many others then this kindness stands out even brighter to you. Be grateful and be generous in your kindness back. I am still thankful for the Meier family who accomadated me with more than just a house and a car, they accomodated me with a family-like love. I haven’t forgotten how a local artist brought me around to the galleries and out for some fried green tomatoes! And for all the others who invited over to eat or for random trips to Atlanta. THANK YOU!
8. Be adventurous and try new things. You might not ever be able to sample that unique food or experience a foreign tradition again, so why not expand your horizons with these. Hello? Deep fried oreos. Need I say more? I love the sun so I espeically said yes to all the outdoor adventures like hiking with my family or kayaking and camping. This allowed me to open my eyes more to the landscape differences there are to Ireland.
I have been thinking about all of these things lately as it has made my transition to life in New Zealand that much easier. Perhaps you are about to move to a new place for the first time and you might consider some of these thoughts expressed. Perhaps you have already lived through it and have some additional points to add to it! Or maybe you have people of other nationalities arriving to your town often and this could open your eyes to what it’s like to go elsewhere.
Wow, we live in such a beautiful world. God is an awesome Creator and I encourage you to take in all of that beauty that is around you. And remember that beauty can be found everywhere. I am just so excited about experiencing all that New Zealand has to offer this year with it’s majestic mountians and serene colour palette of water and landscape! So thank you, GEORGIA, for leaving me with what you did. I do miss you but perhaps, I will return to live there again one day, just not for now…