Deciding to move to Africa for a year raised may eyebrows and questions. Many friends and colleagues thought it was wonderful idea, others decided that I was truly as mad as they had always suspected.
It turned out to be the best year of my life.
We dream of taking that year to make the world a better place. Some of us even take the leap, giving up the life we know and embarking on an unforgettable adventure. At times wonderful, discouraging, satisfying, bewildering. And then, in an instant, back to our reality and the journey back to a more recognizable life begins.
Some have said the culture shock upon return to the life you knew is much greater than the initial adjustment to a new country. Indeed, they are correct. After months of seeing the challenges facing society, the seemingly unsolvable issues our hopeful zeal has barely made a dent in, the sheer willpower of individuals to overcome all odds, the power of the human spirit. The joy in a simple and giving life. To return to a hectic world of conveniences that seem so essential, yet complicate matters. So many ‘needs’ in our society, when a satisfying existence was but a few moments ago.
The biggest shock perhaps being the glaring contrasts. From days spent walking miles to a destination, buying locally grown fresh produce and supporting families dependent on subsistence farming. Walking through towns where locals greet you and know your mission, so happy to chat, pass the time, share their culture. Becoming friends with those from opposite walks of life. Seeing your entrenched way of doing things is no, not better, just different. Appreciating the landscapes and variety impossible in your regular life. Seeing contentment in the faces of many who in our eyes have nothing, but in their families and communities, are indeed rich. Realizing that one soul may not change the entire world, but every step forward is a step in the right direction. That it may just inspire a few more steps.
So then, the hard truth, idealism aside. What really is the cost? Monetarily quite high. Anyone hoping to better their financial position while away might want to reconsider. Throw in flights, health insurance and mementos to carry with you and the low living costs still mount. The income you would have made living your normal life could also be considered a loss, though realistically only what would have been saved or invested in that time.
Career wise, in considering time away from work, your journey may perhaps have been a stepping stone to new opportunity. While many companies may support such employee personal growth, the return to work and normal life can be difficult to accept. In reality, many workplaces will change staff, procedures, performance criteria in a year period. Prepare for the fact your own perspective on your life and work and how you get from day to day may be irreversibly altered.
Socially, it can be quite a surprise that circles have changed, new bonds formed, some broken. The place you occupied may be indistinguishable. While many may seem to stay the same, a year of shared experiences was missed, shared with another in your absence. People move on, they weren’t counting the moments till your return.
In real life terms though, these things considered, is it worth it? Should one opt to for the less risky staying content at home? How do the benefits weigh against such things? Really, in experiences enjoyed – the seeing new places, living a different lifestyle, learning from a new culture, in expanding the mind to a whole wide world out there, feeling at home far away, in doing something for the greater good, in relationships built across continents…. absolutely priceless.
Bury yourself in a new culture. Become one with the locals, see through their eyes and share. Come away changed.
If you get the chance to take on the world, embrace it. Embrace the improved version of yourself soon to follow.
More posts will follow with memories of our travels and African adventures.