30 days ago today I began my journey. I can’t forget that morning I left, walking through the rainy streets of East London, the early hours still dark and casting a chill, backpack slung heavily upon my frame.
I remember the feeling. It wasn’t one of trepidation, nor of excitement. There was a particular calmness, a reassurance; something in my mind telling me this was the right thing to do. Never once from the house, to the bus, to the train, to the airport, did I get a pang of horror, a moment of self-doubt, that would have cast my dream into momentary relapse.
I couldn’t afford these types of feelings. Pushing through, taking everything as a small step on a long path, was the only way I found I could cope. Each part of that journey I treated as a level. Getting to the airport, level one, getting to Madrid, level two, getting to Cáceres, level three, that’s how the game played out.
30 days later and I’ve completed all those initial levels. Yet the game, my way of dealing with living abroad, still goes on.
It’s been the most successful technique yet.
Pacman, Super Mario or Sonic?
Perhaps it is slightly juvenile to suggest that the whole process of moving abroad is akin to playing a video game. I’m certainly not the first to have made the comparison.
Still what the critics have been saying for years, that games are solely for children, surely must be true though right?
Whatever it is they say I don’t really care all that much. This game is working for me. That much I know.
In my head I’m a scatter of tiny pixels, fused into one, navigating my way around the city, controlling the experiences that unfurl around me. The choices I have to face, I simplify, breaking them down to the basic binary, that easy yes or no. The interactions I make I treat as a collectible currency, with each new one passed a little part of the character grows.
Yes, sometimes the player makes mistakes. Sometimes he jumps too fast, skips a level or dies a little death. Yet he always returns, maybe not necessarily stronger, but at least a little wiser and definitely more willing to give it another try at the point of that last departure.
My first 30 days have proved that much to be true.
Completion of a Milestone
How do I feel now on completion? Pretty damn happy. In fact I can’t remember any other time feeling anywhere near as proud.
It’s not like I haven’t done some pretty tough challenges before either. From completing a month CELTA course and living in Saigon, Vietnam, to living abroad for a year in the USA, to even moving to Brighton and starting university at 18-years-old. I don’t remember any of these ever feeling anywhere near as tough.
But perhaps I know why.
All of those other experiences, as trying as they sometimes were, at least had some introductory level of support. The University of Sussex had endless fresher and social events, the University of Miami the same. Vietnam? A girl from back home and another room full of students to be cast into and labelled from the very first day.
What having each these networks meant was that I barely had to go to any effort to fit in, adapt or keep moving forward. Everything was laid on a plate. The comfort of not having to put myself in social situations, but rather them being there automatically, meant that I never really got under the skin of any of those experiences. Never really tested myself.
In Spain, however, things have been quite a lot different.
Using the Game to Build my Own Network
An apartment of strangers does not a network mate. Nor does landing in a town knowing nobody.
I’ve been the responsible party in charge here, not a University, a school, an ex-girlfriend or a bunch of similar-minded students. I’ve had to forge my own path, lay down the foundations, look within myself work out what it is I need and how it is I’m going to get it.
There’s been no support network of any kind. The only one I have I’m still putting into place.
Yet with each new stage I set, each new challenge I faced, whether its from going and making a new friend, to eating alone in a new café, each will help to set the stones for that long path ahead. This game, the one of coping with moving abroad, the one of realizing my dream, has been the most enjoyable yet.
How was I to know, after I first began to play it in that drizzly London morning 30 days ago, that I’d be thriving on it now?
Do you have a game?