Celebrating 10 years abroad: Why following your heart pays off

Ten years ago today, I boarded a plane with a plan to teach English in Prague for a year before joining the Peace Corps.

Prague
Prague

Two months later, I met an incredibly funny, intelligent Brit with the sexiest voice I’d ever heard and I ditched my Peace Corps plans.

When I left California, I had no idea what the future held. I just knew that I’d never been the type of person who took chances. Throughout my high school years, I’d made every decision based on how safe it was.

By college that had started to get old, and I stretched my wings a little without letting go of my safety net.

But ten years ago today, when I stepped onto that plane, I had only a backpack, an enrollment in an English-teaching course, and a determination that I would live a more adventurous life.

I’ve learned and grown so much in the last decade. I’ve been able to travel around Europe and see places that had only lived in my imagination before – places that inspired me to become a novelist.

Mostar in Bosnia & Hertzegovina
Mostar in Bosnia & Hertzegovina


Bruges, Belgium
Bruges, Belgium (That's my lovely mum-in-law, who took me to Bruges for a weekend to celebrate my 30th birthday.)

Western Scotland
Western Scotland

After growing up in southern California, I finally discovered what seasons are.

London winter
The view from my living room in London one December morning

And I was able to embark on a humanitarian career that has introduced me to people who make incredible sacrifices for their communities.

Kenya
In Kenya with a community volunteer who distributes food during a food crisis
Ethiopia
A classroom in rural Ethiopia - The walls were painted by the teacher since they don't have posters or any teaching aids

I’ve been incredibly blessed by the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made, and the places I’ve discovered. I know how lucky I am, and every day I’m grateful that I took a gamble and bought a ticket to a new life ten years ago. It’s been an amazing adventure.

Tell me about an adventure in your life. Have you made a decision not to play it safe and discovered wonderful things about yourself as a result?

14 thoughts on “Celebrating 10 years abroad: Why following your heart pays off

  1. In funny serendipity, I’ve just passed my own 10-year anniversary of moving abroad, too, so this entry REALLY resonated for me! (I had already met my Brit by the time I left America, and I moved because of him – first to Vienna for 6 months, so that my American dog wouldn’t have to go into UK quarantine, then finally to the UK to settle.) It is hard becoming an expat, and new issues pop up at different stages of the journey, but it is also a wonderful adventure – and I wouldn’t change any of my decisions. I feel really lucky.

    And I love reading about other expat’s experiences!

    1. Wow – how incredible! I feel so lucky, too. I really only had the courage to do it because I had parents who always encouraged me to follow my dreams. Looking back and thinking about how I spent almost all of my money on the plane ticket and lived off cheap bread rolls and powdered soup packets for months, I realize it all could’ve gone horribly wrong.

      I’m glad it’s been a wonderful adventure for you, too, Stephanie!

  2. So cool to hear about your adventure! Well for me it will be 5years this December since I came to the United States with no idea what I was getting into! I thought everything will be a smooth ride, come, study for 4years then maybe do my masters then I’ll be done! & I’ll get this cool job! Well, things didn’t quite work out that way. From sleeping on the floor in a very cold apt., learning not to look at a dollar like a shilling and having to be responsible for everything myself, it sure has been an adventure! Have sure come from far but am glad I came here because I have learnt so much about responsibility and how to grab all opportunities I can get. Will wait to see what happens or where to next after I graduate!
    Nice picture of you in Kenya!Made me miss home all the more:)

    1. Rahab, what an incredible adventure! It sounds like life in the U.S. has had major challenges, but it’s wonderful that you’ve grown and embraced it! And I absolutely loved my week in Kenya. The people I met were so friendly and warm, not to mention inspiring and resilient considering I was traveling in a region badly hit by the food crisis.

      I hope your adventure continues and that it pays off with your dream job!

  3. What a great story, Kat, and wonderful pictures! I’ve always wondered how you ended up over there.
    My adventure was a little less exotic, though at the time Wyoming felt like a foreign country. As it turned out, it’s where I belong. Like you, I found a new life that inspired me to become a writer.
    I think too many of us are afraid to take risks because we cling to financial security and familiar things. We think we can’t afford to live our dreams, but the truth is that we can’t afford not to. My life has been incredibly enriched by the risks I took, and it sounds like yours has too!

    1. Hi Joanne! Wyoming sounds incredibly exotic to me. I’d absolutely love to visit there, and I can totally see it would inspire you to become a writer!

      Your words about not affording to ignore our dreams really hit me. You’re right – it can be terrifying to give up our safety nets or our familiar life and strike out to do something new. And I know there are plenty of times when it doesn’t work out for people. But I truly believe we can learn something from each experience, if we are open to it.

      I’m glad you discovered Wyoming! Especially since it led to wonderful books for me to read. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Marnie! That was a special morning. We went to buy our Christmas tree from Columbia Road flower market, a big outdoor flower market that’s one of my favorite places in East London. I was full of hope we would have a white Christmas, but alas the snow melted. I still have never had a white Christmas, so my fingers are crossed for this year!

  4. What a beautiful and quite adventurous story!
    I lived for nearly two years in London and it was amazing! I loved every minute of it! I’m from Germany, so I thought the difference to the UK can’t be too big. But, boy, was I wrong! People definitely have got a different life style there than we have here. There were things I totally loved (like open bookshops on a Sunday) and things were I thought wtf (like the bread, God, how I missed good bread!). I found so many many small things that were different but where I thought before I moved to the UK they don’t really matter. But then you’re actually standing in a supermarket and are looking for that one thing you’re craving and every store carries it in your home country but you can’t find it here? I was distressed sometimes, to say the least. lol
    So, I think you’re really brave to move that far away from your home country! 🙂
    On a sidenote: While being in London I wasn’t interested in getting in any relationship because I know I would have to leave again. Five weeks after I was back home I met a lovely Englishman in Germany and we’re together now for nearly four years. 🙂

    1. Claudia, that’s an awesome story! And I was the same when I moved to Prague – totally not looking for a boyfriend because I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and that was a childhood dream. Funny how love finds you when you’re not expecting it.

      And I was laughing about you not being able to find a basic ingredient in the store. I spent my first five months in the Netherlands searching every supermarket for baking soda, to no avail. I finally bought several boxes when I went to London for a visit (I love to bake, so it goes quickly, even at a teaspoon at a time).

      Last week I finally found baking soda here – in the cleaning aisle. When I asked a Dutch person about it, he made a funny face and said, “You eat that stuff??” All the little details you don’t think about until you move…:)

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