I’m still on a mission to continue highlighting Black voices and sharing as many BIPOC travel stories as I can, but starting this month I’ll also be writing pieces about my own story, travel tips, and more. This week I’m presenting y’all with a piece I wrote in April.
At the end of March, I attended #HellaHelpful – a FREE week-long online money summit hosted by HeyBerna to address a lot of money fears and worries in the height of the global Coronavirus pandemic. She is BO$$ goals. Five hella dope BIPOC / first-gen womxn financial educators dropped all the personal finance knowledge on BIPOC and first-gen learners, and an incredible community was born.
Vanessa of Wander Onwards presented on How to Make Money Online. During her class she had a giveaway for a free spot in The Great Escape Masterclass. Based on her own years of moving and living abroad, she put together this class to provide a relocation framework which can be applied to any international move.
Instead of choosing someone at random, she wanted to choose someone who’s committed and passionate about the opportunity. Here’s the piece I wrote which earned me that free spot – with some edits and additions I made last week!
“Create a post on IG with a caption about where you want to move to, who you’re going to take, and why.”
“When are you coming home?”
This question I used to get frequently while living in South Korea.
“Are you leaving AGAIN?”
“Are you going to your OTHER home?”
These questions, from my nephews, were the ones that broke my heart.
The answers 99% of the time were: “I don’t know,” “Yeah, I’m sorry…” and “Yes….”
You see, growing up there were times I felt like I didn’t belong – in groups of friends, in certain situations, and even in my own family. It wasn’t by anyone’s fault or in terms of being accepted, but it just felt like something was missing; something I couldn’t put my finger on.
It wasn’t until 2008 when I had the opportunity to go on my first independent escapade that I figured it out. The month-long volunteer & adventure trip around Australia with a group of fellow college students who were all strangers started out intimidating. But throw in koalas, kangaroos, party buses, surfing, beaches, and more for 20-year-old Ava and HEYYYY, everything was G-double O-D, GOOD.
Though everything was a “first” on this trip, it all somehow felt familiar. By the end of the month, I formed friendships and had a newfound sense of belonging thousands of miles from home.
Exploring uncharted territory and welcoming the unknown: THIS is where I belonged.
My next experience came in 2013. An opportunity presented itself to be a Language Tutor and live with a host family in Italy for 3 months – the number one destination on my list. WHAT. A. DREAM! I had a 9-5 job I was excelling at, family, a stable relationship, and friends, but still something was missing. Without hesitation, I seized the chance to go overseas again.
Once more, it was nerve-racking starting in a foreign country, especially as this time it was with a language I couldn’t speak or understand. I embraced the whole situation and when my 3 months was up, none of that mattered. I lived and ate as my Italian family did daily; I found a passion for teaching children English; I explored as much of Italy as I could on the weekends; and I took a short Spain trip on the way back to the USA.
Immersing myself in other cultures: THIS is where I belonged.
After Italy, I went back to the life I thought I was supposed to live – working another 9-5 job and taking the next steps to “settle down.” But (as you may have guessed), that same something was missing. Maxing out my 10 days of vacation a year, I hoped yearly trips to a new state or country could satisfy that wanderlust and fulfill the gap. *SPOILER ALERT: they couldn’t.
At the end of 2015, I decided to follow my passion for teaching English. It led me to South Korea in March 2016. I figured teaching Korean students for one year would kill two birds with one stone: 1) allow me to follow my enthusiasm for teaching and 2) satisfy the never-ending desire to be abroad. GIIIIRL, lemme tell you how wrong I was!
Diving into the unknown plus integrating my life and my work in a totally foreign culture only fueled my desires and passions. For the next 4 years, I engaged in the Korean culture, I built a tribe of friends & loved ones who were my family away from blood, I wandered through many parts of Asia, and I fell in love with being an expat (a privilege I have as an American, which I fully acknowledge).
Through it all, I realized: THIS is where I belonged.
During my month in Australia, my 3 months in Italy/Europe, and my 4 years in South Korea, there were times I thought I wanted to “go back home” because I was homesick for the familiarity of the place I lived the longest. In actuality, I WAS home. Because if there is anything I’ve learned through each of my experiences living in another country (for any amount of time), “home” is not a place.
HOME is wherever I feel that sense of belonging.
So where is it I belong?
- With my family – mom, pops, siblings, nieces/nephews, etc. but also: friends I’ve known forever; friends I’ve made in the last few years who I feel like I’ve known a lifetime; and my Italian and Korean folks who grew to be my families away from family.
- Teaching English as a foreign language in a different country.
- Traveling to various countries to learn about their cultures from the locals.
- With my partner who understands my desire to continue exploring unfamiliar places and wants to fuel it by doing so together.
- And in continuing to live the expat life in a new chapter in Germany.
Why Germany, specifically? Ever since I left Italy 7 years ago, it’s been a goal to return to Europe for a longer period of time. Just as in the past, an opportunity for what I wanted presented itself. I believe Darren’s assignment to Germany was fate, but deciding to move there was not a light decision for me.
Do I want to leave my bubble in Korea? Am I ready to give up the security of my job, housing, insurance, and having the community of friends I built? What will my hardcore-Catholic Filipino parents think about me moving in with my boyfriend?
I came to the conclusion that Germany was the next move for me after reflecting on the facts that: 1) I finally felt ready to leave Korea. I still loved it, and I did not want to grow to resent it. 2) I am ready to live life abroad with a partner instead of solo.
While moving to South Korea to teach English was easy with a recruiter, I know the journey to Germany will be tougher. I’m ready to take on the challenge. Because during my visit in December 2019, I already felt that sense of belonging that comes with each unique place I find myself in. But more importantly with the person I’ll be moving there with.
So I guess when I finally start my next chapter abroad and the inevitable question of “When are you coming home?” is asked, I can say, “I already am home.”
I hope that you enjoyed gaining a bit of insight to my journey and can’t wait to share more with you!
With wanderlust & ‘til next time,
As always, if you want to share your travel tale or know of anyone that does – especially if you are a BIPOC, WOC, or Filipinx-American, hmu on Instagram and let me know.