This was the baggage of the mind that I brought to my new life in my new country. And these were the things that kept me awake asking existential questions at 3 o'clock in the morning.
But chances are that everything you or I have ever felt, every situation we have ever encountered living abroad, has been experienced by at least one of the 232 million other migrants/expatriates in the world today.
That number says that we are not alone or unique. Every one of those 232 million people went abroad and had to find ways to survive long enough to thrive. Transplants, every one. Just like you and me.
Here is what I would say if I could go back in time and talk to the 24-year-old woman from Seattle that I was. Three things. The first is about my relationship to where I came from; the second is about coping in a new country; and the third is something positive I can do to affirm my identity when I feel lost and isolated.
Love Where You Are From: Every place has its merits and demerits, but where you came from has a huge place in your heart. Maybe that country has terrible politics, limited economic opportunity and is guilty of a million awful "isms" - it is still where you came from, where life began for you.
You will never be able to shake all the original soil off your roots and you will do yourself enormous psychological damage if you try.
(And never let anyone tell you that you can't love it because you left it.)
Bloom Where You Are Planted: How does a weak and fragile human transplant become a sturdy shrub? By recognizing that it can't grow in the dark. That sooner or later it has to put down roots.
We need other people the way plants need sun. Assume goodwill and connect, connect, connect in any way you can., Consider the people you meet in the new country as shy snakes - they are probably just as uncertain of you as you are of them. Always say "yes" when people reach out to you. Train yourself to not worry too much about what other people are thinking; it's not really your business, nor is it all that important.
There is an ecosystem out there. Join it.
Do a Daily Identity Exam: This idea comes from Amin Maalouf and it's the perfect exercise for countering that loss of identity and sense of isolation.
"I search my memory to flush out the maximum number of elements of my identity, I put them together, I align them, and I deny none of them. Each one of my adherences connects me to a large number of people; however, the more groups I belong to, the more my identity proves to be specific.
Thanks to all my adherences, taken separately, I have a certain relationship with a large number of people like me; thanks to the same elements, taken all together, I have my own identity, which can never be confused with any other."
Yes, you will always be your very own unique tree which will never prevent you from being part of many forests.