risks

Travel was the primary reason I started writing in 2010. I longed to note down my thoughts and impressions, to create a melting pot of photographs and words that, together, would help me go back in time to the places I had been, conjuring their smells, their smiles, their secrets.

Granted, saying that it has been a while since I last wrote is possibly an understatement. But instead of apologising or trying to justify my absence, I am moving forward with a list of reasons that have incentivised me to pack my bags and travel – and hopefully will make you want to do so, too:

To appreciate the moment

Gin tonic at sunset in Tenerife

I sometimes let what ifs take up too much of time – I worry over things that haven’t happened (yet). In fact, this is what usually happens in my head while I’m sitting in that bus staring out the window: when there’s some sort of uncertainty, I see patterns and start to play out all possible “what if” scenarios. If I had to draw a mental map of it, it would probably look something like an ancient tree with a lot of branches.

All this is great. But is it really necessary? Most of the time, it isn’t – but it’s a comfortable and safe habit (planning – a lot) to fall back onto.

Travel, on the other hand, requires you to stop thinking of the what ifs and, instead, be present in the moment. Because of the adventurous and unexpected element in travel, there’s no other place you can be but here and now.

To step out of my comfort zone

Sleeping in chinchorros in La Guajira Colombia

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It is lethal.”
-Paulo Coelho

I’ve always been a risk-taker. No, I don’t jump out of planes or walk around Favelas. I have, however, dived with sharks (small ones – I am against cage diving). I have also hiked 450 km across the North of Spain, solo (never having done even a 2-day trek before) and have recently slept open air in a chinchorro in the Colombian desert (see photo above).

Each time I’ve taken a risk, I’ve learned something about myself: I’m way more scared of barracudas than I am of sharks; I can actually walk 38km in one day if I’m having fun along the way; and, chichorros? comfortable, but next time I’ll need to bring sleeping pills.

Travel is a great opportunity to step outside our familiar comfort zone and try something we’ve never tried before. I promise the side effects are worth it: you broaden your horizons, learn how to deal with new and unexpected changes and harness your creativity.

To get my mind off something that has been keeping me up at night

San Sebastian Basque Country

Being on the road actually helps me gain perspective on an existing problem. It helps me see things from a different angle – and most of the time, this ends up leading to a solution.

While doing the Camino de Santiago in 2015, I met a lot of peregrinos that were taking time off precisely for this reason: to step back and gain perspective. After a few days of fresh air and with the sole objective of bringing one foot in front of the other until you reach your destination, problems that seemed impossible loose a bit of weight and often even become less scary.

Don’t get me wrong: Travel doesn’t make your problems go away, nor does it miraculously solve them. But by opening your mind, it enables you to simply see things differently.

To build new and strengthen existing relationships

Zurich with friends

Some of the best and strongest friendships I have were forged on the road – and many continue to be strengthened through travel.

I enjoy traveling with people I love because it’s an opportunity to share life-long memories with them. I still remember the time we spent dancing barefoot in Tulum, roadtripping New Zealand, hiking in Patagonia or kayaking around Stockholm. The greatest memories became even greater when I shared them with my favourite people on Earth.

But that doesn’t mean that you always have to travel with others. I’ve met some really interesting people when traveling by myself: teachers, translators, hippies, entrepreneurs, brokers, ski instructors, writers, photographers and even a priest. And you know what? The one thing I learned about humanity while traveling, is that we are all essentially the same.

To satisfy my endless curiosity

Lake Como Italy

For someone that always aims to learn something new every day, travel is an incredible tool to achieve this. Whether it is a completely new place, language or culture. A new cuisine or local fruit. New customs and traditions. New celebrations. Or maybe it’s a place I do know, a destination I’ve visited before but get to see from a different perspective. Travel expands your mind, heightens your senses and makes you more receptive to your surroundings – helping you to soak up new information much faster (and for longer) than you would do any other way.

Still feeling short on reasons to pack up and go travel? Here’s a list of 100 reasons to travel by The Culturer!

Which are the main reasons you travel?

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Ah, jeez. So, I guess it has been a while since I last published a post around here. I didn’t really plan for this to happen and yet I don’t feel guilty. I’ve been sorting out some new and exciting stuff coming up, but I’m not ready yet to put it all out there – so lets just pretend that I never really stepped away from here, yes? 

I promise to share a post about what I’ve been up to while I was away as soon as things have slightly settled! 


I recently came across a brilliant quote from Chris Guillebeau about living abroad:

“Beware of moving overseas! It’s tough, confusing, disorienting… and ultimately, extremely rewarding. When you move back home, if you ever do, you’ll be a different person than you were when you first left.”

Chris Guillebeau, The Art of Non-Conformity

This quote made me look back at all the worries and insecurities I felt before becoming an expat for the first time in 2009, and made me realise that, out of all my decisions, moving abroad has been one of the best ones in my life.

Expat life in Switzerland and the UK has been an adventure in itself and, while I might not call myself an expert, I love giving advice to new London expats and friends moving abroad. Below you’ll find tips I wish I had known before I first left my home country (admittedly, I really didn’t know much back then!).

Invest in experiences over possessions

Lavaux, Switzerland

While it may seem tempting to invest your hard earned expat salary in furnishing your new apartment and making it feel homely, you should look at your time as an expat as an opportunity to not only explore a new country and region, but also a new you. Take this time to accumulate experiences rather than things. Because, well, even a bad experience eventually becomes a good story!

Try anything and everything that sounds interesting to you. Take a road trip to the next town. Start that french cooking class. Learn about the regional wine. Sign up for ice skating, architectural sketching, climbing. Join an improv group or a band. Become a volunteer or a mentor. Whatever it is that you fancy – give it a try.

But don’t just take my word on this: Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell University, has been studying the question of money and happiness for over two decades. His studies confirm that our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our things!

Learning the language is not easy

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

Simply being in a new country will not make you fluent. You won’t just soak up the local language – even if you already knew a few phrases before landing (though – wouldn’t that be nice?).

Learning a new language takes time and dedication so the earlier you start learning and speaking the better! 

“Whether you learn it or not depends on your commitment, not on changing your latitude and longitude.”

– Benny Lewis, Fluent in 3 Months

One of my biggest regrets from my 2 years in Switzerland was not learning enough french to call myself fluent. I moulded myself into a thriving expat community, surrounding myself with others that either spoke English, Spanish or German (or a combination of any of those three).

I kept on postponing my lessons. Whenever I spoke french, I was conscious of my mistakes and cave man style and tried to limit its use to extreme cases only. When I finally began to open up and take the language journey more seriously, it was time for me to move to London.

So here’s my advice: start now – learn before arriving, speak at any opportunity, make mistakes and don’t give up.

Learn to laugh about yourself

Skiing in Lech, Austria

Never did a simple trip to the supermarket become as embarrassing as my very first attempt to ask for a bin bag in Lausanne. After walking around the shop for about 20 minutes, I lost my patience and decided to ask for help. I crafter a story about an item in the kitchen that stores things you no longer want that is later on picked up by a “big car”. At first, I received blank stares. Later on, laughs! Joining the laughs was what kept me going. 

As an expat (or, well, a foreigner), you are an easy target. You’re new, you don’t understand how things work, you have a funny accent, eat strange stuff (morcilla, anyone?) and have weird customs. Heck, even after years of living in the same country, you may still suddenly realise that you’ve actually been pronouncing something wrong for the past 25 years (that’s right – I actually spent 25 years asking for biscuits instead of biskits!).

You’re going to have many embarrassing moments (and usually want to run back home right after). Don’t act defensively – just laugh about it and move on!

PS: I also spent 25 years saying Greenwitch instead of Grehnitch and Edinburg instead of Edinburrá (which got me into a heated argument because – why?) and I still can’t get myself to say kei-oss instead of kaos (chaos). Oh well.

Surround yourself with positive people

Torres del Paine, Chile

You’ll find negative people anywhere – at home and abroad. You’ll have people back home telling you that you’re wasting your talent and potential abroad. That you’ll never be able to have the same career progression in a foreign country. In your new adopted home, you might encounter locals and expats that are tired of life and insist in telling you about all the things that are wrong.

You can’t avoid running into them, but trust me, when you’re still adapting to a new country, you don’t need all this negativity in your life. Instead, surround yourself with positive people who are flexible, open and up for any adventure.

These people will be your strongest pillars and the main reason you’ll make it through the toughest expat days – the homesick days (see more on this below).

Feeling homesick is normal

Masca, Tenerife (Spain)

 Maybe it’s the morning fog, the crowds, the commute and the constant stress. Maybe it’s because I can’t seem to get out of eating al desko (because that’s really a word). Maybe I miss the warmth, humidity and weekend siestas. Maybe it’s because I miss my small family. Or maybe it’s because of Facebook. Because I realise I have missed friends’ weddings, birthdays and baby showers and wonder: did they miss me? I don’t know what causes it – it could really be anything. All I know is that, even after nearly 13 years away from home, I still get homesick.

Homesickness is, indeed, quite widely spread among expats. From my personal expat experience I would suggest that, in order to get through homesickness, you understand the emotion, accept it as part of the expat experience and don’t let it sink you. After all, feeling homesick simply means you miss something or someone that you love!

What advice would you give a new expat? Or, otherwise, what are your worries as a new / future expat? 

“Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt”
– The Confidence Code (Katty Kay and Claire Shipman)

A few weeks ago, I finished reading The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance- What Women Should Know. The book carries an important message: “confidence” – it turns out – “matters more than competence when it comes to achieve success and getting ahead”.

Even though the book itself has quite a strong career focus, there are definitely parallels with other aspects in our lives  – travelling, hobbies, relationships, etc. The book is, in my opinion, a wake-up call for any near-perfectionist. 

As a recovering near-perfectionist, I thought I’d go ahead and share my personal take on confidence – Follow along!

Don’t ruminate – rewire

Don't ruminate - Rewire (Kate goes Global)

I’m not good enough. How can I still not pronounce literature correctly? I’m never going to get promoted! I don’t have enough savings. I’m not in good shape. I’m never going to run a race. Or ski without making a fool of myself. I just can’t do it!

Does this sound familiar to you? It definitely does to me! I’m pretty good at overthinking and giving myself a hard time when I don’t get things right on the first, second or third try.

After my first attempt at skiing, I swore never to step on skis again. Instead of laughing it off and continue to practice, I focused my energy on all the times I fell on my bum and couldn’t, for the life of me, get up again without help. I listed all the excuses I could come up with to not go skiing again (it’s expensive, it’s far, I don’t have a car, my friends don’t ski, and I don’t speak french! – yeah, I’m not proud of that one).

Looking back, I can only laugh at my behaviour – what made me think that one (snowy) day on a swiss resort without an actual instructor would bring out my inner Suzy Chaffee? It took me another 1.5 years to decide to throw my ski-insecurities down a hill and learn on my own terms and pace (and oh am I grateful I did!).

Confidence Tip: Overthinking and overanalysing stops us from taking action, stepping out of our comfort zones. What I do now to restrain myself from worrying too much and holding on to past mistakes is to focus on what I did well. You can only imagine how ecstatic I felt when I actually managed to ski down through 2 blues and 1 red without falling over (who cares if it took me 4 x as long to reach the base!).

Strive for progress – not perfection

Strive for Progress Not Perfection

When I was younger, I would crumple a paper and start all over again if I had made one only mistake. My hand writing was (and still is!) extremely clean and neat. When I sketch, I start with a 5H pencil and will gradually move to softer ones when I’m confident that the lines are where there should actually be.

As a perfectionist, nothing will ever be good enough. While my teacher praised the quality of my work, I couldn’t avoid comparing my architectural sketches to all the architects and designers in the room, and feeling like a penny.

Talk about unreasonably high standards!

Perfectionism does not only increase our self-doubt but also leads to procrastination. We stop ourselves from doing something if we know that the result won’t be even near to perfect. When I first started preparing for the GMAT, the course recommended me to take a first CAT (test) to assess my level. Instead, I didn’t do one until I was halfway through the books because I was worried about not reaching a minimum score I thought was reasonable.

But here’s the thing though: not reaching my desired GMAT score on the first CAT shouldn’t be seen as failure, but instead, an opportunity for progress and improvement!

Confidence Tip: Just abandon perfectionism. Seriously. Holding on to unreachable standards is a recipe for disaster. Instead, break your end goal down into smaller manageable goals and don’t give up – Focus on progress, instead of the end goal!

Step outside your comfort zone

Step outside your comfort zone (Kate goes Global)

We need to take more action, more risks and be willing to face failure. By simply stepping outside our comfort zones and realising that the World doesn’t end if we get the first step wrong is one of the most encouraging feelings you can get!

When I started to consider a career change back in early 2012, I was a nerve wreck. I pondered all the things that could go wrong (what if I can’t find a job? what if I realise I made a mistake? what if this is the closest to my ideal job that I can ever get?) and held on to my fear of getting it wrong for months before I took the leap. And guess what: once I did, the World didn’t end. Instead, it turned to open many doors I wasn’t even aware existed.

So what is constantly stopping us from stepping outside our comfort zone? Self-doubt, overthinking, fear of rejection and fear of failure all cause us to freeze and avoid taking action. But being confident doesn’t mean that you believe you are naturally good at something, but that you can learn and improve through work and repetition.

Confidence Tip: Take more action. And if the action itself is too big and scary to cope with all at once, divide it into smaller manageable actions that trick your brain into feeling no risk at all.


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You choose happiness. You choose sadness. You choose decisiveness. You choose ambivalence. You choose success. You choose failure. You choose courage. You choose fear.

Stephen Covey – The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

After reading Sammy’s article on expatriate friendship, I took some time to look back at all the friends I’ve made during my years of expatriation. Some of us moved for career opportunities, others have been fuelled by pure wanderlust. But the truth is – it takes determination to leave a predictable life behind to jump into a pool of uncertainty and challenges.

They see challenges as opportunities

Mirador Las Torres, Torres del Paine (Chile)
My hike to Mirador Las Torres in Chile has been the most challenging hike so far.

Some of us see challenges as these maddening obstacles that keep us from where we really want to be. Some even feel so frustrated by them that they abandon their goal alltogether. Others, though, have learned to see challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, to strengthen ourselves. The difference between these two is a small shift in perception.

As an expat, each move will force you to learn almost everything from zero. Where can I buy a lightbulb? How do I say lightbulb in this new language? Where do I find an electrician that installs it? Is this price reasonable or am I being scammed?

There are times when these challenges might take the best of us and make us want to return to the comfort of home – but us expats, we hang in there and see these batches as opportunities to learn something new and test ourselves. In fact, there will come a point where challenges excite us.

They adapt to change

Huangzhou, China
I would probably find China not easy to adapt to – but wouldn’t say no to the challenge!

Flexibility and adaptability is the willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and learn to adapt to the surrounding changes.

Expats keep an open mind and learn to adapt their behaviour to meet local policies and cultural norms. They make an effort to understand the habits of their adoptive home country, and understand the culture and lifestyle of its people.

Movine to another country will probably mess up with the routine you had in place in your home country – For instance, when I first moved to Switzerland, I had to learn to preplan my week’s food as most of the grocery stores closed before I left work. In London, I had to learn to become more of a morning person than ever before, considering that my commute went from a 10 minute walk in Switzerland to a 50 minute combined walk and tube ride in London.

They take (reasonable) risks

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)
Seeing the statistics of hikers hurt climbing down the Masca Ravine, I knew there was a risk – but it was one I was absolutely willing to take.

I once read that the main difference between entrepreneurs and project managers was that, while project managers are risk averse and try to control every bit of it, entrepreneurs are willing to take reasonable risks to explore options and test their ideas.

Expats are like entrepreneurs – we are willing to explore and test ourselves taking reasonable risks (and each one of us knows which risks are within reason – as these vary greatly for each one of us). Reasonable risks for one may be to try local food or to experience a tradition of their new home country. For someone else, it might be to drop a well-paying job at home to try their luck in a country they’ve always wanted to live in.

As in any risk (as small as it may be) – there’s a chance of failure. Expats learn from their mistakes and don’t let them lead their way. We get up, shrug it off and always maintain this sense of curiosity and wonder that keeps us continuing taking small risks.

They are not afraid to ask questions

Lavaux vineyards, Switzerland
I was the one always asking for tips on new places to visit around Lausanne, Switzerland – and that’s how I discovered Lavaux (one of my favourite hotspots so far!).

Expats are curious and interested in learning something new. We are also often stuck wondering how to navigate the daily tasks in a new country – Which is the best bank to open an account with? Where do I buy milk on a Sunday? Is this neighbourhood safe? Where can I find a taxi? Or, how do I spell my new street name to the cab driver?

We can’t (and won’t) figure it all out by ourselves, so we reach out to fellow expats, locals or pretty much anyone who’s willing to help.

They are patient

Sunset in Phuket, Thailand
It takes a lot of patience (and mosquito bites) to get to admire a sunset like this one in Thailand.

Starting a life from scratch in a new environment takes a lot of time and energy. Acclimmatisation will not happen from one day to another. Expats usually go through 4 phases of culture shock and, depending on individual experiences, reaching the feeling of truly belonging to this new country may take years of work.

It takes time (and effort!) to become fluent in a new language, to make a new group of friends and to feel at home in a new country. There are a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications as well as terribly awkward moments, we learn from our mistakes and keep working hard. We know that persistence and determination will help us to reach our goal.

What other habits do you believe highly effective expats have?

Sunset in London, UK

You see this? This is me giving up on holding this blog on maintenance mode to rework on the layout, design and format. Who am I kidding? I’m not a web designer. In fact, I’m not a tech person. I’m not even very savvy when it comes to social media – and I’m a Gen Y! (How did this happen?).

I’m impatient, unsettled and a bit unstructured at the moment – and that’s exactly how this corner of the internet is as well. Don’t judge – We are both work in progress.

I’m just about to move flats for the 14th time in 11 years (my 4th move in my 2 years in London). I’ve misplaced my photos from my time in Switzerland (but on the flip side just found 6 years worth of Uni pictures – which I’m pretty sure my friends will agree are priceless). I’ve also misplaced a few things on the blog: Some posts are lacking a featured image and some may even contain links that won’t be taking you anywhere. I’m still not happy with the colour of the navigation menu and am on the mission of figuring it out using a highly complex fundamental problem solving method called trial and error.

Under the warmth of winter sunshine in the Canary Islands, I occasionally sit down and stare blankly at the CSS sheets and let my mind wanders to everything else but code. I realized that I was too impatient to get it perfect – what I really wanted to do is write.

I used to think that 2013 was a rather boring year. No treks in Patagonia. No glacier hiking in New Zealand. No climbing the Grest Wall of China. I didn’t leave Europe in 2013. In fact, my longest flight this year has been 4.5 hrs to return home. But looking back I realize that I was wrong – 2013 was eventful and exciting! I travelled, hiked, learned how to ski. I moved to Barcelona and back to London. I worked for a private jet company, experienced the FINA World Swimming Championships and am now continuously surrounded by inspiring people leading a global creative agency. I couldn’t be happier!

If I had to pick one word to define 2013 this would be
UNCERTAINTY.

Before 2013, I linked uncertainty to the lack of security; risk, and the possibility of loss. I was looking at it all wrong. Uncertainty this year has meant freedom of choice, absolute flexibility and dreams as big as they can get. I was anything but settled and at some point in Barcelona it stopped being scary and became exciting.

I always had a choice. I chose to change my career risking my steady paycheck. I decided to temporarily move to Barcelona. I chose to cut on travel to focus on building a new career. I chose to take on a new role and move back to London. I don’t regret any of these choices – they have brought me to where I am now: ready to take on 2014!

I might not have travelled as much as I had in the previous years, but I’ve still had my fair amount of adventures:

January

Chamonix, France

In January, I took off on a week long trip to Chamonix with one clear mission – to learn how to ski. I’ve given up on my hopes of becoming a slope legend, but at least I can glide down blue slopes without major hiccups – it’s a start! During our time in the Mont Blanc region, we also took the highest vertical ascent cable car in the World which took us to Aiguille du Midi (from where I took the above picture). It was amazing to watch people climb the Mont Blanc and ski down off piste some of the steepest parts I’ve ever seen.

February & March

Hiking from Seaford to Eastbourne, UK

While February went unnoticeable, March was quite eventful. Despite the still wintery weather, I took my visit to explore the Seven Sisters from Seaford to Eastbourne. It may not have been the best time of the year to do so (I would erase the hour walking in mud from our already wet itinerary) – but it was still a beautiful sight.

April

Los Gigantes, Tenerife (Canary Islands, Spain)

Right before my temporary move to Barcelona, I travelled back home to Tenerife to rest in between jobs. Exploring a new hiking path has become a ritual and this visit was no exception. In April, I was introduced to one of (now) my favourite hiking spots in the island – Masca’s ravine. I’ve set myself a challenge to hike the ravine down to sea level and up again next year.

May

Montserrat, Catalonia (Spain)

May saw me moving into a tiny apartment in Barrio de Gracia, Barcelona, sharing with far more people than I was used to. Having a tiny room and no living room meant spending a lot of time exploring Barcelona. I immediately fell in love with my neighborhood and was fascinated by the martian rock formations in Montserrat.

I managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Madrid to visit old friends and celebrate my birthday with some of my favoruite people in the World.

June

Sitges, Barcelona (Spain)

Whenever I had some time in my hands, I spent it under the sunshine – at roof tops, balconies, beaches – You name it, I did it! This month I also visited Sitges – a beautiful small fisher town south of Barcelona known for its annual film festival and many nudist beaches just next to the waterfront paths.

July & August

FINA 15th World Swimming Championships BCN2013, Barcelona

During July and August I worked. A lot. The FINA World Swimming Championships took place between the 19th of July and the 4th of August, with the weeks leading up to the 19th spent closing contracts, making orders, finishing designs and supervising construction. I met amazing people that became great friends I still keep in touch with.

September

Costa Brava, Catalonia

The end of August marked the time I surrendered to uncertainty. I gave in. I had officially left sunny Barcelona and had no answer to what next. I road tripped around Catalonia – from Barcelona, along Costa Brava, all the way to Cap de Creus and back down through Garrotxa. I took in all its beauty and variety, going from visiting the medieval town of Peratallada to kayaking around Cadaqués. I also took the chance to return home for a few days and celebrate my grandfather’s 80th Anniversary. At the end of September, everything started to fall again place as I accepted my current job and moved back to London.

October

Sushisamba Restaurant, London

Apart from taking a weekend architectural sketching course in London, I visited friends in Frankfurt and had friends hopping over to London. I hardly shared any of this on the blog for one main reason – lack of time. All I was able to write about (because I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I left it out of common knowledge) is Sushisamba!

November & December

Playa Acón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

…Which brings me to here and now. I was allocated my first project at the agency mid-November and lost track of place and time until it was over, some time early December. This project took me to Milan and Frankfurt (although I hardly saw anything else than the hotel and the streets in fast motion). I fell quiet around here partly to recover my energy and partly to redesign the blog (something I had been hoping to do for ages!). I’m spending Christmas and New Year’s back in Tenerife – taking the chance to spend time with family, go for walks and hikes and just read in the morning sun. There’s no place I’d rather be right now than here.

I will remember 2013 for being the year I discovered Barcelona (a first timer – which is embarrassing to admit for someone who lived in Spain for 22 years). It’s also the year I fully invested in my new career. The year I surrendered to uncertainty and gave in to the risk of failure. The year I took adventure trips in my backyard (so to say) and learned to appreciate what’s closeby.

Happy Holidays – I wish you all a wonderful start to 2014!

Life rarely goes as planned

Swing dancers in Vila de Gracia, Barcelona

The day I quit my job in the finance to pursue a career in corporate communications and events, I knew it was going to be tough to adjust to my new lifestyle lifestyle. I knew I would have to climb down a few steps of the corporate ladder and adjust my expenses to a lower salary.

But what I did fail to think of back then was how hard it would be to get a job in a new industry in the first place.

Although I secured a 3 month internship to gain industry experience, I know that this is only temporary and soon, I’d be facing uncertainty again.

Do this, move there, give up or go home.

BCN2013

My worries had been blurring my vision. I wrote lists of options, pros and cons and juggled with my future. The easy choice was to quit London and move somewhere else. The more painful alternative was to stay in London and continue to send out numerous job applications hoping to get a response.

None of them felt quite right.

And then I realised there was a third alternative. I reached out to my network – friends, alumni, family. If I could get one more experience in the industry, I would, hopefully, be fit for London’s competitive job market. Soon after I started, things began to fall into place – I got in touch with someone I knew from Uni who had also changed career paths and had landed a job in a small events agency in Barcelona. A few calls later, I got a temporary contract to work at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships!

So, what’s next?

Cadaqués, Costa Brava (Spain)

For the next four months, I’ll be living and working in Barcelona. Sure, at the moments it’s something temporary – but it’s also the invaluable industry experience I am currently short of. It’s 4 months in a city I had never visited before, so I’m surely covering my need of travel and adventure as well. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this city happens to be in the Mediterranean coast side and offer some of my favourite dishes in every corner bar (pincho de tortilla, anyone?).

Phew, Five years – that’s easily said.

Lavaux, Switzerland

I first moved abroad when I was at University. Deciding to study European Business Management meant that half of my time would be spent abroad. For me, abroad was Germany. During this time, I also took the chance to do a 6 months internship in Zürich, Switzerland. I loved the city, the landscapes and the people I worked with and always promised myself I would return some day…

After graduating from my Master degree in Madrid, that opportunity came back to me: I had an offer to move back to Switzerland – this time, Lausanne. Even though it was hard to adapt to at the beginning, I fell head over heels with this lakeside city, its views over the french Alps and nearby vineyards. After two years, time had come to move on. And here I am, just celebrating the end of my 5th year abroad, from London.

So for this 5 year anniversary, I’ve prepared a list of 15 life lessons I’ve learned (some of them, the hard way).

  1. Ask questions. I used to be the sort of person at school that hoped for someone else to raise my question, or otherwise, ask after class to avoid possible embarrassment. The thing is: there is no reason to be embarrassed – There is really no such thing as a stupid question.
  2. Follow your gut. Whenever confronted with a decision that has to be made: follow your instinct. Something that doesn’t feel right is certainly wrong.
  3. If others think your ideas are crazy, then you must be on the right track. Not everyone will understand your choices and support your ideas. Don’t ever let this pull you down. The only reason to quit is because you feel it’s the right choice – not because others don’t believe in your dream.
  4. Do it, even if you don’t get paid for it. Getting paid to doing what you want is great, but very often you’ll have to start doing it, as I would say, por amor al arte (literally meaning for the love of art, or fun the fun of it).
  5. It’s OK to fail. You don’t have to be right the first time. You can be right the second. The third. Failures provide us with great learning experiences and prepare us for our big success. Never stop doing something because you’re afraid to fail – remember: the secret of winning is playing often.
  6. The most interesting experiences usually happen when you get off the beaten path. In your career and while traveling, it’s good and comfortable to have a plan – but always be ready to get off that plan whenever it feels right, as the best is waiting for you somewhere completely unexpected.
  7. Your reputation is the most valuable asset. After quitting your job or graduating from Uni, you might feel like throwing a nasty email to your boss or that competitive class mate, but this will never pay off enough to cover the huge hole you’re creating in your reputation. They say never burn the bridges. You never know when or where you’ll meet them again.
  8. You choose the way you view the World around you. A swiss village can be dead boring or incredibly charming. London can be too crowded or full of buzz. It is all in the eyes of the viewer.
  9. Laugh. Often. Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with people who will make you laugh out loud and cry of happiness. I’m pretty sure you’ll have less wrinkles and live longer.
  10. Languages are a virtue. Languages take you to places. Today, it’s quite common to see job offers asking the candidate to be able to write and speak a second language – sometimes even a third. Even when english is widely spoken, languages are very much appreciated and will open many doors!
  11. Stereotypes are only that: stereotypes. We’ve all heard about them. Spaniards always sleep siestas. The swiss clockwork punctuality. German’s don’t joke and all Latin-Americans dance. Well let me tell you something: I know Spaniards that don’t take naps, swiss that were late and germans that made me pee in my pants. Oh, and I’ve also met an awful lot of Latin-Americans that can’t dance! Always keep an open mind.
  12. You’re not as different as you think from everyone else. As soon as I started to tell people who I was quitting finance to move into events, I started to realize that so many others are on their second life or have a dream career they’d love to approach. Finding something in common with someone is much easier than you think.
  13. Learn to enjoy your own company. Do activities by yourself. Immerse in a book, go for a walk/run, visit an exhibition. Travel! Don’t wait for others to join your plan, otherwise, you’ll never do it.
  14. Stop checking your phone when you’re with other people. Seriously, I can’t think of anything more disturbing and disrespectful than sitting with friends or colleagues and realizing everyone is more engaged in their online life than in what is happening right here right now.
  15. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything you want. Time is precious, so think about you really want to do, prioritize and do it.

What valuable lessons have you learned, living abroad?

I switched cities when I turned 18. Sunny Tenerife for busy Valencia (and shortly after, even busier Madrid). At that time, I had to say goodbye to people I cared about – to friends I grew up with, to my closest family.

Hiking in Tenerife, Spain

I knew I was returning eventually – for summer holidays, Christmas, Easter and the occasional long weekend. But with time, these home visits became less frequent. Time had grown me apart from the island and so to most of my friends in it. We went separate ways and, although I do keep in touch with some of them, I must admit, I haven’t seen them in almost 3 years now.

Distance is the greatest test of friendship

It is easier to feel your heart close to someone who lives right around the corner (or, well, at least in the same city). In the moment the physical distance between you becomes larger, it won’t take long to realize whether they are one of your friends that you can count in one hand.

It’s true that proximity plays a very important role in friendships. Living close by, studying the same subjects or working together gives you something in common and, overall, makes it convenient. This said, proximity isn’t all – A friendship based on post codes doesn’t have enough base to go through thick and thin.

Having been living away from home for the past 10 years, my friendships have been continuously challenged. I’d like to say that I’ve become less apprehensive to goodbyes, but I haven’t. I still board on planes with a tear rolling down my cheek after every adieu. Some of the people I’ve said goodbye to, I will possibly never meet again – they were convenient, temporary friends with nothing left to share but occasional Facebook messages. In other cases, though, distance has grown the relationship stronger than ever.

Birthday Flowers, all the way from NYC to London

So far, yet still so close

On the day of my birthday, I was surprised with these beautiful orchids. An even bigger surprise was to realize that they came from New York! (Ok, not literally, but you know what I mean…).

What I have learned during the last 10 years is that, when it comes to maintaining a strong friendship, it’s not about distance but about connection. If it’s strong enough, it will definitely survive any distance. In fact, some of my closest friends haven’t shared the same country of residence with me in the last 3 years.

Formentera, Spain

It’s hard to get used to this physical distance – not meeting for an after-work (or after-class) drink, not having brunch together on a sunday going over all the weekend happenings, not improvising a weekend escape. But when it comes to real friendships – those with whom you follow through a regular connection – this drawback is quickly topped with greater advantages:

  • You’ll always have a couch to crash on when you travel. In the past 7 years, I’ve visited cities in England, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, Germany and Switzerland (among others) without having to spend money on accommodation!
  • You’ll have the best city guides. Friends might not always be city experts, but they are experts on you, are excited about your visit and hungry for discovery.
  • You’ll expand your global network. Put it this way: if every friend you have that has lived or is living abroad has at some point met other expats or locals that you meet when you go for a visit, you might as well be increasing your network of friends around the World (and maybe one of these new friends gives you tips for your next trip to Stockholm or puts you in touch with people in South Africa!).
  • Plus, you’ll never run out of anecdotes and stories to tell!

For me, the key to long distance friendships is closeness – via E-mail, Skype, Facebook or any other media possible – and finding a way to keep the excitement to know about each other, alive. Unexpected text messages starting with a “Remember when….?”. A very short visit (even when having less than 5 hours between 2 flights). Planning an exotic holiday (or, uhm, hen party) together. Sending a postcard from a place you’ve recently visited or a flower bouquet for a special occasion. With every detail, I feel closer to my friends – even when having oceans, mountains and uncountable times zones in between.

How do you keep your long distance friendships alive?