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The Second Time is Never Quite the First


Something I reflect on all-too-often is the experience I had living abroad in Malaysia. I continue to marvel at how it shaped me, challenged me, and opened my eyes to things I'd never quite understood or seen. The closing of that chapter has always felt like unfinished business. It was taken from me involuntarily rather than due to my own choice. In addition to looking back on it, when I think about the future, I hope a similar adventure will find me again.

During my recent trip to Italy, I was left comparing the two places and thinking about what it would be like to live in this older European country, compared to the fast-growing metropolis that is Kuala Lumpur. I thought about what it would be like to pack up my bags and give it a shot. What part of the country might I live in? What kind of social groups would there be to join? Would I want to live in a big city like Milan or a smaller city like Lecco? What would I discover over a longer period of immersion? How long before the tourist in me would feel more like a local? How long would I continue to gorge myself on pastas before I'd realize I could have it anytime I want and slow my intake?

But in the process of this musing, something unexpected came to mind. I realized some of the anticipation, thrill, and fear that existed during my first move abroad, wouldn't be present the next time. I have already moved abroad once and can never do that again for the first time. Some of the lingering uncertainties about living in a strange place simply cannot be recreated with the same level of gravity as they were when I encountered them prior without any relatable context.

Having had a prior international living experience, the next one would be incremental rather than fundamental. It would add to my experience rather starting from a blank page. Despite the fact this may read as a little bleak, I found some comfort in this realization. It was good to know that something I want to feel again, will never find me in exactly the same way. I will work to preserve the memories of that first experience and hope to build on them but there is some part of that romance, that has been sentenced to my past rather than my future.

Finally, I hope this new perspective does not diminish my desire to find another international adventure. But helps me find peace with some of the sadness and longing I have at times had trouble soothing.

"No one had forewarned me, however, that if you live abroad any good while, the notion of home is permanently compromised. You will always be missing another place, and no national logic will ever again seem fully obvious to you."

Andrew Solomon

Go Forth Boldly


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