THE START OF MY LOOK-BACK
I have a habit of waiting to start something; waiting for the perfect moment or opportune time, waiting for inspiration to flow or the adequate amount of time to present itself in my calendar. This is flawed. When will the perfect moment ever arrive to face the bittersweet nostalgia that flows every time I think of Oz? As I sit down to begin writing, I realize that the definition of “perfect” is subjective. When I reflect on my time in Sydney, freshly ended (for now) a mere eight weeks ago, I know in my heart that it was not only the “perfect” city in which to live, thrive and try something new – to face constant adventure, learning, heartbreak, romance and a newly intense kind of love that only meets the heart when placed in its most vulnerable and open kind of circumstance – but that it was also home to a season in my life that was the perfect length, degree of richness and distance from everything that I had known before.
What more perfect time is there than today?
That habit, or tendency to wait? It had arisen in the earlier years of my “twenties” too, taking the form of procrastination to “bite the bullet” and pursue my dream of living overseas. Since the later years of high school – in which my soccer team traveled to Europe and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants hit the big screen – I dreamed of moving to a far-off land for a time and immersing myself, speaking a bit of the language, meeting strangers in their local markets (aka playing soccer with cute older boys) and becoming friends with both citizens and fellow travelers who would become my new crew of worldly adventurers.
As college began and my exposure to the Earth’s corners expanded, I started to snag glimpses into this potential future: David left for a summer Euro-trip and sent postcards from countless cities; my closest comrade Jill left for study abroad in Sydney herself and did exactly what I had pictured: she lived in a shared house mere steps from the beach, tried foods and coffee orders of which I had never heard, and sky dived over parts of the Ocean of which I had barely heard the name and couldn’t even picture: Cairns (home of the film festival?), the Great Barrier Reef (like in Finding Nemo?). Finally, throughout my university years and with the help of my on-campus mentor and boss in the Study Abroad Office, I sought out as many chances as I could to venture across the proverbial ponds nearest me. I traversed Europe for five weeks, Singapore for two and Hong Kong for ten in my longest travel adventure yet. I was hooked. I had the itch and yet to start scratching. I knew that my first chance, or break, or job that I’d get would be “the one” to land me in a foreign country.
Five years went by and I fell into the [absolutely wonderful, privileged and fortunate] cycle of professional life – working for two corporations and indulging in the blessings of full-time, pseudo-adult employment (as well as the discretionary income this came with). I took trips, ate well, fell in love, and even ventured abroad again on an educational-service trip to Japan (chaperoning high-school students). Was my chance lost, or had my time passed? My first employer had shown it was possible to work overseas through a boss who made me feel encouraged by his leadership stint in Asia. He had worked temporarily in an emerging market, claimed to have loved its lessons and its people, but had recently returned home for the future of his family (wife and new daughter). While I pondered the possibility of following in his footsteps, I found myself in a work format that was grueling – though I’m ever-thankful for your teachings, retail – and switched careers before I could explore transferring enough to be dangerous.
Over the following three years (2014-2017), I loved working for an international company that allowed me to learn from peers around the world. I worked on global projects, had calls with communities of knowledge to share “best practices,” and even met a few international friends through work trips, conferences and onboarding sessions who would later become not only inspo, but assistants in my transformation. I began to get the proverbial “itch” again, approaching the age of 28 and wondering if I’d missed the opportunity to do something crazy. I examined what my career pivoting options were, and my long-time boss Donna then asked me what I now realize was a pivotal question.
Sitting on the communal couches on Level 15 of our SoMa offices, we were overlooking the East Bay of San Francisco and the infamous open-air AT&T park. Donna leaned in and asked me “Cory, if I told you that you only had one more role and “tour of duty” left at LinkedIn – what would you want that to be?” I hesitated to speak though the answer rose in my mind and heart immediately:
“I want to do a stint abroad.”
Why did I hesitate? Am I too old? Is it too late? Will my family ever forgive me? I’ll never forget a local teammate at the time and future friend telling me that she had recently secured a new role in London. In response to my outward wondering of whether it was “too late to pull it off,” she said that “it’s never too late to pull it off if I’m 31 and pulling it off now.” Little did I know then that my boss Donna’s scenario also wouldn’t be the case. I’d have at least three roles ahead of me once I embraced the desired future I could no longer deny. That day, Abroad Down Under was born -- if only to be cultivated a significant number of months later.
The going wasn’t always easy, and I hadn’t even moved away from home yet. Once I decided that I was finally ready to, I started to experience a preview of the pains that come with leaving your home and everyone you know and love. I applied for a role in Asia’s glittering headquarters, Singapore. I was rejected for inadequate cultural experience with the intended market I’d serve. I told my current beau that this was something I had always wanted. He rejected my hopes of making it work and maximizing the time we had left together. I began to tell my friends and family that this was the aim, by the halfway point of what was now my 29th year. Some of those same friends asked why I’d want to venture so far away. Didn’t I like my friends, or love my life back home enough?
The implied notions – that I didn’t love home, wanted to be far from family or wasn’t enough of a cultural chameleon to thrive abroad anyway – led to inevitable self-doubt. There were months of wondering and conversing ahead of me. I faltered in confidence at times, but I also refused to falter when it came to having calls, reaching out to colleagues whose names I had heard and asking questions incessantly.
I am forever indebted to the friends and strangers who had “coffee talks” with me, even at my most clueless of times: Claire, Neil, Audra and Jonathan. Next, there were friends who I had recently met at a culture convention of sorts within our company: they were four new work-friends who hailed from Australia, and the perfect acquaintances to surge my aspirations and spark a fire in my search. To Millie, Kat, Chris and Mary: I couldn’t have done it without you! Finally, I began interviewing for what seemed to be the perfect role Down Under: a job within my company and function that I was thriving in, amidst a slightly different business but related industry and newly growing team, into which I’d be eligible to transfer at my current level and into a young organization smaller than my own.
The more I type the words “little did I know,” the more I realize how little I knew about the pain that was ahead of me. There were countless heart aches, personal losses and days of uncertainty yet to come. At the same time, the road to the sunburnt country was also joyous and encouraging. I interviewed with two gentlemen – kind souls who pushed me and might have become adopted “dad” figures in Sydney – and the female mentor who would lead my soon-to-be greater team. I conversed with my god-sent recruiter named Millie, took my first stab at negotiating, and learned an endless amount by simply listening and verifying what I understood. The day I verbally agreed to come Down Under, I sat in a transparent glass-walled conference room on that same fateful Level 15 and felt – for the first and DEFINITELY not the last time – the bittersweet loneliness worthy of those on the path less traveled. Seconds later, I texted my best friend in the world since kindergarten, Chelsea - who had thankfully become a Work-BFF in the preceding year and worked in the same office that I did circa 2017. She immediately came to meet me, and held me as I sobbed with the realization of this thing I was manifesting – as well as the distance I’d be creating between me, and her, and home.
Little did I know...
The following months were a blur and a joy as well. I began selling my things and coordinating with my two roommates. I planned farewell festivities, took road trips across and down my home state of California and soaked up every inch I could have of San Francisco. Highlights stand out in my memories, of the small moments: laying in the grass outside my favorite city landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts with my more recent BFF Stephanie, her reading my tarot cards; sharing açaí bowls and body scrubs at a Korean spa alongside my three closest gals, both times cleansing the heart and soul of my SF-self in preparation for a new chapter. I relished in the glory of this city by the bay right as soon as I was getting ready to leave it. I went back to the aforementioned beau and gave in to the romantic bliss of knowing – or not knowing, rather – the expansive and distant future that was now ahead of us. I drove my cat and my things to Southern California, Mom there for moral support in the front passenger seat. I recall laying grasswards, watching fireworks in the final patriotic display I might witness as a CA resident for the next several years. July 4th fell a mere few weeks before I left the Mainland and country, and - surrounded by three women from different phases of my life spanning sisterhood, childhood basketball teams and later-in-life work friends-turned-soul sisters – I finally began to realize the implications of moving 6,000 miles across the ocean… including the moments, traditions, milestones and company that I’d miss.
There were constantly moments like the aforementioned one which simultaneously broke my heart and got me through at the same time. They began right then: one of those friends above gifted me a beautiful necklace containing the coordinates of home – asking me to be at her side during her wedding, regardless of where we were in the world! My sisters and Mom met me in a Hawaii for a well-earned stopover on my route to Sydney; there, they gifted me one of my most prized possessions still today: a simple, home-constructed memory box filled with notes from over forty of my other family members of friends to get me through the expat days ahead as a Broad Down Under. Finally, my beloved and pen-pal-extraordinaire Gramz not only wrote constantly but took my FaceTime call as I sat in the window seat aboard Delta flight XXX to SYD, August 4th 2017. She told me that although she’d miss me, she was also proud of me because going abroad would make me a better broad.
That was the day that not only my dream began coming to life; I see now that the woman I would become and the pages to follow were coming to life as well.
As I embark on a new writing journey of reflecting back on my time in Oz, I ask myself: Do I want to live hours of each day reliving my time and months in Australia? In part, I do. I've always wanted to write, not only to savor and taste life twice but in the off chance that I'll inspire one person to write too, or go abroad, or move away from home, or try something they might not have tried otherwise. Moreover, November marks National Novel Writing Month in the USA... and we know we'll measure our life by the risks we took and the absence of shots we didn't take!
So to the past three years abroad Down Under that were to come… here's to relishing and celebrating them!
Abroad Back Home
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island and a girl who loves the sea; it calls me.