THE CHALLENGES OF LIVING ABROAD : #1
Having relocated to three different countries on opposite sides of the world in the past three years , I very much adore the excitement of packing up and getting ready to experience life in a new country . However, with experience I have also come to realise that each move inevitably comes with its own set of obstacles and challenges, which can often make transitioning into life in a country far from a smooth process.
No matter how appealing or fascinating the new destination may be, each move is bound to come with one standard procedure - having to start things over from scratch! The tricky part of starting things over is that the major tasks, such as finding a new home in a neighbourhood that you like or opening new bank accounts, can often be reliant on smaller (but equally important) things such as your proximity to nearby supermarkets, bus or train stops and your social hobbies and entertainment preferences.
While the first few rollercoaster months after our recent relocation from Singapore to Tampa (Florida) are slowly starting to ease away, at the very beginning of our move, one of the biggest challenges I faced in trying to finding my feet in Tampa (quite literally!), had to do with getting around the city.
Having left South Africa without obtaining a driving licence one of my biggest concerns moving abroad has always been my mobility, especially without having the option of driving a car for the first few months. However as it turns out, during our first two moves, to Canada and then later to Singapore I struck it lucky because both countries boast an excellent public transport system, which made it easy for me to get around without a car.
When I think of it , contrary to my initial concerns , life without a driving licence while living abroad over the past few years has worked out pretty well for me , that is until a couple of months ago.. when we moved to the United States of America!
At the same time there may also be certain things which you assume may be challenging which actually turn out to be far easier or are less scarier than you had anticipated. For me , one such thing was my driving licence!
Like many people who have long admired the United States from afar , prior to our relocation to Tampa along the west-coast of Florida almost nine months ago , I had always assumed that every corner of the country is decked with a bustling system of buses , trains and subways which ferry around the broad spectrum of colourful and interesting people as seen
characters and the occasional panhandler. Besides in the movies that picture, I have quickly learned , is reserved for life in a big and glitzy city like New York , and that in most parts of the U.S. hopping on and off subways in order to get around is simply unheard of. I obviously had no clue about this until we relocated to
, and while it is certainly a great city in its own right, Tampa is not glitzy or glamorous in the way that New York City is , in fact it is often described as the nicer but far less attractive and flashier cousin to Miami. So as the weeks went by and we slowly transitioned into our new life here, I began to notice (with much horror) that the convenient and readily available trains and buses which I had previously relied on while living in Canada and Singapore was absolutely nowhere to be found in Tampa.
It is hard to tell whether it is the lack of an efficient and convenient public transport system here in Tampa which forces everyone to depend on their cars to get around or whether it is in fact that there is such a small number of people in need of trains and buses on a daily basis that there simply isn't a high demand for public transport. Because there always appears to be a higher number of cars in restaurant or mall parking lots , I have become convinced that there must be at least two cars for every person here in Tampa and their pet! Either way , one thing that has become very clear during these past few months and that is my old luck appears to have run out - I absolutely and positively need to apply for a driving licence to be able to be able to live here!
Coming from a country where a huge proportion of the population relies heavily on a convenient public transport system to commute to work or run errands on a daily basis, I must admit that I find it strange to be living somewhere where people rely so heavily on having to drive around everywhere to avoid becoming stranded! Without being able to drive , running different errands around this city has been nightmarish and I personally dread to think of the amount of cash spent hiring taxis and Ubers in order to get around here.
But , as with anything in life , complainers get absolutely nowhere except into everyone's 'annoying & must avoid ' list.
So over the past few weeks I have been slogging trying to wrap my brain around driving on American roads and operating a vehicle on the 'wrong' side of the road from what I'm used to! While my primary motivation may be running proper errands (and saying goodbye to pricey Ubers!) I think at the bottom of it all lies a desire to fully explore this place we currently call home and to fully reap the benefits of living here.
Thanks to my great driving instructor (who ironically happens to be British rather than American!) I am slowly adapting to things around here, despite everyone's emphasis on Tampanians (I think that's what they call people from Tampa??) having some of the wackiest driving skills in Florida! Throughout the past few weeks I have spent learning how to drive here in Tampa I have also come to adapt to one of the important aspects of living a happy and successful life in a new environment or surroundings - that is , realising (and accepting ) that not all things will be how you want them to be. You might find that your local supermarket never stocks the entire range of digestive biscuits that you want or that your new hairdresser produces average rather than the perfectly amazing results and that your favourite beauty products really just dont make the cut this side of the world.
Although this all sounds terrible, Despite the trick is to understand and accpt that it's okay that not everything will be familiar to you and that things will not always be done the way you are use to back home (and that doesn't make them wrong) . The beauty about living within a new culture is learning to take in all the differences that make that place unique and to understand that with time , living with unfamiliar discomforts will only push you to search for new ways to grow and deal with your challenges.
As for me , despite having a resistance to driving and wanting it to have a system of transport like other countries I've lived I realise that Tampa is Tampa, it will never be another place. If I focus on the negative I'll never tell you about the amazing beaches, warm people and amazing sunsets . I am happy to say that today I finally overcame the one daunting challenge about living here in Tampa and that I can now officially begin life here - this morning I passed my driving test! :-)