The Art of Being an Expat

ArtofBeingExpat_pg1The Art of Being an Expat

International yoga teacher, retreat leader and writer Katherine Smith shares the story of her quest to excite and satisfy her soul.

By Katherine Smith

Global Living Magazine – Issue 18 | May/June 2015

The truth is traveling has been my art, and I, the modeling clay.

Not content with the life that unfolded before me in England, I chose to cast off convention and become the captain of my own destiny.

My journey began early when I would lose myself for hours in other worlds captured within words. Books fed me and my imagination thrived. What started as a curiosity to go exploring turned into a calling – something that kept me awake at night and could not be denied.

I tried the career and high-powered city living; after all that’s what us modern women are encouraged to strive for. I played the corporate wife and had the corporate life until I couldn’t cope anymore. Before it crushed me completely, I mustered the courage to realize my childhood dream and I escaped; I walked away from it all.

I had no idea what I was doing, only that I couldn’t stay. So I took off on a quest to excite and satisfy my soul. If it all sounds a bit ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, I suppose it was. All my life I had felt contained and had to quench the growing thirst I had for finding out who I could be.

Kat_highres-38Soul searching  

I chose to pursue my passion for yoga and indulge my interest in Eastern philosophy.

I climbed the highest peaks of the Himalayas, hung out with the Dalai Lama, sipped tea in China, chanted beside monks in Tibet, flung myself from suspension bridges in Nepal, learned massage in Thailand, danced beneath jungle canopies in Costa Rica, schooled orphaned children in Sri Lanka, balanced on my head in Bali and lived with yogis and gurus in India until I finally returned to Europe where I worked in the Portuguese wilderness at a retreat center – now a yoga teacher.

The lessons I learned on the road were rich and diverse. I shed skins and shape-shifted often. Not only did my wanderlust reveal a whole new me, it taught me how to be after I’d pushed every boundary.

The need for stability  

Then there came a time when I began to miss stability. I got tired of the challenges synonymous with soul searching and couch surfing. I longed to direct the energy that was always pre-occupied with ‘where next’ into something more sustainable.

And this is where you find me, standing at the edge of the next episode of my own evolution, ready to embark on a new adventure altogether.

I think, if the truth be known, I’d always been searching for a new home and had entered into an unspoken contract with myself that suggested I wouldn’t settle until I found a really good reason to. After all my time in India and Asia I rather assumed I’d end up an island dweller, somewhere warm with turquoise sea where I’d drink coconut water fresh from the tree. But then love came along in the shape of a 6-foot-3 Dutchman… and the rest is history.

meA new chapter, a new challenge  

I am discovering that moving somewhere new demands an entirely different level of emotional and practical investment than traveling. After all, I don’t have the luxury of bolting for the door every time I get disillusioned or bored. In an effort to build a new nest in the Netherlands, I am constantly having to evaluate, reassess and reconcile who I am in this new environment.

I thought because of my world citizen status and habitual globe-trotting I’d splash happily into the slipstream of Dutch life. Then I realized traveling grants you the privilege of being able to play the ‘just visiting’ card. It is indeed a spectator sport. The distance from home can sometimes feel vast, but there is safety in knowing you are just passing through and you’re still you.

Anyone who has ever attempted to settle into a country that is not woven into the very fabric of their conditioning will know what it means to try their hand at expatism. You will feel lost, scared and out of control. On a daily basis I find myself outside of my comfort zone, in ways I never did when I was nomadic, as I navigate unfamiliar etiquette and dodge misunderstandings and social faux pas caused by the differences between me and my new countrymen. Sure everyone speaks English in the Netherlands, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the intention behind words are the same.

READ MORE from this issue of Global Living Magazine

Who am I now?

I am starting to understand that we are all programmed by the cultural conventions of home. Regardless of what we’ve done or where we’ve been, home will always be the place that molded our beliefs, values and points of view. It is the place of friendships, family and childhood memories. Home is the place where you develop an understanding of who you are. Without those reference points it is inevitable your sense of self will feel compromised; it’s confusing and does nothing for your self-confidence.

1013216_10153137101125651_74207871_n (2)How to find yourself again

The funny thing is I’m beginning to find it thrilling. While I may be traveling less, I will always be a global citizen – a nowhere child – a wanderer. I belong everywhere, and everywhere is in me.

On the road I connected to a part of myself that was unshakable and unbreakable, that could not be touched by city or land or sea. It doesn’t matter if I feel like an outsider because on the inside I know I am able to transcend my cultural character, define my own identity and decide who I want to be.

The more time I have to decompress from my displacement, the more I find the spirit of adventure is being replaced with a quiet, determined acceptance of myself and an appreciation of life’s simpler pleasures.

To find out more about Katherine’s yoga retreats, visit www.katherinesmithyoga.com.

[From top: Photography by Maria Hillier; Photography by Maria Hillier; Image courtesy of Katherine Smith; Image courtesy of Katherine Smith]

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