Expatifying: Becoming Real and Not Having to Justify

So now that it’s all out in the open—now that I’ve told my roommates, my parents, my managers at work and you all—my move to Cambodia has become a helluva a lot more real.

You know, it’s one thing to think it, to talk hushedly about it to your close friends, your confidantes. It’s even one thing to have one-way tickets (yes, plural, more on that later). But when it becomes known, brought up in casual conversation—when I run into people and they say, “Oh, when are you leaving?” or “I heard…”—well, that’s when it feels real.

And the thing I’m most struck by is how damn supportive everyone is.

Part of me wonders if it’s some hair-brained, quick-fix scheme, like applying a shock jumpers to your life: “Now I have purpose; I’m moving to Cambodia!” Part of me wonders if I’m not just isolating, running away, distancing myself from Real Life. (Part of me wonders what the fuck Real Life is anyway.)

It all very well could be. But, as I’ve explained to people, I’ve got a few tangibles to go on…

1. A project
So I went to Phnom Penh to do the Glimpse thing. And now I’ve got the overwhelming feeling that my work there isn’t done. (Imagine me saying that in a super hero cape, it helps.) I want to write a book/memoir/collection of essays, and I’ll have more than enough material to do it. I just need the time, and the immersion.

2. It’s cheap and easy, AKA: I could support myself writing
In Phnom Penh, I could live a comfortably modest lifestyle on $500-600 a month. Which means that, if I hustle and step up my game, I could potentially support myself writing. Which, by the most generous estimates, I’m 5-10 years away from in the Bay Area. If ever.

I’ve wanted to move abroad since my first trip—almost always, I must admit now, in an escapist way, in a way that was a diversion from my life instead of an extension of it. This actually feels like the most realistic manifestation of that fantasy I’ve carried with me.

3. It’s cheap and easy, AKA: Not the Schengen Zone
Them: “Oh, so you really must have fallen in love with Cambodia…”

Me: “Ah, well, I wouldn’t say that exactly…”

We’d all love to live in Paris in the 20s. (See the new Woody Allen movie.) But those days are gone. And the beautiful thing about Cambodia is that there’s no such thing as residency visas, work permits, nada. You show up, get a business visa, pay someone enough money, get a year-long extension. (There’s a bit more to it, but in a nutshell…) I personally haven’t been to other countries where it’s that simple to just show up and live.

4. This Period Is Ending
I’m old enough now that I can view my adult life in little chunks, 2-5 year periods characterized by where I living/working, who I was dating, how I spent my time. This last little chunk has been really good—living at G, working at B/P, getting my freelancing going (being single). But it’s ending. Like that first crisp autumn breeze, or like that scene in that William Carlos Williams poem when the roots of the flowers buckle down against the icy earth, I can feel the change a’coming.

5. The Calm Certainty
More than anything else, more than any other good reason/justification, the thing I keep coming back to is this feeling I’ve got in my gut. “It just seems like the right move,” I keep hearing myself say.

And goddamn if it’s not the truth.

And goddamn if there aren’t a hundred blogs out there by people who “packed up, sold everything, quit the corporate job, left to travel the world.” In most of them there’s this edge that’s always turned me off—self-congratulatory, which seems like a thin veil for justification. As though they’re trying to explain to all the nay-sayers why they did it.

Which I haven’t had to do at all.

Maybe the nay-sayers are just keeping their mouths shut (which I thank them for). But everyone, everyone, I’ve talked to has been massively supportive. No one’s given me the crazy eye, the you’re-going-WHAT?!?!? eye, nor have they waxed romantic about how exotic and brave it is.

“Congratulations!” “That’s great!” “We’ll miss you, but we’re happy for you.” Or, the one that made me tear up, from my manager, “I have total confidence in your ability to go out there and make it with your writing.” (Jesus.)

I guess you could say I’ve surrounded myself with some quality fucking people, who might know me better and have more confidence in me than I do.

It makes it more bittersweet, but a lot less scary.

12 Responses to “Expatifying: Becoming Real and Not Having to Justify”

  1. 1 Kirstin August 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Yesssss!!! I’m excited for whatever writing comes out of this whole thing.

    I still have to justify why I moved abroad to people (and to myself), probably because I don’t *love* it here and I had never been here before and it maybe it doesn’t make sense to people who would *love* to move to Paris. Oh well.

    So, plural one-way tickets?

  2. 2 Nick August 8, 2011 at 4:12 am

    You’re going WHERE?!

    Congratulations, Lauren – pleased for ya, and reckon it’s the right move. (And about time!)

  3. 3 randy (@alifein5years) August 8, 2011 at 5:56 am

    super congrats
    i began my expat life nearly a year ago
    going back to the states is now beyond my comprehension
    you will do it
    it will be awesome

  4. 4 Casey August 8, 2011 at 10:13 am

    awesome- it takes courage to do this… you are an inspiration 🙂
    best of luck!

  5. 5 Lauren Sieben August 8, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    So I stumbled upon your blog recently, and shortly thereafter I fell in love with it (coming on too strong?).

    This really resonated with me: “And goddamn if there aren’t a hundred blogs out there by people who ‘packed up, sold everything, quit the corporate job, left to travel the world.’ In most of them there’s this edge that’s always turned me off—self-congratulatory, which seems like a thin veil for justification.”

    On the contrary, I’ve really enjoyed the edge your writing has; an edge that’s sharp, perceptive and honest. Thanks for writing a travel/expat blog that inspires me and doesn’t make my eyes bleed!

  6. 6 nicojah August 8, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    u might as well… that way when u make fun of expats, at least youre now one of us! Good luck, you have storytelling talents.

  7. 7 MuiMui August 10, 2011 at 5:00 am

    That’s pretty awesome. Here’s to more great adventures ahead of you.

    And yes, we are also one of those folks that sold everything and put everything we needed on one large backpack and bought one-way tickets. I have loved every minute of it. http://www.MeAndFrenchie.com

    And in a moment alone, you will may have doubt. Don’t! You can always come back to this ordinary life where you will know what you will do day in and day out. At least say you tried it.

  8. 8 Jacob I Evans August 10, 2011 at 8:10 am

    And barbecued spider is surprisingly delicious to boot 🙂

  9. 9 Admin August 11, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Hello Lauren!

    Congrats on your decisions to move to srok khmer! Yay! Please contact me as you maybe interested in a project venture with us.

  10. 10 Terri August 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    You Go!! I love it!! It takes balls to pick and move. When I told people I was moving to Saudi Arabia, they thought I was crazy. LOL. What I’ve found is the longer you’re living outside the USA, the more you want live outside the USA. Don’t be surprised if you never feel at home, when home again.

    Good Luck on your journey!!

  11. 11 Kyle August 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Wow, Cambodia! Good for you for really doing it! It will be interesting to see how you like it over there.

  12. 12 clickclackgorilla August 29, 2011 at 1:36 am

    Oooh wow, how exciting. Nice one, cheers, and best of luck!

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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