Ask Elaine: I’m moving across the world. How do I put myself out there?

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Hello Elaine: I’m moving to Vietnam to teach English in a few months and will be incredibly out of my comfort zone. I have never traveled alone or done anything remotely like this in my life. I have to find a place to live and friends, all in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language or know anyone. I also tend to have social anxiety. Any advice on how to give myself the confidence and courage to put myself out there and meet people, make friends, and generally just make the most of the adventure I’m about to embark on? I want to be able to say I did my best and just stood on the sidelines and didn’t let life pass me by.

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Anxious traveler: How exciting! And brave you have already used the advice I start with, which is to set a clear goal for what you want to get out of this experience. You’ve sent a clear and powerful message: that you don’t want to “just stand on the sidelines and let life pass you by.” I believe this will help attract what you are looking for.

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But what I recently learned after temporarily moving across the country for work is that setting an intention isn’t enough. You need a plan. And not just a master plan. You need weekly and even daily goals. Be as granular as possible. Write down all your desires, research how to deal with each one, and then plan exactly when to incorporate them into your life. Otherwise, even in an unfamiliar place, you can quickly fall into a familiar routine that doesn’t activate all that new energy.

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Do you want to learn a language? Sign up for a Vietnamese class and add it to your calendar before you go. Do you want to be friends? Join a Facebook group to reach the local expat community and start connecting now. It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to plan even spontaneity, because the best experiences often emerge in in-between moments. For example, when you have extra time, take leisurely walks to the market instead of hopping in a taxi.

You simply don’t reinvent yourself by traveling. By reinventing your routine, you reinvent yourself. This does not mean that your life will go according to plan. In fact, you will probably have the best excuses to abandon your plans. But building structure around your goals will help you achieve them. I learned this the hard way.

As the rush of my new adventure began, I was similarly intent and brimming with imaginations of the new me, running daily to Pilates, joining a ceramics class, and hosting lively dinner parties. I hoped that a new life would suddenly form around me in my new environment. Two months later, as I packed up to go home, I realized that the exciting life I had imagined had passed me by. The lure of my routine was stronger than my will to make new choices. My fondest memories are of times when I pushed myself to do something adventurous outside of my norm, even when I didn’t feel like it. I wish I had done more, and if I could do it all, I would take the advice I now give you.

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Gaining confidence in new environments is like building muscle. At first it is a ruin, but the more you bend it, the more it grows. Trust the same trust that has guided you around the world, it will continue to grow. Start small – start a conversation and invite someone from your Facebook group to join your Vietnamese class. Exploring common interests is a great way to make new connections, especially when you’re in unfamiliar territory where organized group activities can feel safer. Plus, it makes you follow your plans when you’re dating someone else.

You have every reason to feel a little intimidated by going solo around the world to explore the unknown. Many people feel anxious just thinking about leaving the house and going to the grocery store (especially after spending the last two years at home). But a jolt of new experiences is exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t miss the opportunity to actively harness that energy by taking action. Watch your confidence grow with each step as your world expands.

There will inevitably be awkward moments along the way. This is normal whenever you decide to take yourself out. But, trust me, it’s better than regretting not following your instinct to try.

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