Thoughts on the “Nomad Experience”
There’s seasons of life where traveling isn’t just a week long vacation or weekend adventure-it’s a few months of spreading roots and becoming a local in a new location. I affectionately call it a nomad experience. It’s a study abroad, or an internship, or a summer job in a random location. My nomad experiences have ranged from being in the outskirts of a major city to an Indian Reservation to a small Texas town.
Each experience had the feel of summer camp. Friendships bonded at warped speed, days feel like years, and crazy situations become embellished stories. You get slap-happy with the freedom of a new place and may do a few borderline reckless things you’d never have the guts to do at home. Everyday seems vitally precious and there’s an urgency to suck each day of its marrow.
Inevitably, these nomadic seasons come to crashing end with one last weekend bash and a ticket back to reality. It’s a odd transition as you try to explain the awesomeness to others, acclimate to life back home, and balance those relationships formed over your time away. I grieve the loss of being a nomad every season. Coming home introduces a limbo of excited to be back home while still missing the romantic spirit of being a nomad.
As a fellow traveler, I want to speak to those you are entering a season of nomadic travel: enjoy every second of the ride. This season is going to be a teacher and she will school you in more ways than you can imagine. I love the bravery and heart of nomadic travelers to pick up and move everything just for a short period. I also think sometimes we enter into these situations with too many expectations and get annoyed when people and circumstances “ruin” our experiences. This time period will force you to be gracious with yourself and others.
Everything will not go as planned. Know it, own it, and give yourself grace to understand that. You will not be everyone’s friend, see every landmark, or pick up the language and culture as fast as you thought you would. It is okay to not have the perfect experience your friend had or you read about in some brochure somewhere.
Life is taking you on a ride- enjoy the highs and the lows. The really bad lows will become those stories you tell with self-directed humor later on in life-like how you got attacked by bats and they scared away the entire crowd of people you were trying to direct your first day on the job or that one time everything you brought got stolen and had to relay on the kindness of strangers.
Being in a new place takes a lot out of you as you try to establish roots, work with different people, and adapt to a culture that is not your own. Everyday will not be a travel day. You’re probably going to be on sensory overload and overdrive with your emotions. You will wear yourself out if you try to overload everyday with activity for activity sake. Your soul will dry out, then lose its absorption power to all the awesomeness that surrounds you. Take a day to blow off some steam. Do something that is a normal thing for you to do back home-take a nap, go get a cup of coffee and bird watch, or call your mom. I usually need a few hours in my hammock with a good book on tape. Find your happy place and go there. It’s these reserves that will refuel your love of adventure and give you grace for others.
Be kind and remember those around you are fellow travelers. Just like you need to give yourself grace, you also need to extend it to others. Chances are you will be interacting with people who have had lifestyles modeled to them in very different fashions and cultures than what was modeled in your household and culture. It’s in these tensions we can learn so much about people and places. We need to be humble to accept the opportunity to enter into their world through friendship.
It’s not always going to be easy. I would encourage you to keep communication open, questions flowing, and an open mind to how they see things. Narrow-mindedness that to think “this experience is all about you” is like vinegar-it will just ferment animosity. Those around you are adjusting to having you in their space, so be gracious when miscommunications happen and own up to your part of the issue. Entering into situations with humility and respect, from the baker down the street to your roommate/co-worker, lays the groundwork for friendship to blossom, even in unlikely places.
It’s always a bittersweet season, because it will end. The last week you are somewhere is an odd limbo where your brain can’t picture being anywhere else but at the same time is fanaticizing about its return home. It’s a bittersweet transition, so say goodbye in your own way. Write letters, go for one last round at your favorite place, or make a group photo album. Close this chapter as best you can, while still maintaining relationships as you go back home.
When your physical proximity changes, you do this funny thing: you miss it.
Take some time as you get home to grieve the loss of that season. Keep in contact with people to keep relationships fresh and do it with creativity. I try to send families I have stayed with Italian pastries for Christmas and a sweet note. I’ve got a good friend who sends letters stuffed with little trinkets. Distance forces you to get more creative than texts and snapchats if you want to keep the richness of common experiences alive that support a healthy friendship.
Celebrate the experience you had and dream once again of the next adventure. It’s easy to feel a little loss when you come home because the experience you had poured all your time and energy to make happen happened. It’s an odd displacement of what to do next-set some new goals. Your nomadic experience may have revealed a new hobby you want to pursue more or a friend who has talked up a city so high you have to check it out for yourself. Makes those some new goals, because the point of a nomadic season is to branch out.
Keep branching out sweet friends, you never know what adventure may be laying around the bend.