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What I Learned From Being Stuck in a Foreign Country

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Caucasian man on paddle board in ocean
Caucasian man on paddle board in ocean

I'm going home next week after six years abroad. Two long-haul flights, five airports, fifty hours travel time. Before I cornered myself in Brazil, I worked in the luxury service industry in Australia. So that makes me a hooker, or yoga and meditation teacher at a six star spa resort, right?

I moved to Brazil with my two children to wait out the global financial crisis. Is that still going on? Brazil was a good choice to lay low back in 2008. Economically it was roaring, however the reality on the ground was something to navigate with great care. Personal safety was a luxury not afforded to anybody, despite the omnipresent sirens quavering for Brazil's ascension into first world status.

After three years I wouldn't have been able to explain why I was still there. My visa process, a straight forward application, drowned under the uncried tears of soulless federal bureaucrats and I had to go back to the start. In the meantime, life without access to work or a bank account officially became - to use a technical term - not fun.

Meanwhile, my two children had long since adapted to the language and school life and weren't ready to leave. I felt isolated, physically, culturally, and everythingly. Brazil might as well have been Mars - but a Mars full of beautiful people and robbers. Nine thousand miles from home and no legal work prospects, what's a girl to do?

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Why, write a book like your life depended on it, of course. On many levels, it did. Give up, or remember who you are. All that self-belief is a touch cliché and Rocky isn't it, likely compounded by the fact that I sang Eye of the Tiger a few dozen times while I wrote my killer book (killer, Jerry!) about the meaning of life. Purpose, health, yoga, meditation, fitness - this was me through and through!

There are answers to every problem, as I'm sure you know, as long you don't let what happens out there debilitate your faith in your Self. Through the book, Above the Noise - 12 Ways to Live an Inspiring Life, I found a way out. With only the shirt on our backs, mind you, but we're leaving and that's all matters.

Here's what I Learned While I Was Stuck in a Foreign country

Being a Foreigner Ultimately Sucks

It is easy to view our humanity and ourselves from the privileged perspective of a foreigner. Untethered from active participation in society, this liberating experience can catapult your personal growth like nothing else. But after a while, the liberation can get lonely. In a foreign culture, you are a witness, identified by your difference.

Bureaucracy Isn't Your Friend

What masochistic deviant invented this behemoth that is called bureaucracy? There has to be a better way! Bureaucratic transparency and efficiency ranges wildly from country to country. If bureaucracy was the spiritual soul of a country, and the millions of zombie paper pushers were the heart-mind, governments could at least pretend to feel self-conscious about their dysfunctional personality and over-haul their antiquated, passive aggressive ways.

Alternatively, with Big Brother fast infiltrating every aspect of our lives, tourist and residency visas might soon be granted or denied before we even get to a visa office.

The Grass is Always Greener, Then it isn't, Then it is

Phase 1: This foreign country is so beautiful, its culture so rich. My country is not. I wish my country was more like this country.

Phase 2: Man, this country is complicated. It's great and all, but boy am I glad that I am not from here.

Phase 3: Oh my beloved country. How I miss you. I'm sorry for all the names I ever called you. I'm coming home and I will never ever leave you again.

Phase 4: How familiar you are. I love the smell of your air. I understand my fellow countrymen. We are all one here in this corner of the Earth.

Phase 5: Is this all there is to life? Everyone is so shallow-minded. If only they travelled and saw the world, they wouldn't be so racist or entitled. I've got to get out of here. Anywhere but here.

Always Have an Out

If you don't own a return ticket, stash enough money for a one-way ticket home - plus twenty percent for potential inflation. Even if you plan on working, like I did, set this money aside.

No Place is a Panacea

There is no utopia. I searched for 20 years and conclude that countries and cultures do not change our humanness as much as we think it does. At their core, people are surprisingly similar. The crookedness and imperfection, innocence and ignorance; it's everywhere; it's us. Ignoring bureaucrats, humans are a caring lot. Don't believe the hype that we are different.

But I still can't wait to go home and smell that air.