When you land in a brand new country, thousands of miles away from the one you were raised in, especially if you haven’t travelled very much before, you are gifted this overwhelming feeling of: I do not know anything about anything.
Just over a month ago I flew into Los Angeles to begin a 12 month working Visa. I wasn’t overly prepared and had done little research about logistics. All I was sure of was the flight numbers, the shuttle name and the hostel name.
Things like prepping my Sim card or Skype account had not occurred to me and its amazing how instantly stranded you feel when your phone and laptop won’t connect to any kind of signal.
I exchanged some of the Christmas present US cash from my beautiful Grandmother into what I thought would be coins, nope they have dollar bills, I need coins, Ok quarters, there’s a fee, of course there is, sure, thank you. Yes. Coins. Great.
I hastily called my half asleep mother on a farm in rural Victoria, Australia, now many thousands of miles away, to assure her of my safe but slightly overwhelming landing, and thus begin our 18 hour time difference relationship of 2015.
Part of the overwhelming aspect of coming through US customs is that they are inherently hard-core. I was greeted by a lady and foolishly thought she might be lovely to me, she was not. ‘How long are you staying? Why are you here? How much money have you got? That’s not very much? Have you got a job? How are you going to get a job? What happens if you can’t get a job? You will have to go home. Do you want to go home? Ok fine. Welcome to the United States. Good. Luck.'
Jesus. You see they warn you about the immigration questions, especially on the J1 visa, and practically I did know the answers to these questions. I fumbled through. But existentially, I did not know the answers to these questions.
The sassy immigration lady saw right through my semi confident awkward smile, I don’t know how long I’ll be here, why am I here, I know I haven’t got enough money, oh god is it all a mistake? Just walk. Walk through the doors.
And just like that you are in a brand new country. Where they have dollar bills and dollar coins. What? And no-one even uses the dollar coins apparently, its all about the quarter. And dollar bills are hectic, all the same colour and same size as all the other notes, you’ll barely have 8 dollars and you’ll feel like you can ‘make it rain’.
Sorry I got distracted by this ridiculous paper money. Back to that feeling.
In the first week, and even still a little bit after that, by definition, you don’t know anything. You don’t know where the buses go or how to buy a ticket, or what food names mean what and where to find a decent coffee. You make mistakes, you spend money on the wrong things and you get off buses cos you freaked out but they were actually taking you in the right direction but now theres not another bus for an hour so now you have to get a ‘Lyft’ and pay more money, you actual stupid tourist idiot.
But everyone assured me thats normal. And in fact it is. You read, you learn, you adapt.
What I actually learned about myself was that I like to know everything. I very much like making pretty good decisions and despise making stupid mistakes or wasting money.
I was originally from a very small town and almost 8 years ago moved to Melbourne in probably the biggest transition of my life, I had to learn how to get around, how to live in a city. Whats that noise? Neighbours and traffic. What? You have neighbours and traffic here?
But in that move, which is now a long time ago, I figured it out. I had print outs of the first 8 pages of the Melways back when we used actual maps to find places and there was no glorious blue dot to show you how epic-ly lost you are.
But I figured it out, and to an extent, I know Melbourne. I know Victoria. I know how to ‘do’ Australia.
What I realised in the first week of moving to the US is that, I had forgotten what it’s like to not inherently know things, to not be comfortable, to not be sure. How safe I had become. How un-challenged by my surroundings I was. And whilst I admit I didn’t love the feeling, I was invigorated by the new challenge. The satisfaction you get when you do figure things out. When you finally find good coffee and pressed juice (even if said juice costs $9 USD which is basically $40 AUD at the moment…) and get on the right bus. And you find yourself giving advice to newer newcomers than you, and you realise that it’s going to be ok.
You remember that sometimes you don’t know everything and sometimes you have to give in to that. Information is power, knowledge is strength, so you just go out everyday and you find it, you ask, you explore, you let yourself be kinda lost.
And then a month in, you’ll feel normal and confident enough to finally write about how freaking terrified you were about being so un-informed a month ago.
Welcome to the United States. Good. Luck.