10 Years Abroad, 10 Key Themes, 10 Lessons to Become a Stronger Person
August 2019 marked 10 years since I left my home country - Italy - to follow my dreams and take on new experiences that would change my perspective in life forever. 10 years since that curious, perhaps naive - but very determined 19 year old decided she was ready to see what was the world was about. Every year since this day has taught me something new which I cherish greatly and this is my attempt to gather a key theme for each year alongside a lesson I learnt. So what have all these years away from my town, my family and friends taught me? Disclaimer: this is not a strictly business-oriented article. It's simply a reflection on what these 10 years have gifted me, the tools I've developed and the principles I try to live by.
2009: The Year of Freedom.
In the good or bad times, whenever you don't quite understand why things are going so well (or so badly!) - trust the process. Everything that happens, or that we make happen, is a lesson or a blessing (kindly note: this might not apply if you're not working hard/asking for help to change the situation you're in if you're not happy with it). 2009 was for me the year during which I was very much questioning why some events happened within my family and that feeling of unsettledness turned out to be a strong driver for me to apply for university abroad.
The day I received my acceptance letter to Edinburgh Napier University, I felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness and relief that it's hard to describe. So with shaky English, a determined mind and some crazy circumstances, I ended up meeting the sweetest and most welcoming Scottish host family I could ever dreamt of (this story deserves a full post for itself!). This family turned out to not only bless me with a forever-home in Edinburgh, but also with the example of love between two people that I longed to witness. Lesson: Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes s*it happens, but life gives back in other ways - be patient.
2010: The Year of Freedom and Dreams Coming True.
Not long after getting settled in Edinburgh I found out I was eligible to apply for a US exchange programme. Say no more, my application was in long before closing day. About 2 months from the submission, and about 5 months into my Scottish adventure, I found out I got accepted into my first university choice at San Jose State University, California. When I think about it now I can hardly believe such huge opportunity landed in my hands. Being the first person in my family to leave the country for generations, moving to the US seemed an unattainable dream especially because of my family's humble background.
But there I was: on September 2010 moving to Silicon Valley to start my second year of university and get one step closer to the industries that most fascinated me: tech and entertainment. Lesson: If you believe you can, you will.
2011: The Year of Bittersweet.
California was exactly like the movies: huge campuses, skateboards everywhere you turned, an open swimming pool for students to enjoy.. a real dream. Classes were going great and I met friends for life. During the winter break of 2010/2011, my friends and I decided to embark in a once-in-a-lifetime road-trip across the US. I could not contain myself with excitement!
Christmas morning - we had stopped in Chicago. Expecting to wish my family a happy Christmas, I opened Skype to find hear my dear grandma had just passed away. My grandma represented my whole world, having taken a very motherly role in my growing up. When first leaving Italy, saying goodbye to my grandparents was certainly one the hardest thing to do; however in that moment reality collapsed in on me. All I wanted to do was go back to comfort my father, but given my location flying back wasn't an option. This was undoubtedly one of those life-changing moments that make you realise how you can't take anything for granted. After taking some time to heal and return back to my normal routine, later in the year I completed my exchange abroad with my very first internship with a startup in San Jose. Lesson: Hardship will pass - surround yourself with people who love you and don't take anything or anyone for granted, ever.
2012: The Year of Independence.
Effectively, this was the first year I felt like I had actually "moved out" of my house. After spending my first year with my beloved Scottish family, and my second year in California where I shared accommodation with another 70 people from 35 different countries (if you're wondering, that was the I-House of SJSU!), my third year led to more independence as I moved in with a good friend of mine. Emotional independence, partial financial independence. And an already bigger baggage of experiences on my shoulders. This was the year of early mornings for classes and late nights for work - serving beers and cleaning tables into the early hours...! Independence unequivocally comes with more responsibility, and responsibility comes with dedication and a focused mind.
During the summer I went back to California to work for more tech/entertainment startups and yet again, during my first week I got the news that my beloved grandfather passed away. The pain could not be controlled, but a stronger and more independent mind helped me accept the situation in a more rational way. That does not mean I ignored my feelings, but rather I acknowledged and accepted them as a way to move forward. Lesson: Emotional independence can help you stay stronger and more focused. Try to consciously develop it.
2013: The year of Growth.
There's no doubt that every year, like every experience, contributes to one's growth. However, this year turned out to be both incredibly tough and rewarding at the same time. My time in Scotland had already come to an end - how did that happen! This was the year of my bachelor graduation, during which I received multiple awards for academic performance and dissertation results. The year of making my parents proud, making up for all the time spent apart. A summer of New York City, a winter of heartbreak and yet another move, to Sweden, to begin my master degree at Lund University.
This was the year of getting to know myself and deciding what person I wanted to become thanks to constant, deep changes in every aspect of my life (and the way I decided to deal with them!). Lesson: Change is good! It might be energy-consuming, unsettling and potentially frightening - but it allows you to learn how to navigate transformation. Every transformation brings an opportunity to reinvent yourself and reallocate priorities and values.
2014: The Year of Adulthood.
My year in Sweden flew by! From the moment I landed in the Land of the Midnight Sun I immersed myself in a circle of constant studying with a sprinkle of questionable decisions. It was these questionable decisions that helped me realise who I wanted to become and how it could be achieved. 2014 was an incredible turning point, not only thanks to a stronger ability to have a honest conversation with myself, but also thanks to the confidence that came from it. Long nights spent on campus with friends, split between intense study sessions and impromptu karaoke performances (whoops..!). Long days applying for jobs to be ready for graduation. After years of academic success (geek alert) I was met with a harsh reality; a daunting unstructured career path and my first job interview rejections (oh, the pain!).
Post master graduation, relentless interview processes pursued.. until finally, I got offered a job that would have brought my back to the heart of my beloved United Kingdom, London. It was time to dive into adult life! Lesson: Resilience and Grit are Key! Key to develop as a person, key to make your own opportunities appear and to help you achieve your objectives.
2015: The Year of Love.
This was the year of love in every sense, both personal and professional. It was the year of love for myself and the year I met the love of my life. The year of very hard work & with very low rewards. My job at the time was teaching me how to become a so-called "professional", developing a strong work ethic and all the necessary skills of the trade. It was also extremely energy-consuming and demanding, but allowed me to identify my self worth. Being new to the industry I was still learning what my worth was against the standards, however meeting someone who believed in me more than I believed in myself was a game changer!
This renewed love for myself and for this amazing person gave me the courage to move forward and apply to a new role. With my new found work experience and positive outlook I found myself landing my dream role. Lessons: Everyone's got to pay their dues - and that's okay! Embrace every stage, learn from it, be appreciative and learn how to love yourself enough to know when it's time to move on.
2016: The Year of Self-questioning.
The first few months in the new job went really well; however later on this year turned into the perfect example of proving myself wrong when I had been chasing what I thought was the greener grass.. all the confidence I had built over the years started leaving my body, resulting in a circle of self-doubt. This is the year when I learnt about the concept of "Impostor Syndrome", something which highly resonated with me at the time. My smiley self was slowly disappearing, leaving more and more room to a robot that did not reflect my bubbly personality. The job I was initially hired to do to had evolved and was not playing in favour of my strengths and skills. However, being resilient and stubborn I had to prove I wasn't the problem so I continued in the role until the following year. Lesson: Stay humble. Use difficult situations at work to understand where your strengths lie and accept that it's ok not to be great at everything. Also, don't be afraid to hold people who should be helping you accountable. All this - topped with a layer of self-awareness and self-respect.
2017: The Year of Self-belief.
Staying in a job longer than I should have, has taught me to reflect upon my skills and my passions. Therefore, despite the truly difficult times, the experience had helped me understand what I was good at and what I should have focused on moving forward. I wanted to use my skills and the burning passion that I knew still existed somewhere hidden behind the facade (worth noting: amidst the circle of negativity and self-doubt, this realisation took months and a lot of love and support).
Eventually, I made the jump. I moved into a new job (which took 6 interviews over a 5 month period!) that I was instantly passionate about, which gave me proper training, surrounded me with people who encouraged my real self to come back and, above all, challenged me in the right way and in the right direction. On top of that, I managed to get a healthy work-life balance - something that had been long forgotten. Slowly magic happened and self-belief started replacing self-doubt. Lesson: Some of the skills you take for granted can be of huge value to other roles and companies. Be brave enough to go for it, even if at the time it seems unattainable.
2018: The Year of Balancing.
After starting in the new role, I was finally able to start focusing on both my career and my personal life in a more balanced way. It's incredible how the right job can completely affect every other aspect of your life. 2018 was the year of building stronger foundations, investing in personal development and start planning for the future. With this I'm not saying there weren't difficult moments, however being in a more confident space allowed me to face challenges in a more objective and pragmatic way.
Having already a few years of experience under my belt, at this point I also found myself ready to discuss the overall direction I wanted to take for my career based on the skills I wanted to use. The opportunity to have these conversations at work also brought more tranquility into my personal life, meaning I was able to focus more on the person by my side who had supported me throughout the whole time. Lesson: Focus on what makes you happy. Learn how to spread your (positive!) energy in an effective and efficient way so every aspect of your life can benefit from it.
2019: The Year of Gratefulness.
This year, the year of my 10th anniversary abroad, has really marked multiple milestones for me. Both personally and professionally. For this reason, I always try to remind myself to be thankful every day. Thankful for the opportunities I've been given, for the people who have believed in me, for the people who have knocked me down because they've made me stronger.
This year is the year I look back to the last 10 and feel overwhelmed with gratefulness for all the people who contributed to making me the person I am today: my grandparents for raising me with endless love, my mother for inspiring me to be curious towards people and towards the world, my father for teaching me discipline, hard-work, resilience, ambition and self-respect, my boyfriend for regularly giving me reality checks and supporting me throughout this journey, my manager for seeing the value in my work and trusting me, all my official and unofficial mentors (shoutout to all of you!) for teaching me how to look at things in different ways and how to make the most of my personality - and all the other amazing people, friends, families I've met along the way in multiple countries: you all helped me, in a way or another, understand how to become a better person and how to face any situation with grace. Lesson: Identify who and what inspires you to be a better person and learn from them. Don't be afraid to ask for help - vulnerability is a sign of strength and humility.
Writing these few words was a journey in itself and got emotional at times..! I'd just like to reiterate that these are just some of the few (and condensed!) lessons I have personally learnt during a journey that has led me to where I am today. Not everyone might resonate with them and that's ok. Every journey is different. What I would say though is that even if some things might have happened out of stars alignment, I am utterly convinced that one's success (disclaimer: success is different for everyone!) is more often than not the result of a magic mix of hard-work (both introspective and practical!), focus, grit, resilience, discipline and caring mentors met along the way.
So thank you to everyone who in the last 10 years has touched my life in a way or another. From Italy to Scotland, from California to Sweden and ultimately England - each one of you has gifted me with priceless lessons that I will carry in my baggage of life. Roll on to the next 10 years!