I was 20 when I made the decision to live abroad. I can even remember the moment itself, the clear night, stars out, moon’s bright, the open window where I sat dreaming of a bigger life. It’s almost cliche. But the desire to see more of this world and the realisation that it was more than the “what if”s and “I want”s. Something changed that night, in me, in my thought process, in my own language, to a more positive “I can” and “I will”. Thus became the moment I decided to do a TEFL course and teach English in South Korea.
It took a year from making that decision to actually moving abroad. It was the year of 2011, the year I learned to actively chase a dream, to work multiple jobs and to make monetary sacrifices. 2011 was a hard year for me, but the only thing that got me through was this unusually powerful feeling of wanting to do something great, and a large part of that was getting out of my environment. It went beyond independence, beyond the exploration of a new place, beyond travelling alone. It was about being that person who took a risk, who was strong enough to leave, it was about being a young girl and chasing her dreams, it was about breaking boundaries to me.
I lived a pretty small life I’d say, grew up in a small community where I played in the streets with my cousins and neighbours’ kids. We all went to the same schools more or less but separated when we went to different universities. I guess that’s where I made new friends. We somehow all ended up working at the same bookstore and laughed so hard our stomachs hurt. We read a lot of books, danced to a lot of music I no longer listen to today, and still pick up where we left off every now and then when we run into each other on a whim. But the one song that stood out to me at the time was Coldplay’s Paradise. Not because it meant anything to our group, but because it hit home to me, there was something about this song that inspired me to move, to travel, to find the things I was looking for, and to venture into a world with how much ever little money I have and just believe I would find what I was looking for at the end of it all.
And as if the universe was speaking to me, Coldplay announced their tour dates to South Africa. And it would have been the sweetest moment for the girl who danced so whimsically in a tiny room as if the walls could expand for her. And a lot of times, it felt like they did. But the moment was short lived as the cost of physically moving abroad became evident.
I estimated that I needed about R23000 ZAR (South African Rand) in total. This included:
a flight ticket, winter clothing, because Cape Town’s winters were a blessing in comparison to the northern hemisphere, a laptop (only because I didn’t have one), a backpack as part of my luggage, admin fees with regard to the application, such as messengers, DHL and all the small things, oh and did I mention enough money to live for 40 days in Korea before your first paycheck? Yeah that too. At that time I remember the Rand being about R6 to the US dollar. And I was still working my university part-time job and earning about R2000 a month at R20 an hour. I knew there would not be a scrap of paper left to afford a ticket to see one of my favourite bands ever.
At 21, to give up a concert ticket to put money towards a bigger dream, was extremely and utterly heart breaking. Until this day, I can’t forget the feeling of wanting something so badly, something you wished for so many years to happen, and being surrounded by the excitement of all your friends, and fake a feeling of excitement for them to go and enjoy a show you wished so badly you could attend. That was the time I was forced to pick my future.
It was the time I was forced to choose the life I wanted. I wanted to go to a concert, when it’s not at the expense of something greater. The money of that ticket was the first time I actively started saving up for my move to Korea. And it was a heart sore moment that I decided would not be in vain. And so, saving became easier after that moment, because there was nothing harder than the first step.
And I could write a whole other story about how I worked in that year to get that figure and get out, how I hustled, studied and worked multiple jobs, but the lesson lies in the this particular story. It’s in your mindset and how you approach life. You have to see the bigger picture. And it’s okay if the lessons along the way break your heart. In the end, they become a part of you. It’s funny how a concert ticket felt like the biggest sacrifice I ever made – It wasn’t. It wasn’t long after leaving did I feel what heartbreak actually felt like. We find strength in Life’s fragile moments, no matter how big, no matter how small.
You have to know where you’re going, to get to where you are.
Photography by Jeff Simone