“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” ~Maya Angelou
In my final year of high school, I had a horrible breakup. I was heavily attached to my girlfriend because, with her, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. Growing up in Germany, of Arabic roots, made me feel like I belonged nowhere. I didn’t feel German nor Arabic.
With her, I finally thought I had a place somewhere. So when this relationship ended, all I wanted was to escape. I hoped a change of location would solve my problems. So, after graduation, I packed my stuff, booked a one-way ticket, and fled to Australia.
My early days in Australia were anything but idyllic. Arriving there, not knowing anyone and barely able to communicate in English, I felt lost like never before. During the first month, I was constantly battling self-doubt. It seemed as if this was the first time anyone had ever experienced the harshness that can accompany travel. I felt like a loser.
Everybody around me seemed to enjoy their trips. They seemed to have found their place. Every conversation I had felt so awkward.
I was deeply ashamed of my English, so I isolated myself. I wanted to go home, but after telling everybody I was planning to leave, I promised myself not to give up. But the truth was, again, like in Germany, I felt like a misfit. The sense of isolation I had felt back home was still with me. It was so alive. It was like living in a nightmarish loop—unable to escape my loneliness and alienation.
Two months into my stay, I sat on a bench in Sydney, consuming junk food and battling the urge to give up. Nothing had changed. I felt out of place, had made no friends, and was utterly miserable.
At that low point, I was reflecting on my time in Germany and I had a realization that, looking back at it now, changed my life: I had taken my problems with me. My issues were about more than just a specific location. They were within me. I was responsible for my misery, isolation, and inability to fit in. The problems I had left in Germany had taken a new form in Australia.
This insight was crushing but made me stand up from this bench with a new sense of resolve.
The following day I checked into a new hostel. I promised myself to keep trying, push myself to speak English, and make a conscious effort to form connections with fellow travelers. It wasn’t easy at first, but I became more comfortable speaking as time passed. I started to trust myself more. I began to make friends, people started asking me if I wanted to join them on trips, and people were interested in my past.
Following my realization on this bench, this month was one of my life’s best. In this month, I made deep, lasting friendships that I still have to this day.
Ultimately, I stayed in Australia for almost a year and had a great time. I left Germany and was homesick, and I left Australia with newly gained confidence and trust in myself. Since then, I’ve traveled to over twenty-five countries. It became my nature to go to new places, and I no longer have the same issues fitting into a new context.
Also, I changed my relationship with Germany. Every time I go back, I embrace and like it. Ironically, the attempt to escape my roots formed a deeper connection to my German and Arabic origins. I smile when I look back. I was so ready to give up. I was at the lowest point of my life. One realization, one thought on this bench, changed the course of my life.
Now I want to share with you the key lessons I learned from my time in Australia.
1. Trust life.
Life puts us in difficult situations that ultimately lead us to grow. My time in Australia was a gift, particularly those first two challenging months. They forced me to confront my internal struggles, the issues I had been unwilling to face. I believe that life knows what it is doing and is working for us, not against us. This holds true for me to this day.
2. Take responsibility.
In Germany, I had a habit of playing the victim, blaming my circumstances and culture clash for my unhappiness. While those issues were real, acknowledging that I was also a part of the problem was liberating. Understanding that I had the power to change my situation was the first step toward actual change.
3. Be persistent.
In Australia, I came close to giving up and returning home. Looking back, I realize that would have been a huge mistake. The best year of my life and experiences that changed the course of my life followed that initial struggle, reminding me that persisting through tough times can lead to beautiful outcomes.
4. Hard times are necessary for growth.
Those two months in Australia were some of the hardest in my life. The loneliness I felt was crushing. However, looking back, those challenging times were also when I grew the most. I developed resilience and a better understanding of myself, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
5. Be a blank sheet.
One of the most powerful lessons I learned throughout my travels was the power of approaching each new situation like a blank sheet.
For far too long, I allowed my past experiences and hurts to dictate my present and future. I was constantly recreating my past wherever I went, not giving my life story a chance to change or evolve. I carried heavy, invisible baggage of past failures, rejections, and loneliness that kept me rooted in a narrative no longer serving me.
It wasn’t about forgetting or denying what had happened but not letting it control my present and future.
Like a blank sheet, allow yourself to be open, to receive new experiences, change, and learn.