One might think that absconding away to some new country is something that may ultimately bring only disillusionment or regret in time. Perhaps under the surface of such a sentiment is the notion that, after all, since life is so much better in the United States...Americans living abroad would eventually realize the error of our ways and inevitably return to our lives of sanity and comfort.
Let me rephrase that in a less sarcastic way: one might expect that, while an American living abroad would certainly enjoy the thrill of his new experiences for a time, eventually he will come to understand the problems inherent in his new country. He might feel out-of-place and he might miss things about home enough to return. But would one also expect that of immigrants coming into the USA? No, in that case most Americans would fully expect the immigrant to fall in love with his or her new country, eventually try to fit in, and certainly to stay. So, indeed, there is an ethnocentric double-standard involved. But this isn't my point...I could care less.
My point is that the world has changed. The notion that the American lifestyle is "the best" is being devalued as fast as the dollar. I write on the topic of absconding partially to illuminate this new reality. I will shed light on some of the ways my new life is better than my previous life, but not in this post. I think there is something deeper and more interesting underlying the question posed in the title.
With any life change, some aspects of life will be worse than what you expected and others will be better. I find that what is lost in life is usually replaced by something entirely different that is new (if a person is open to it).
But on the topic of expectations; if you expect to feel like an entirely new person, don't. The old cliche "wherever you go, there you are" is true. You will fall back on so many of those habits you already have. You will think the same way about social relationships. You will sometimes get depressed. You will still worry. You will still feel like doing all those things you always felt like doing. You will not be able to escape all those burdens in life, and in fact you will even add more.
So why bother? Is there more to the experience than the honeymoon phase when a place feels new and exciting? Well, to exist solely in one culture is to know only 2 dimensions. To live as a citizen of the world is to slowly discover the third (as well as a few new colors to illuminate it). While you don't change, possibilities around you do. The way you are perceived, the opportunities suddenly available to you, the endless stories and perspectives which you will acquire, the wisdom that can only come from experience, and the contentment of knowing you have done everything possible to live a life that is uniquely yours..those kinds of things make it all worthwhile.
To not do something you want to do is to carry that idea with you until either you do it or you die. If you end up carrying too many of your desires and living none of them, all of that becomes a burden that gets translated into fear, regret, self-loathing, and even feeling like a victim.
In high school, my dream was to be an NBA basketball player. I traveled that route the best way I knew how. My abilities only got me to a division 2 university, and when I realized I had no potential to play big-time, professional basketball...I quit. But basketball got me out of my small town and off to college.
Then there was a time I wanted to be a writer. Though I studied business and was following that track in life, I dreamed of writing a novel. I wrote that novel for 18 months (after work and on weekends) by age 25 and, to be honest, it probably wasn't very good. But I did learn to write and I learned to understand myself in a new way. More importantly, I was able to shed that dream that went something like "what if I had chosen to be a writer?" After the book was complete, I knew what it meant to be a writer. I learned that there was never anything standing in my way. I was either a good writer or I wasn't. I either wanted it badly enough to work at it and give up something else, or I didn't. The weight was lifted and the dilemma erased.
Then there's the music thing. I learned that I am, indeed, a
musician. I plan on pursuing this music thing as far as my skills and
inspiration will take me. Through becoming a musician, I learned that
I don't want to be part of the "music business." I learned that I
truly never was destined to be a famous musician because, for so many
reasons, I wouldn't want it anyway. I love my music and who I am as a
musician, and I'm having a lot of fun with it. How tragic it would
have been to never learn this...to always wonder what my voice would
sound like on an album and never hear it for myself...to wonder
whether I might have been a successful musician.
My decision to move from Seattle to Slovakia was no different from any of these other decisions. It is something I've wanted to do for at least a decade, and to not have done it would have been to live and die with the burden of not knowing. I knew that the thought of carrying that burden was scarier than all of the difficulties and risks I would encounter.
My wife is from Slovakia, and I felt the same way about her all those years ago. I was far too young to get married, but I was so in love with her that the thought of not finding out what it meant to spend a life with her was far more terrifying than all that it involved to do so (starting a life together at age 18 against impossible odds without any family to help).
So when I consider the question "what's it like when reality sets in", I realize that the question doesn't even make sense. Every major life change takes you to a place that you couldn't have imagined prior to living it. You become a person that you never otherwise could have been. So, for this reason, there is absolutely no room for regret.
Every risk I've taken has brought me to a place that is far different from where I first intended to go. In every case, the "place" I, in fact, ended up was better then where I started..at least in that it was right and inevitable for me. So to suggest that one ought not to chase a dream for fear that it might not be what he or she expects...I guess that sentiment is completely opposing all I have witnessed and experienced in my life.
In the true spirit of Carpe Diem, the original question posed is also irrelevant because nothing need be forever. You will follow future impulses just as you have learned to follow this one. If a life abroad isn't working, change it. The question remaining is this:
What are your dreams and why are you not chasing them?