When moving to Europe was just a crazy idea in my head, I remember searching online for what it could be like. I only found top 10 blogs that listed reasons why you should do it and very little about what the actual experience was like. Moreover, I couldn’t find anything written by someone moving from an Asian country like Sri Lanka. That is the gap that this series of posts is aiming to fill.
Obvious disclaimer first, this are my experiences. If you are considering moving to Europe in the future, your experience will not be the same. Where we are from, who we are and our financial situation will be unique to each of us. However, I still believe that your story will be “somewhat” similar to mine.
My 2-month AIESEC exchange to Malaysia changed my life. I was just a stereotypical computer geek before then. Being the only son of two overprotective parents, I used to spend most of my life indoors in front of screens. I didn’t know an alternative, I assumed that life was like this.
It was a strange curiosity that drove me to do the exchange. I pondered what life would be like without my parents. Could I even survive on my own? However, I was so focused on getting an exchange that I never considered what it would be like to be there. I never thought about what would happen if something went wrong. For the first time in my life, I lived on my own, got to know amazing people from around the world and did something adventurous every weekend. What I discovered is that there was so much more to life than screens. I wanted more.
Back in SL, I soon realized that this was not possible. My friends were not exposed to the high dose of adventure I got in Malaysia so they were still content with doing something occasionally. I found myself back to my old life of University, TV series, games and the occasional hangout with friends. But now this was not enough. I was constantly having flashbacks to my time in Malaysia and I couldn’t explain this to anyone. My friends and family didn’t have the same experiences to relate to me.
I struggled to deal with the independence that I lost too. Compared to other Sri Lankan parents, my parents were very lenient. But I still felt chained. I missed the spontaneity. In Malaysia, I thought of something and then did it. On a whim, I travelled alone to an island by bus and boat, rented a bicycle, cycled, dipped in the sea with only my boxers, napped in a hut in the middle of a paddy field, went go-karting and then had dinner in the local food market. Now I needed an action plan to present to my parents if I wanted to walk a hundred meters to the shop. If I was going out with friends, I had to give a detailed presentation on where I was going, who I was going with, how I am going to get there, what I am going to do there, till when I am going to be there, what time I am getting back and whether any girls were going. While my parents rarely said no, everything had to planned. Their care for me meant that there was no room for spontaneity.
A few months later while pondering about the upcoming internship year, a crazy idea struck me. I could do my internship year abroad. My initial goal was to get to San Francisco, to get to Silicon Valley where all the great tech companies were. Naïve and overestimating my abilities, I actually applied for internships at Google and other companies. I even started studying complex data structures and algorithms to prepare for the interviews.
A few delusional months later, I realized that this was not going to happen. So I turned again to AIESEC. There was very little presence in the US but there were more opportunities in Europe. In Malaysia when I asked Marie about how Europe were different, she told me that everything was different. I didn’t understand this. Malaysia was different to Sri Lanka but I could point to specific things and say that it was different. How could “everything” be different? “You have to come and see for yourself” she chuckled. While chatting with her after I got back, she always seemed to be doing something interesting. She would be travelling or doing something with friends while I was in front of my screen at home. I pondered whether I could have a life similar to my experience in Malaysia in Europe.
I had another hidden reason. I didn’t feel like I belonged in Sri Lanka. Whether it was with my family or my friends, I felt like an outsider. In the case of my family, I was born between two generations so I was too young to be in one generation and too old to be in the other. In the case of friends, while I spent my time around a lot of people, I felt like an outsider. I didn’t feel like a valued member, I was just the guy who was invited if he was around.
With the group of EPs I met during my exchange, I felt like I belonged. Even though I only knew them for a few weeks, it felt like they cared and wanted me to be around. I had never felt this before and I kept thinking about this. A part of me felt that I could only find this was outside of Sri Lanka and I really wanted to find it again.
Around that time I was eliminated from several competitions. I didn’t handle failure too well so I was felt very low. I wanted to get away from it all. When I told my friends about this idea, they suggested that it might be better to do this after the degree. But I was in a rush. If I postponed this now, I felt that I might lose the opportunity for good. I felt that this was urgent, that I had to do this now or spend the rest of my years pondering what could have been.
With everything added up, I put my foot down on this crazy idea.