Love the journey: How I found my way from Yosemite, to sojourning in Chile, Spain, and Brazil, to yoga teacher training in Texas, to a pending request for European citizenship
Growing up in the foothills of Yosemite National Park, I was (more than) fairly sheltered as a kid. Fortunately for me, my high school Spanish teacher had sparked a curiosity about South America that eventually developed into a wanderlust I couldn’t ignore.
The initial result of my curiosity was convincing my parents to host a foreign exchange student from Brazil. As I learned from my host sister and the other exchange students throughout the year, my fascination with other cultures grew stronger and I was inspired to sign up for a summer immersion program in Chile before my senior year of high school. Chile was absolutely my first life “refresh,” though it was completely accidental, and would more accurately be classified as an awakening! I’m not sure I ever made it through culture shock while I was there, but it was profoundly eye opening to see people living in a way that was so different from the life I’d known at home. To experience everything from food, to traffic, to architecture, and cultural norms in a brand new way was so enlivening. I also think on some level I’d felt trapped in my hometown, and going to Chile made me feel free of all the norms, mindsets, and expectations that had been imposed on me at home. I wanted more of that feeling, so I started crafting plans for how I’d live abroad and taste the freedom again.
The idea of living in Europe seduced me in college, so I signed up for a yearlong study program in Granada, Spain while working on my BA at California State University, Long Beach. Then, when I wasn’t ready to start a “real” job right after graduating, I returned to Spain to teach English for a year in Salamanca through the North American Language and Cultural Assistant program. It’s fun to look back on the adventures I had as a bright eyed gringa. But along with the thrills, those years were deeply challenging and uncomfortable as I awkwardly navigated life in a foreign country, while also trying to wrap my mind around some big changes happening back home. If someone had told me beforehand how hard it is to be an expat, I may not have signed up… but with the wisdom of hindsight, I would absolutely do it all over again. I deeply cherish the personal growth I experienced, the expat mindset I adapted, and all that I learned about the world along the way.
I was really lucky to land my “dream” job as a program manager at a high school foreign exchange program in California when I got back from Spain. Transitioning back home is never easy, and I did not evade the reverse culture shock, but it was awesome to stay connected to the international community and use the cultural knowledge I’d gained abroad in the workplace to the benefit of other bright eyed international teens. After nearly 5 years in the office though, life became a bit too routine for my taste, and I began to feel a growing urge to travel again.
So, at 29 and a half years old, I consciously hit refresh for the first time. I quit my job to move to São Paulo, Brazil, just in time to celebrate Carnaval! Looking back, it’s easy to classify it as a bold and adventurous thing to do, but I remember the conversations with myself (and friends) debating if I was doing something crazy.
I didn’t have a calculated plan, but all arrows were clearly pointing me there and I knew, from that deep intuitive place, that it was the right time, and exactly what I needed for me. So, I sold my car, most of my belongings, and packed my bags. I had enough money in the bank to float me for a few months and I was optimistic that I’d figure something out if need be. There were ups and downs, of course, but I was intoxicated by the vibrance of the culture and by how truly refreshed, free, and alive I felt. I managed to pick up some side work that allowed me to stay for nearly a year. I developed a deep love for the country and the truth is, I wanted to stay forever, but as one thing after another stopped working out for me, I could not ignore that all the signs were pointing me back to the States.
In the course of a few weeks, the work I’d lined up to provide extra income fell through, my new roommate of two weeks decided to move in with her boyfriend and left me to scramble for a new place to live, a guy I had been excited about abruptly and brutally ended things, and I’d come up against the final wall in my efforts to secure an extended visa. To top it off, I even had a dental crown fall off that I needed to have fixed. Not only was I feeling totally defeated, I was literally falling apart! And, unfortunately, I didn’t have the tools at the time to simultaneously put so many pieces back together.
It was time to leave. I spent a few weeks of traveling along the northeast coast of Brazil so I could leave things on a high note, then gathered up what I can only describe as a broken heart for leaving a place I loved so dearly, and went limping home.
So, I tried to refresh! I spent 7 uncertain months looking for jobs before I ultimately landed in Austin. The role I took was with another organization in the field of international education and I was excited to continue promoting the cultural exchange which I feel is so valuable for global awareness and personal growth. Unfortunately, I soon realized that the company had a toxic culture, and the stress from the dynamics of the workplace began negatively impacting my health, and all areas of my life.
I knew I needed to make a change, and I determined that just changing my environment might not be enough this time since I felt so much unrest on the inside, too. Instead of reaching for freedom through travel this time, I did what all good Austin residents do, and I signed up for yoga teacher training. (Namaste y’all!) I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of what would be several years of deep personal reflection and development; the ultimate personal refresh.
About a year into this journey, a magical thing happened. My old position opened up at the high school exchange program in California and I was able to sign back on with the organization, but remotely from Austin. REFRESH. It’s been nearly two years now that I’ve had the remote position, and, though it’s come with its own set of challenges, it’s been a wonderful chapter overall. I’ve done my best to take advantage of my flexibility to work from “anywhere” and have spent extended “workations” in quite a few domestic locations, attended a handful of conferences in some interesting cities, and had a few jaunts abroad as well. (Here’s a map of most of the places I’ve been to in the last two years.)
I kicked off 2018 with some friends in Europe, and also submitted a formal request for European citizenship. A relative tipped me off a few years ago that we qualify to “reclaim” citizenship to Luxembourg since we had ancestors there in 1900! And now, after nearly two years of LOTS of movement, I’m craving some grounding, and a bit of rest. I’m slowing down and hitting refresh once again, but this time to stay put, nest in my new home, invest in my friends, family and local community, and think about what might be next once I catch my breath.
All the while, I’m loving the journey, and staying open to whatever opportunities might come my way!
Find me on Instagram for some travel photos or catch me on LinkedIn.
1 thought on “Member Spotlight – Deanna”
What a great and inspiring journey you have had and are having! I would love to hear how your European citizenship process goes. I am looking for a six month British housesit to try to sell my TV show there. In my DNA I am 100% European and 82% British but that goes farther back than the 1900’s. Anyway, you are amazing and I look forward to your posts about your continued journey! Wonderful writing here too you did! I wish you the best!!!