Per our last blog post, we have moved back to the States from Cape Town, South Africa. Here are more in depth reasons for our decision.
We wrote these completely separately and only read each other’s after this post was posted.
I think that people always tend to romanticize the past. It’s much easier to remember how great something was than it is to recall any of the negative parts. Unhappy, uncomfortable, and unpleasant things tend to be forgotten, while the positives often get inflated. I must admit that I am at least a little guilty of this in respect to our recent move to, and then back from, Cape Town.
Much of the past few years has been spent trying to figure out how to return to Cape Town. Leeann and I both had various missions we wanted to accomplish by moving to Cape Town, and the romantic memories of our first time together in the city only fueled our desires to get back. In hindsight, I should never have assumed that life as a married couple with real responsibilities would be anywhere remotely close to that of a student with all the time in the world.
After some careful reflection over the last few months, I really think it just boils down to the fact that living in a vacation spot is not all it’s cracked up to be. It seems like a great idea, but a place like Cape Town simply has too much friction for everyday life for someone like me who is used to the American way of life. Much of my desire to live abroad stems from my revulsion towards certain aspects of American life, but I’ve had to accept the truth that I’m more American than I think.
Put simply, everything is difficult in Cape Town. The place just does not operate as efficiently as what I have come to expect. Traffic is horrendous, the drivers are slow, customer service is lacking in almost every type of business, and knowledge we take for granted in the U.S. is entirely foreign to South Africans. It’s nothing against Cape Tonians or South Africans, they have embraced their beach-side, slow going lifestyle. But it was extremely challenging for both of us.
Trying to work remotely with limited social contact with other humans was also quite challenging, and very isolating. Although we did make some good friends, a number of factors made it a challenge to live a normal life. It really is surprising how much interacting with your coworkers matters, but when you don’t have any, it really makes everything go in hyper-slow motion.
The final nail in the coffin was financial stress. The constantly fluctuating exchange rate, inconsistent work schedule, and massive expense incurred from moving continents simply piled up to the point we could no longer handle it. I hate to let money get in the way of any of our dreams, but it’s also time to be realistic. I have come to enjoy a certain level of structure and stability, and although I thought I found that repulsive, I do actually require it.
I do not want to say that we are done with Cape Town forever. We do absolutely love the place, and there are many things that we will miss terribly. But for us to have a future with Cape Town, it must be approached in an entirely different manner. Who knows, maybe after pursuing the career life in the U.S. for a while we will find ourselves in the position to own a condo in Cape Town. Or maybe the dream of owning and living on a game farm is still not out of the picture.
But for the time being, we must refocus, live simply, adjust our priorities, and achieve stability.
There is no reason that we have to forgo our favorite aspects of Cape Town by living in the U.S. There are tons of weekend adventures we can embark on right here in our own backyard. I truly believe that I will no longer take that for granted. I’ve seen the path required to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. I am no longer disillusioned and unrealistic about what it takes to achieve our goals. I don’t know, maybe I’m becoming less-millennial and more of an adult. I used to vomit at the sound of that “A” word, but now I accept that there are some exciting aspects to it as well.
Perhaps the most important thing is that Leeann and I still have each other in this journey, and we have learned, lost, and grown so much throughout this process. It is still too hard to look back on our year in Cape Town and confidently say that it was for the better. We are definitely not better off financially, or in our confidence levels, than we were at the end of 2016. While we are still feeling a bit down and out at the moment, I’m confident that by the end of 2018 we will be where we want to be. We will look back on 2018 and 2017 and be able to confidently say that we learned what we needed and are ready to tackle our future.
Most of our relationship has been surrounded by South Africa in some capacity. We met while Max was getting his Masters in Cape Town and all I wanted to do was visit him. I visited and fell in love with the country. I went back a year later and fell in love with International Social Work. Our wedding was travel themed and featured all of our travels in Africa.
When we had the opportunity to move to Cape Town, it was a no brainer.
I think in lists and bullet points so here are the three main reasons that I have taken away as reasons for the move back to the States.
Our remote income was hourly which proved to be unstable. Despite being promised full time work- it was anxiety inducing everyday wondering if there was going to be enough hours of work. Between unstable incomes (that were sold to us as being stable) and the ever-tanking exchange rate for the US Dollar- we could no longer afford life there.
Without jobs outside of our apartment and neither of us attending university, making friends was beyond difficult. Luckily I met a great friend who brought me into her social circles. Most of our social interactions during the year stem from Lauren and I can’t thank her enough. She introduced me to Cheetah Outreach which showed me a cause I believe wholeheartedly in and the people that make this amazing nonprofit work.
But creating a network of friends in a new city is hard. Add in financial stress which limited how much we could go out for dinner or meet up for drinks- it was almost impossible.
My main hobby is playing violin. When we moved, I looked into community orchestras in the area to join. Turned out they would not allow “Internationals” into the orchestra. I also looked at teaching lessons but since our Visas were volunteer Visas, I was legally not allowed to teach because I couldn’t accept payment. I offered to teach volunteer lessons, but other violin teachers stated that this would hurt their business because paying customers would leave them and come to me for free. I reached out to several small bands and none were interested in having a foreigner play with them.
Max is an avid runner but loves to run with friends (I’m much too slow). He only found a friend to run with the last few months that we were living there. When there is no accountability to running or working out, it is hard to maintain motivation.
We both like going to the gym but the area that our apartment was in did not have great gyms to choose from. After touring the premier gym, Virgin Active, and being quoted a monthly price almost four times higher than what was on the website (our American accents?)- we ended up going with the affordable option. This gym turned out to be uncomfortable and a mess. There were no other girls lifting weights and I got hit on any time Max was not with me. It made working out not fun in the slightest.
Between finances changing, social life being tough to maintain, and our hobbies being almost impossible to continue- what life were we living?
I just wanted to be in the bush and go on road trips constantly but we both had to be available all hours of the day (8am-12am) just in case we could get some working hours. The reasons why we moved became just another dream. I felt even further away from my dream life in Africa living in Cape Town than when I lived in the States.
In moving back to the States, I have had a quite the culture shock. I did not realize how changed I was until I was brought back to where I grew up. Though I am not where I want to be in the next step in my life, I hope and feel something good coming. Max and I have been putting in a lot of work to build our lives back up. It is a slow process and we are still at one of the lowest points we have ever been at both as individuals and as a married couple- if I am being completely honest.
As we wait for the other shoe to drop, we are consciously putting intention into everyday and choosing to be happy despite our circumstances.
Send positive thoughts and support our way as our new life begins to take shape.
Thank you for staying patient as real life got in the way!