Moved: London - Seville - Bali

Makes: Poetry, writing, marketing

Quitting your job for a move abroad and a fresh start has become so romanticised that it’s easy to forget how difficult the process can be. Kyomi is open about how hard it was, refreshingly so in a world that only shares the highlights (particularly when it comes to travel.) When she first moved to Seville alone at 26, both her mental and physical health plunged, forcing her to press pause and build herself back up again. She shares her steps towards finding peace of mind, using travel as a way to test herself and chasing magic in Bali.

Where did you grow up and how has that shaped who you are today?

So I’m a city girl. I grew up in Forest Gate, East London, and firmly lead with this identity in each of the places I have travelled to.  My mother is Nigerian and breezily switches between Yoruba and the Queen’s English, and so she was dedicated to making me speak proper English. In school I was late to pick up slang and in a way I kind of stood out. I learned there was a happy medium between the two, and even now when I hear slang and or idioms from East London, I get a little buzz, and think, yes this is a part of me, this is where I grew up. This is home.

Where do you currently live and what led you there?

I currently live in Seville; it’s the capital city of Andalucía in Spain. I came here because of a restlessness I felt in London. I felt stuck in my daily commute and routines, as many people do, but I had the curse of an extra niggly feeling: I had lived abroad before. I had made friends, shape shifted in who I was, and had returned because of lack of money, and delusions of career – not necessarily because I was ready to. I suppose, with every year that passed in London, the small feeling that I was robbed from a life abroad just grew, until in turned into a statement that kept popping up in my thoughts: I don’t feel at home here. In the year and a half before I made the move to Spain, I lived in Greater London: a residential area called Raynes Park, full of well sized homes; sets of families stretch as far as the eye can see. It was hours away from East London when returning from an event or night out and so, though I was still in London, I felt my social life dwindle, and I suppose though life got more peaceful, it also got a little more boring too.

What encouraged you to make the move abroad?

I attribute two things to pushing me to make that jump to move back abroad: my time at The Institute of Code, and my overall experience in Bali, it was eye opening, moving and magical.

I’ve always had an ambitious streak, and ideas of having my own company, and so I started to learn about the community of digital nomads – these people who worked online, remotely from wherever they wanted to be. It seemed perfect. After 5 years in digital marketing, I definitely had skills suitable for the lifestyle, but as extra insurance, I wanted to learn how to code. I knew there was money in website making and I supposed investing in myself would get me a website for my services and for potential clients. I tried to dedicate myself to free classes online about learning code like Codeacademy, and workshops such as Black Girl Tech, but I couldn’t properly commit time to it and my progress was slow, which is when I discovered The Institute of Code: a coding school in Bali. They offered a 10-day coding boot camp, and it seemed like the answer to my call! I applied for their scholarship and was a runner up to have some money taken off the final price. So I asked my boss for two-and-a-half weeks off and headed to Bali.

You’ve lived in multiple countries - where did your desire to leave home and experience other cultures come from?

It was as simple as this: I knew London was a place of aspiration, I went to The University of Kent and my classmates would tell me, when we graduate I am going to move to London and get a good job in the city. It was the goal. Being from London myself, I sort of felt slightly less enthused by this resolution, but only slightly. I was happy to do it, but thought, I must live abroad first, because there has to be more out there then the reality that I know on my home turf.

I suppose then, what came from my upbringing to trigger this feeling to do this was a mixed home, both culturally and religiously. My mum is from Nigeria and Ireland, and is Methodist Christian and my father is from Morocco and is a strict Muslim. Growing up I was privy to many debates and differences of thinking. I know my experience of this caused me to question ways of doing things, beliefs and ways of living – but in a very silent way. I think it’s only when I actually travelled that my mind really expanded, and many things I grew up thinking were flipped on their head. Like the idea that the most important thing is my career, and linking my ego to my title at the time. I realised you are not your job, and that is significant for the way I see myself, and other people.

I would really love to hear more about your personal journey in Seville - the good and the bad.

Gosh. So. It was pretty bad. I mean you just heard about my journey up until the move, I had so much hope, gusto and many plans, which I suppose should send out red flags to you already! In short, I came to Seville with many spinning plates, and inevitably, all those plates just crashed around me. I came, starting my own online business, living and working in a hostel to save some money, trying to put out my first book of poetry, and then I took up a part time job in a local start-up. I had just moved. I hadn’t found my feet. I wasn’t looking after my health. And so, both sides of my health suffered. Mentally, I was riddled with anxiety and depression. Physically I ended up in hospital for a whole weekend, which in hindsight was definitely a huge protest from my body saying: enough.

Moving abroad is a difficult thing to do. Especially, when you’re not a fresh-out-of-uni young thing with no expectations. I was seeking a home in Seville. But had somehow come all this way to feel more disconnected than ever.

After having a bit of a breakdown, however, I literally had to pause everything (apart from my part-time job – a girl's got to eat) and start again. Although it was a really painful and bleak time for me, I would do it all again for what I learnt. I essentially had to mend myself by learning what self-care means for me, day-by-day, and what home means to me, detail by detail. And this I did. Which is actually one of the most empowering feelings ever.

With incremental change in myself, and being really strict with my self-care, I eventually built myself to a place where I felt ‘okay’ again, no dissonance of moods, or the omnipresent dark cloud feeling of depression. Then I started to pick up my passions again, one by one, and not with any expectations of myself or feelings of obligation. I really had to learn this time around how to be kind to myself and what it is to bring the bar of expectation down in everything. It’s quite interesting actually. People often talk about lowering your expectation of things and people as the key to happiness – sometimes I think we forget the major key is also doing that with yourself.

You said that you’ve reached a state of contentment now - do you think you could have reached this self if you had never left home? Would you say you’ve grown as a result of your travels?

I haven’t grown as a result of my travels – it’s a full on metamorphosis! Honestly. You know people say that people don’t really change a lot, well, people who knew me in college that know me today fully attest to the change in me. I sort of went from this really career obsessed, highly-strung character, who knew exactly how things should be, to being someone that is open-minded, peace-of-mind obsessed, and although I’m still ambitious I put  more importance in my relationships and being a better human.

The questions I ask are different, the things I want are different and of course this may not have happened as quickly on my own turf. With travel, I have had to constantly be in front of new people, build news homes according to what I think and believe in. So that has been constantly evaluated, and I’m lucky to have the scope of experience, people from different parts of the word to know – hey this is another reality, another way you could live, don’t feel like you have to follow the crowd of those you grew you up with in your city.

You mentioned feeling a fresh energy when you were in Bali. Can we hear more about your time there and what about Bali had this positive affect?

There’s something about Bali that just feels different. I want to avoid blindly romanticizing it, especially now time has passed since I went but it was a very serendipitous experience for me, which is why I always use the work magic, when describing it. First of all it smells different, there is heavy incense in the air continuously which makes it impossible to forget where you are, there are signs in shops windows and practices done by people which are geared around the idea of happiness and contentment, each doorstep has a flower offering, which is nod to the Balinese Hinduism. It was a colourful contrast to my existence in London.

Secondly, was the people I met. I had so many meaningful interactions and good conversations, that inspired my way of thinking, helped me work through some fears I had about moving abroad (I met a life coach randomly at my hostel for goodness sake) and who inspired a serious increase in prolificness while I was there. I wrote a blog post about a couple I met there that got shortlisted for a Lonely Planet blog of the month – I felt the ink was 20% me and 80% Bali.

Lastly was the Institute of Code. What an experience. And as most educational experiences I have had, half of the value was the perspective it gives and the people you meet. I met 11 amazing girls in my cohort who were just simply really supportive, with pretty much no bitchiness, comradery on our journey to learn coding. We all came from different walks of life but we formed a sisterhood. I know that some of the ladies I met there it would feel like I was just sitting with them yesterday when I see them again. When you talk about inspiration imagine having 11 badass ladies around you 24/7 for 10 days – it was again, magical. On top of this we had mentors like the founder of We Are Travel Girls, the founders of the Institute of Code and our coding teachers who were an extra dose of inspiration. And easily accessible to discuss your current goals and plans for the future.

When I think back to the time I was working in London, I think even if you want to make a change either of job, career, or country, it’s really hard to get the headspace to do it. This trip was like a pool of tools to make decision in a non-rushed and well thought out way. I was in a comfortable space, with support, cared for, and I was empowered by learning a new skill.

Can you recall a moment during your travels that really changed your perspective/mindset?

I think the recent experience in Seville that I outlined before has been the biggest one that feels related to myself. Otherwise it happens almost every time I travel somewhere, one person at a time. Here in Seville one thing I have become much more knowledgeable about and aware of is the excruciating visa/working situation for Colombians trying to work and live in Spain. My old house mate had so many issues just trying to do the exact thing I was. In order to get a job, she had to get an employer to physically come to the embassy/office with her to sign documents. When you think about how hard it is to get a job in Andalucía regardless of your situation – you start to see how almost impossible it is. She only wanted a waitressing job at a restaurant. The employer subsequently used this favour as a way to justify mistreating her horribly. It was excruciating to witness it taking place, but good for me because I became more aware of my UK passport privilege. Ultimately it was one of those countless times travel teaches me to be a better more world-aware person.

As a writer, how have your travels inspired your work?

When I think of my travels – I immediately think of people. Traveling is like having a real life feed of Humans of New York. You hear so many different stories from different countries, cities, towns that expose you to the dreams of others and their life experiences. There is a certain air that comes with people you meet on the road too. It can be a few things: sometimes, it’s freedom, and when you are a city girl trying to fit in a backpacking trip into two weeks of holiday, the freedom of someone who’s been travelling for months seems almost magical. Other times it’s loss, meeting the person who has experienced a loss and is ready to start a new. Ultimately what binds them in my head is a lack of fear. I’ve often written about these characters. And of course, I fell in love while travelling, the majority of my musings surrounding that take up my poetry collection Sadness and Short Bliss. I have a final poem called ‘healing’, which offers a closure to the love story, a reference the ‘layers of society’ leaving the man in question underneath the ‘Thai sun’. Which when you unpack the meaning is really just explaining how when we are travelling, what is liberating is that you are not bogged down by where you are from, or a built up picture of who you are that had been formed over years. You have the chance to just be the core of who you are, and for people to meet you that way and fall in love with you, as exactly that.

In saying that, recently, I spent a week in Paris, and did some activities like a literary tour, a perfume making class and a drawing class. I’d say while I was here, something about being in the home of so many writers I had read and studied, and being in one of my favourite bookstores (Shakespeare and Co), unleashed a new wave of inspiration for writing and my appetite for reading. I came back with three books and ideas for two books I want to write myself!

Lastly - who do you become in unfamiliar surroundings?

I’m still me but I may lean towards my tendency to socialise or recluse depending on how I feel. I think I definitely experience that ‘new place - new possibilities’ buzz, and I am more attentive and curious of my surroundings. I’m more likely to be inspired creatively. When I think about my times solo travelling in a new city however, I think of the word test. It’s kind of an opportunity to really see if I can apply things I have learnt, and who I think I am and what I know about myself. As I get older, I notice I have a tendency to edge towards my comfort zone at any given opportunity. But new settings often teach me the importance of speaking to strangers, of still pushing myself and putting myself out there (which usually results in really unique and special experiences) and I’m often put into difficult situations and its interesting to see how I work my way out of it. The way I deal with things is usually measure of my growth or state of mind I’m in – so it’s a good way to check on yours truly!

Read Kyomi’s top tips for moving to another country on her travel website. You can also follow her on Instagram @thewadingwade.