VanArts Radio

Lessons from a Nomad

Feb 05 by Adam Thorp

I lived on 3 continents and in 7 cities before I was 20 years old.

That’s something not a lot of people can say, especially at that age.

And while I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that those experiences have given me, there are some bleaker sides of leading a nomadic life that not many people talk about. Maybe it’s because we always put our best foot forward on social media, maybe it’s because we don’t want to admit that we’re struggling, maybe it’s because we don’t want people to worry about us back home. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that globetrotting comes with some of the highest highs and lowest lows that I’ve experienced. Happiness that burns brighter than the Dubai sun and darkness that feels colder than a Canadian winter. It’s kind of a chaotic lifestyle to lead. But amidst all of that chaos, so many lessons are learned. So many lessons that I will never forget. And I wanted to share some of those with you.

So here are a few things that the nomad life has taught me.

South Africa
I was born in South Africa and lived there until I was about 13 years old. While I was there I moved around a bunch because of my dad’s work. We lived in Johannesburg, Durban, Queenstown and Cape Town. I was young at the time but still picked up a few things along the way.
I learned that family is important and that I always had people to fall back on no matter where we were. I also learned that the world is way bigger than I could ever imagine and that there was so much out there to see and experience. That definitely made me more comfortable with the idea of moving around. I liked the idea of being able to start again and again if you ever wanted to. Looking back now, maybe that subconsciously lead to me moving around as much as I did in the future. If so, I’m glad it did.

I moved to Dubai in the summer of 2012 where I spent all my high school years. Getting on that plane to move to Dubai was the first time I had ever left South Africa. I was excited and nervous and kind of terrified, but at least I had my family with me. I remember driving out of the airport and seeing huge signs written in Arabic and the reality of the situation setting in. I wasn’t in Africa anymore.
I learned that moving is not always as fun as it seems and that it takes a long time to settle in somewhere new sometimes. I think the blow of leaving everything behind was a bit harder than before because of the great distance between where I was in Dubai and the place I knew as home in South Africa. Not to mention the massive culture shock I experienced just being in the United Arab Emirates. I learned a lot about patience with both myself and my family. We all struggled in the beginning, but we got through it and started thriving in an environment so unfamiliar to us because of support we had from our friends and each other. I was also exposed to a lot of different cultures that I hadn’t been in contact with before. I loved learning about other people's stories and where they had come from and why. Dubai was a really bittersweet time for me, but it made me who I am. So I honestly wouldn’t change a thing.

After graduating high school, I went to York University in Toronto to pursue Theatre. I felt like I needed a new story and was really excited to start again with a fresh clean slate. I was ready to meet new people and dig deep to become the person I’d always wanted to be. I did experience culture shock during that move, but nothing compared to Dubai. I was anxious about moving by myself, especially because I was going to be literally continents away from my family, but I settled in (eventually) and started living life by my own rules. It was pretty liberating.
I learned so much about friendship and what it means to be there for someone you care about. Toronto was all about finding people who loved me for who I was, which kickstarted my wild ride to self acceptance. I had to spend holidays like Thanksgiving alone, which was obviously not much fun, but I figured that was the price I had to pay for being able to study abroad. I fell out of contact with most people from high school and was able to filter through the “lifelong” friends I thought I had made. I picked the weeds and kept the flowers. It was kind of devastating, but kind of beautiful too.

After my first year at York University and realizing that that was definitely not where I wanted to be, I hopped on another plane (as I tend to do) and headed West. I came to Vancouver! Moving here was the easiest move that I made, probably because I had already been in Canada for a year. I started studying general arts in university, but quickly realized that that was not what I wanted to do either. I was very lost and felt really fragile for a long time while finding my feet and deciding what I wanted to do and who I actually wanted to be. It was rough, but flowers grow in the rain. And boy, did I grow.
I learned that I have to live for me and do things that made me happy. I’m quite a selfless person and always have been, so putting myself first was hard! But I realized that I’m all I’ve really got in the end and I wanted to be happy with the person that I saw in the mirror. I’ve been working on myself nonstop since I got here and have met some of the most incredible people on the planet. They have helped me more than words can describe and I’m so grateful to be here.

And here we are! I’m still growing and still learning. I don’t have any big upcoming moves planned, but life works in mysterious ways. You never really know what’s around the corner until you bump into it. Things can change so quickly, so you just kind of have to hold on tight and ride the wave.

Thanks for reading about some of my adventures. I hope you learned something or related to something I’ve experienced. I hope it helped in some way and encouraged you to keep growing, even when things get a bit dark.

- A