You have probably all heard the saying 'We are a product of our environment'.
I've been thinking about this quite a lot lately, given the fact that so far in my life; I have lived in three different countries. I believe that each one of those unique environments had a significant impact on the kind of person I was while living there. If you're curious, those three countries are South Africa, the UK and Australia.
Moving can be an intensely emotional experience. It's a new beginning, but not always an easy one. Life can feel exciting and fulfilling - but also isolating and lonely. Some people make the transition smoothly, while others find the change incredibly stressful. When people contemplate relocating, they almost exclusively think of the positive factors about their new destination. This can be problematic because psychologically we are usually more affected by what we lose than what we gain.
When I arrived in Australia from the UK, the prospects of the beach and warm climate were incredibly attractive. It's human nature to focus on the things you are looking forward to experiencing. What I wasn't prepared for was being the only kid in my new school with a funny accent, or the longing for old friends who no longer lived up the street.
An environment is not just a physical setting. It also consists of the people around us, their culture, the climate, as well as several other components.
Most people still think of themselves as being physically separate from their environment. They perceive themselves as the star of their film, filled with drama, romance, comedy, and tragedy. Many human beings often see their environment as a minor detail in the production - but it is so much more than that.
Shakespeare said: "The world is a stage, and all the men and women are merely players". Metaphorically the stage Shakespeare is referring to is our environment. Our behaviour and mental state are significantly influenced by the things and people around us.
Just like a chameleon changes colours to adapt to its surroundings, many of us follow suit when we are placed in a new environment. Our physiological, psychological, and emotional state is inevitably altered when we enter a new location. The environment around us is very often a direct expression of where we are, both emotionally and spiritually.
I have experienced this first hand when people dear to me have seemed like a different human being after moving away from the location where we first connected. It's quite a scary concept but it is more common than you may realise.
When I put my disappointment at what feels like losing someone who was dear to me aside, I try and remind myself that it would take a very special person to remain exactly the same after leaving their previous environment. Having lived in a few different places myself, I can acknowledge that I was also affected by the people and things that surrounded me.
Interestingly, when I have returned to one of my former destinations, it has felt almost natural to revert back to being the kind of person I was when I originally lived there. Memories are often cued by the physical environment. The more connections our brain makes to physical space, the more likely our everyday thoughts are to lead us there.
With all of this in mind, staying true to myself and being the kind of person I want to be is a regular fixture in my mind - it's an ongoing challenge. Right now I reside in Australia, but who knows if this will always be home?
I believe that each one of us has our own individual core and it's important that we continue to explore the kind of life we want to live and the type of person we want to be, irrespective of whom we are surrounded by and where we are in the world.