The Expat Who Saw La La Land

Last week, like seemingly everyone else in the world, I saw La La Land. I did the rainy, cobblestone walk downtown with two of my best friends in this city. I snuggled down into the old, springy seats of our city’s old fashioned cinema, my orange soda and popcorn in hand. (The popcorn in this country isn’t quite the same – it’s rounder and harder and sweet and all-around healthier tasting, which is bizarre). For me, going to the movies is a tradition – the smell, the darkening lights, the velvet seats, and crunching popcorn, the rolling credits (I always, always wait ’til the end…hence a few awkward first dates).


If you haven’t seen La La Land, I won’t spoil anything. The movie, to me, is about how following certain dreams ends others; life is a series of choices, and with each choice, we close off other versions of our life. This was especially poignant for me as the movie is about an aspiring actress in LA – a path that, not that long ago, I could see myself heading down. A huge part of me, that I’ve come to realize most people in my current everyday life don’t know about, is my history with theater. I started acting in plays at age 9. This transformed into starring in high school dramas, dance classes, voice competitions, college auditions, working for a professional theater and gaining equity points, and directing my own shows in college. I was a drama major for two years – before I studied abroad in England. There was a point, albeit a long time ago, when I saw my life in three paths: 1. New York, starving artist. 2. Chicago, starving artist. 3. L.A., starving artist.

high school plays ~~~

But here I am, England, not starving, and not an artist…in the way I once envisioned I would be. If you’d asked 15 year old Sarah if this is where she saw her life heading in less than a decade: a rented Victorian terrace on the coast of England. Pursuing a Masters in healthcare. Writing a travel blog. Teaching yoga. Running in her free time. Writing poetry, not as often as she’d like, and acting in plays, never.  Never woulda guessed. So how did I end up here? Certainly, living thousands of miles from home as an expat, I often feel the pressure to explain myself and this road I took.


Looking back, I believe I’ve spent a large portion of my life preempting disappointment. People have a fondness, or maybe it’s a habit, of saying “I told you so” before you even do the thing that needs telling about. I’ve heard: Don’t play trumpet because your lungs can’t handle it. Don’t audition for that play because you’re too shy.  Don’t be an actress because you’ll never have a steady job or a family. Don’t move to L.A. because it’s superficial.  Don’t join the publishing industry because you’ll spend ten years delivering coffees and editing other people’s masterpieces. Don’t move to the UK because you’ll never be able to transfer your qualification back home.

I’ve spent my life alternately following this advice like a dog, and viciously fighting against it. So for me, that’s the answer to how I ended up where I am now. Thousands of paths criss-crossing each other. A million tiny, every day choices. A billion people telling me what I should or shouldn’t do with my own life. A hundred billion other lives I could have lived. It makes me think of those photos of international flight plans – all the airplanes swooping across the globe every day. All those patterns stitching across the world. As many choice as I’ve passed by, there are that many ahead.


So, sure, I got nostalgic seeing La La Land. I saw a different version of my life – the one where I “studied abroad” in Connecticut’s National Theater Institute instead of the UK. Where I live in the basement of an apartment in LA’s Korea town. I spend my evenings stuck in my car on the free way, takeout Mexican in hand. I work in a food truck, or a coffee shop, and I teach yoga at the gym on Thursday nights, to 30 girls who look just like me but they’re taller and skinnier and their Lululemon leggings are about 10 years younger than mine. And I audition, and audition, and audition. I call my family once a week, and I spend more time on Tinder than I like to admit, mostly whilst waiting in traffic.


As much as this past month, year, (years?) have been difficult, I’m happy. I’ve come to realize that life is a bittersweet event, particularly when you spend the time peering in at the paths you once closed off. But still, it’s an event we’ve all been invited to, and as bittersweet as it may be, I’m planning on staying at this party.

Sarah xx

PS- this post is inspired by my jumbled brain, my love for the Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling chemistry, and my friend Clare’s post on a similar topic. Clare is currently an expat in Ireland! I’ll leave you with these words of hers that are killer: how do you know if what you’re giving up is in the way of the adventure or a part of it?

PPS- I’m also linking up with #wanderlustwednesday. Happy to be back at it! You can see the link up with hosts Marcella, Van, Lauren, and Isabel.

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  1. What an interesting read, to know that a film could cause you to think so much about your life path and where you are today! Now you’ve tempted me to see it too, as I’m also an expat in Germany and if you would have asked me 15 years ago if I saw myself living in Germany, married to a German I would have said “Girl, you craZZY” haha #WanderfulWednesday

    1. I’m definitely an overthinker but I think this movie could make *anyone* get pretty philosophical! It is pretty crazy to look back and see how things change…and then think, what will then next ten years bring?? Thanks for giving it a read 🙂

  2. You are making me so excited to see this film! And I know that feeling all too well, sometimes I think I am going hitting milestones a bit too early but at the end of the day I don’t regret what my life could’ve been if I hadn’t taken the chance with my LDR. Everyone’s path is different, and let’s face it, we all are a little lost. But that’s what makes it fun 🙂

  3. ah! thank you so much for the shout-out! I love your take on this. it’s all crazy, but I’d say we’re making the most of it 🙂

  4. Such a lovely post, I really enjoyed reading it! It is funny how life can totally change from what we ever expected, due to all of those little changes that come together to make very big changes!
    I for one, never ever thought I’d be living in Chile, it certainly wasn’t in ‘the plan’, but all of those changes made it happen.
    Now I’m just waiting for La La Land, and all of the other great oscar season films to come out here in Chile, hurry up!

  5. First of all, I love your new blog theme! And secondly, I totally get how you feel like you always have to explain yourself as an expat. I mean, I studied indigenous studies and now do marketing in the health care sector. Not quite what I figured I would be doing but at least it brings in some money… I still like to dream though and I believe that life would be absolutely boring if we wouldn’t dream and sometimes dare to chase our dreams!

    1. Ahhh thank you, I’m glad someone noticed ahah…I thought it was due for a visual change along with the name change! And yeah, it is pretty crazy to think how far off I am from 5 year old me wanting to be a veterinarian, 15-20 year old me wanting to be an actress…who knows in 5 years maybe I’ll have another surprise career change… dreams are what it’s all about!

  6. Great post! I really related to this–and I haven’t even seen the movie ha! I always feel like I have to explain why I chose to move abroad–constant justification. I left (um, ran away from, lol) the US right after I finished my master’s in trauma psychology, to teach English to little kids in Eastern Europe! I wonder all the time if I made the right choice, but what’s life without a little bittersweet wonder??

    1. Thank you – it’s been so nice to read that so many other expats feel similarly to me! Life is super bittersweet, which is only heightened when our life choices are so drastically visual (the distance on a globe…) but I think you’re right, that’s just part of the journey. There may be no such thing as a “right” choice!

  7. OK now I need to see LaLa Land. It sounds great, especially since it inspired this post. I try not to think about the “closed” paths that I didn’t take, but I guess sometimes it’s good to think about it and appreciate what you’ve got.

  8. I definitely want to see it now that I’ve read more about how it made you think about your life. I don’t have much to add, but I’m going to save this for later after I see it!! I love movies that inspire reflection.

  9. Such a beautifully written post, Sarah. Life throws so much unexpected things at you … it’s how you deal with them (and thrive, rather than surivive) that makes it so beautiful yet bittersweet, as you say. And you, my blog/twitter/instagram-friend, are definitely thriving. <3

  10. I think a lot of us are on paths really quite different than those we might have imagined as teenagers – or even in our twenties! – and I could drive myself mad trying to peer down the paths I’ve not chosen. I have always felt a huge, heavy weight when making such choices before because of Expectations amongst other things, but one thing I’ve recently decided is to just let all that go and make decisions based simply on what’s best for me given what I know at the time. That’s all I can do. It’s quite liberating! If you’re happy in your current situation, own it! You’re doing great 🙂

    1. Agreed. You could really go mad just focusing on all the chances you didn’t take. I think when I moved to the UK I had a similar thought train – to just focus on me and let go of expectations, but I think no matter what I will always have reflective moments when I think of What If…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! I hope your move to Australia brings you so much joy and you keep that philosophy of letting it all go!!

  11. I just love this post Sarah. I’ve not seen the film yet, but I get the feeling I’m really going to enjoy it. Life really does have so many twists and turns that it’s hard to know where it’s going to end up. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to doubt and perhaps slightly negative messages from other people (who are probably just trying to be helpful, I know) so for years didn’t do what I wanted and had a lot of regrets. But actually in my 30s I’ve managed to pull it back and am finally following a childhood dream. So maybe doors don’t all have to stay closed forever 🙂 Happy 2017 – I hope it’s a good one for you!

    1. Ahh thank you <3 And I agree – I don't think people are trying to be "mean" when they throw their doubt on you, they're trying to help. But in the end, we should put a lot less weight on their words than what our heart is telling us (at least, I know I should, everyone's different). So happy for you that you are following your dream, and happy 2017 to you too! Here's to many more adventures.

  12. Loved this post and so happy to have found your blog! I feel very similarly regarding expat life and the direction life takes us. I often struggle with the fact that I’m not focusing on my music as much as I hope to but am trying to chalk it up to thinking about it like ‘phases of life’. Right now this is the living in the Czech Republic, studying languages and doing yoga phase 🙂 Maybe there will be a music phase ahead for me somewhere. Accepting just because life doesn’t look like that right now and that you have other focuses doesn’t mean you won’t turn back to your long-lost passion.

    1. Ahh Cynthia thank you so much 🙂 I’m so happy I found yours as well! I have such similar feelings. I miss playing flute and singing but if you try to do EVERYTHING, then it all suffers. I’m focusing on my Masters, science-things, and traveling atm, but your words make me hopeful a new phase will open up in the future where I get to bring my creative side out more.

  13. When I saw your title featuring the movie La La Land, I had to click to read your post. I loved your vision of the movie and comparison to real life. Life is filled with choices and each choice we make ends up defining who we are as a person. La La Land really reflected that … as does your life. 🙂 Rather than looking back, we just have to keep moving forward, hoping that the choices we make from one day to the next lead us to where we want to be. 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading – it is such a beautiful movie, isn’t it? I found it easy to draw comparisons in my life, but I think it has such universal themes that everyone can get something out of seeing it. From a (maybe) less philosophical movie – we have to just keep swimming!

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