Downpart of living abroad no one will tell you about


Moving abroad is a very special thing to do. Especially if one is doing that for someone we are in love with. Unfortunately we are not always thinking through, how it is gonna affect our life in the long run, because… we are in love. 🙂 

I moved to Finland over 10 years ago, because I was in love with my former husband and father of my kids, and because I was tired of my old life. Back then I lived in Prague, had a very demanding job, which I loved and detested at the same time. I travelled every day hour and a half in a crammed public transport to get to the office, spent 10 to 13 hours per day at work… It felt like a sprint that out of nowhere turned into an excruciating and neverending marathon which I could not stop running… I did not have a single real holiday (other than sick leave) ever and I just felt like I needed a fresh restart. I always wanted to move to Canada, to try what it felt like to live abroad but never had the guts to do that on my own. That’s why when I started dating my ex-husband long distance (1700 km apart), I told him after a couple of months that I was moving in with him. Luckily he did not know how to say no to me, back then 🙂 Since then I have been always joking that Finland is my European Canada, with a much more challenging language barrier. 🙂

I still remember the first time I visited Robert. I came for 10 days carrying Czech beer from my favourite brewery and some clothes in the backpack. It was late September, there was this awesome wet fog and fresh forest smell everywhere we went. When the sun started to shine, the light was so soft and inviting that I wanted to cry from the beauty. We spent all that time in Kerava, Tuusula and around that area, not really stepping afoot to Helsinki. Which is hilarious, and also very much like when we were together. Enjoying everyday moments and turning them into beautiful adventures. We were biking every day, walking in the forests, eating at Nepalese restaurants, listening to LP records and drinking homemade Nepalese tea… and I could feel the stress and tension of my Czech life slowly disappearing. Maybe it’s because it was my first real holiday ever, but I fell in love with Finland and my ex-husband immediately. 🙂 

It had been 10 years since and still, every time I start to smell autumn in the air, I get happier, more joyful and life seems suddenly amazing. I just love everything about Finnish autumn. 🙂 And I swear, every single year something awesome happens in my life, once summer starts to part its way and autumn slowly creeps in. 

Doesn’t this sound all amazing? No wonder I was totally unprepared for the reality of life abroad. In my head, I was moving into a fairytale…

The first moment of unease came quite suddenly, a couple of months after I moved in. One summer night I woke up from a dream with a bolt of realization. I was sitting on the mattress and in my head was one thought spinning over and over, that seemed totally ridiculous: “If I stay here, my kids will never really get to know the Czech republic. Its geography, history… they will never love the same places as I do. They will never have that bond with it as I do…” As I was pondering that, an enormous sadness followed by fear washed over me. It was the first time I actually realized how important the connection to my home country was for me. I did not know, because I did not have to know.

And that is the tricky part. You will never know, if and how much you were gonna miss your country until you really move away.

And you will not only miss the country or your own culture but also the continuity of your life. It feels a little bit like burning bridges or starting over… And if that is not your intention, it will at some point strike you, and you will have to deal with the feelings it is gonna bring.

A little pinge will come every time you get an invitation to the high school reunion you will not be able to attend, or when you see pictures from the birthday party of your niece or nephew you have met twice in your life. When you notice during a skype call how old your parents seem and you will feel like the time you could have spent together is slowly slipping away.

I know it sounds very dramatic, but it is just a harsh reality of moving thousands of kilometres away from your family. Plus there will always be that one family member, or distant relative, who will decide to give you their piece of mind, on how selfish you are, living your happy careless life, leaving your old parents and whole family behind.

Not only disconnect from your family, but also from your own people is quite common. I remember I experienced that during my first visit to the Czech republic after moving to Finland. I lived in Finland for about 6 months and came back home for Christmas. Oh my, the reunion was so sweet! Everyone was so happy to see me and I could not get enough of them. So many hugs, so much laughter. A couple of days later I was sitting at the local pub, drinking beer with my childhood friends. We were laughing, reminiscing on the past, remembering stories and I felt utterly happy… when one of my friends asked me: “So, what is life in Finland like?!” I could see four pairs of eager eyes staring at me.

To be honest, I was not doing all that well at that time. I was unemployed, missing home and family and friends, it was affecting my relationship with Robert severely, and yet I was afraid to move back because deep inside I knew I would be disappointed with myself, that I gave up so early.

I wanted to share my frustrations and fears with them. They were my friends after all, but halfway into the first sentence, I saw their confusion. I realized I cannot say any of that. Because they would not understand. And so I started to talk about the beauty of Finnish nature, piling funny stories one on top of the other… and we had a really good time. But deep deep inside, that evening my heart broke a little.

The fact is, that after you move abroad, people in your old circles will split into two groups. One group will be cheering for you enormously, being proud of your bravery and inspired by your actions, and even though sad, they will always think big of you. Maybe even visiting you, keeping contact once in a while. The other half will be sad, jealous, upset, or downright offended, that you did that.

And none of those two groups is in fact ready to hear how unhappy your life at this moment might be, or how much struggle it is to be an expatriate. Not even your local friends will be able to help you out. People usually do not like to hear that life in their country sucks, or that someone is being mistreated.

The only people that will truly understand and will be able to listen to your rumble and self-pity will be other expatriates. Because they know.

That’s why visiting your home country after you have lived abroad for a longer period of time, is a bittersweet experience. First, several days are amazing. Your mind can relax, even your body feels different. It always amazes me, how much my body cheers up and my mind quiets down when we enter my own district and I see all those hills and fields around. It truly feels like home. And I am thinking: “Oh maaan…how have I missed this.”

Usually, after 4 to 5 days you realize that you do not fit in anymore, because your experience of living abroad forced you to grow into the direction none of your loved ones ever headed towards. And you will not be able to share those feelings with them, because they would not understand what you mean. They would most probably tell you to move back. And that is not what you want to hear, because somewhere along the way, that already stopped being an option.

Moving abroad feels like stretching yourself between two places, not really splitting yourself apart, or letting your past go (because that is not really possible to do), but stretching yourself really really thin. And when your life seems to be going well, you are happy and content at where you are, the sadness and aching for the places and people you left behind, is bearable.

Maybe it is just me, but I live in Finland for over 10 years, and I still cannot imagine growing old here. But I also cannot imagine moving back to the Czech republic. At the age of almost 40, with 2 children, some life choices just seem too exhausting, too tiring, not worth the struggle. And so I keep living here, now, in the present moment, telling myself that I will just go where this path brings me and see. Hoping, that later on, I will look back at peace with the choices I made.

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