Two homes


When I was younger, maybe shortly after I had finished my high school’s studies, I really wanted to live abroad. Learning English and German and actually not speaking properly non of them, I naturally wanted to live in a country where I can practice my language skills. I lived briefly in Vienna, spent as a student a few months in the USA, but somehow I couldn’t decide to leave for a more permanent residency. Everything changed when I was in my late 30-ties, with two little children and a husband who said that if Fico (former Slovak Prime minister) win again the elections and if Putin is on our borders we are leaving the country. Fico won and if you remember what happened on Krym and that there is an actual war on Ukrainian and Russian borders, then you assume right. We left. And my ex-pat life has begun.

In Finnish, there is an interesting word “kotoutuminen” that is being translated as “integration”. I am hardly an expert, but I would say it means something slightly different. I feel as if the first part is coming from the word “koti” or “home” and the rest is just the ending part of verbs, maybe something that could be seen as a process? When we speak about integration in the new society, the Finnish version can be freely translated as “making you at home”, or “getting homey”. It is kind of a nice expression.

I know people who are the true citizens of the world. They are nomads, travelling from one country to another, without the deep feeling to call any of those countries “my home”. I also know people who would not leave the country where they were born, because connections, relationships and the understanding of the cultural and historical background make them feel comfortable.

Most probably, I am somewhere in between. Travelling was always interesting for me. Shorter periods when I had lived abroad enriched my personality and I am much thankful for them. Still, to imagine that I will live permanently abroad is something completely different. For my identity and inner peace, I need to call some place “home”. Is it Finland? Is it Slovakia? I have a feeling that I don’t know…

Slovakia is not my home anymore. Finland isn’t either. But I know that after a short time spent in Slovakia, I would get used to it again and it would be much easier. Just imagine small talk. If somebody tries to make small talk with me in Finland, it is a disaster. I either don’t understand and feel awkward to ask several times if this person can repeat what he/she said. Or I understood him/her, but I can’t answer anything meaningful and definitely, I am not the one who will start to speak in Finnish voluntarily by myself. In Slovakia, I babble all the time. Small talks with neighbours, small talk in shops, with hair-dressers… or just with a stranger on the street.

Bojnice castle
Bojnice castle – photo by Lubica Vysna

Also wandering the places I have known for “centuries”. When I see the silhouette of the Bojnice castle, or the curves of the Danube, when I notice the Tatra mountains, I immediately know this is where my roots are. It’s easy to identify myself with them. I have my favourite place in the different corners of Slovakia, I have memories attached to those places and connected with specific people…

And this is exactly “kotoutuminen” for me. Getting homey. It lasts for ages. To familiarize yourself with the country, to find friends, to nod when somebody mentions some well-known bar and to have your favourite spots, hopefully over time connected with specific people.

I am starting to have such places. I love Eira. This part of Helsinki has some special aura for me. Partially because it reminds me of Bratislava… I also like Nuuksio and Sipoonkorpi. I enjoyed the little towns of Loviisa and Porvoo. And I am a local patriot. I like Tuusula and the lake area. Also Lotta museum and Halosenniemi. I like our ice-cream kiosk, even if the service is super slow and the waiting line is super long 🙂 I like the library in Kerava and I like our neighbourhood…

Maybe it is time to realize that I have two homes. The one in Tuusula, because I can’t connect myself to the whole of Finland, and the one in Slovakia. Kotoutuminen on alkanut. Integration has started.

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