My family traveled a lot when I was younger. I was born in Finland and before the age of 1 year old I had visited Sweden, France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Spain.
Maybe that's why I've chosen to go and live abroad later in life, some kind of deep grain of wanderlust that's been planted in my before I could even walk. I've since lived in Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and now currently in Stockholm.
It's quite funny since in my hometown of Helsinki, I've pretty much always lived on the same block. So, the times I've moved it's either been really far away across the borders, or just literally to the house next door.
The experience of living in another country as opposed to just visiting a place for holiday is a very different thing. Pretty early on I realized that the illusions of exciting adventures that would take place in foreign countries are to a large extent just that, illusions. It's amazing how quickly the everyday life becomes very ordinary and filled with routines in any place you live.
While the experience of getting out of your comfort zone is one that has tremendous possibility for growth it has its challenges too. Here are a few other things I've learned in my years of being a stranger in the various hometowns of my life.
Bread is a bigger part of life than you think
Of course I start with food, because even though it's maybe not the subject for huge existential crises, it's one of those things that you have to face, with your mouth and body, every day. So, when suddenly your trusted snack companions aren't there to provide you with comfort it's a pretty big deal. Sweden is horrible at bread, at least according to me. France yes, Berlin no, Amsterdam ok. This is why I'm seriously contemplating starting to bake my own bread, just because, then when it tastes bad I've at least made it myself.
No matter how much you and your friends agree to write, chat and skype you will inevitably lose touch with some. This is just how it is, when you are not there, you aren't on peoples radar as much. But I've also found that the friends that are truly dear to me never forget. Even though we don't interact on a daily basis, the friendship foundation remains strong.
New thinking patterns
In a new city you will have a chance to establish completely new patterns and habits. Both the actual physical paths you take in the new city, but also the thinking patterns in your mind. I've found that in a new city my thoughts and desires can look completely different from the ones I have back home.
In my hometown I tend to walk the same streets that are filled up with memories and stories from the past. There is the park bench where a relationship ended, the café where a friend shared a deep secret, the bridge where I stood alone and listened to the snow fall. It's a lovely feeling to be connected to a place with so much personal history, but it's also pretty cool to come to a fresh place where every spot is filled up with the possibilities of the present and future rather than memories of the past.
A new form of loneliness
I moved to Berlin to study dance when I was 19 years old, my first time living alone. The days at school were long and I and even though I was surrounded by my new classmates, I would come home late in the evening to an empty apartment, which was a new concept to me. The feeling of being alone in a city without any of your trusted social network and security, was a daunting one.
Being surrounded by new people and having a busy life can still feel lonely and isolating. And when the feeling of homesickness sets in it's the longing for all those loved and dear ones that will bring up the tears. But, I don't want to be too dramatic about this, in the end it's probably good to feel those difficult sensations to grow stronger and learn that you can take care of yourself, even though truthfully, I still call my Mom way too often to help out with stuff I don't know how to handle.
Going to the grocery store is an adventure
Yes food, again. I've always loved to go to the grocery stores in foreign countries. Just seeing all those familiar foods in slightly different wrappers and forms is just such a fascinating visual experience.
Getting lost in your own town
I love to just wander around and find new streets with new shops and cafés and atmospheres. When I lived in Berlin I would often take the train to some remote place on the opposite side of town, with the only intention to explore and hopefully find something interesting to document in my journal.
The “oh bit this is just temporary” feeling
When living in a new place it's easy to fall into thinking that this is just a temporary thing. Every time I've chosen to uproot myself and move to a different country I've never really thought I will go and live there forever. The danger with that attitude is that it might impact the amount of effort you put into making new connections and building a life for yourself in your new home town. When I slip into this kind of thinking all the quotes from the internet reminding me to focus on the present come haunting me and my daydreams. I make a quick note to self to start living with more intention and focus on the present moment. But first, let me just browse a little bit more on Pinterest and look at all those lovely English country homes...
It might do miracles for your hair
Now, I must have tried a million different shampoos, hair conditioners, hair masks and sprays, and none of them have had as a big impact on my hair as just switching the water. No more expensive hair products, just go and switch the whole water operating system of your town, easy peasy! My hair feels much less frizzy and unruly when I wash it here in Stockholm in comparison to Helsinki. After all those expensive chemicals it turns out the true miracle treatment is just: water.