As expats living in Europe, it’s not unusual to find ourselves feeling torn at times. We’re living this exciting and different life in one country filled with new friends, new lifestyles, new languages, culture and outstanding affordable travel opportunities. And living another life, albeit some of it in the past, or planning repatriation, or trying to settle permanently, in the near or distant future. At times, the psychological and emotional management of these realities separate or intertwined can be tough to manage, especially with kids.
When you feel your brain ticking off the to do lists from abroad, if they get to be too much, lasso those thoughts and bring yourself back to the here and now and start planning to do things on this current side of reality. At times like these, when I’m feeling torn, which is a lot lately, I like to snap myself into a more conscious state of mind. I may be showing my age here, but really, age is just a state of mind…. I turn up Spotify and sing out loud the lyrics from one of my favorite bands, Talking Heads’ This Must Be the Place.
“Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me around
Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there”
I used to think home was a particular place. Now my understanding of home is where I am “now.” I’m guessing that expats who have another life somewhere they left behind which included a treasured set of peeps, feel lonely and wanting at times. It happens to me. That’s when I turn up another old favorite song from Simple Minds, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me”
“Don’t you forget about me
Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t
Rain keeps falling
Rain keeps falling
Preparation can ease the mind too. Expats become really good at organizing out of pure necessity. The more prepared an expat is, the higher the survival rate. By survival, I mean staying in a host country till the end of the contract. While living in Holland is almost perfect in regards to lifestyle, safety, culture, health, cost of living and travel accessibility, it also comes with something that permeates into your experience. The weather. It leaves a lot to be desired. It rains. A lot. It can rain for weeks on end. And in the winter especially, it’s grey. And dark. And chilly.
Make the concerted effort to FaceTime special friends and family members. Make plans with them, convince them to make the trek over the pond or just keep in touch. My son, studying back in the US, is at the top of my FaceTime call list and just a couple minutes looking at his face and hearing his voice brings a relief and joy that can carry me through a really low day.
When you have down time, which is when the mind tends to wander, organize your calendar and dot it with travel, lunches, dinners, excursions, museum visits, historic walks and visits from loved ones. Get out of the house even in the pouring rain. Buy some tulips. Take pictures of the canals. Don your closet with rainproof jackets, shoes, boots and a few umbrellas. Remember, it’s never bad weather, just bad clothing. And since this is home for awhile, better be prepared for what that entails.
When the ping pong match inside your head starts bopping back and forth and Team Home Country vs. Team Host Country is too much to bear, you know it’s time to engage with a friend or two on Team Host Country. Go for a walk in the Vondelpark, go to the Rijks and appreciate Vermeer’s masterpieces, gaze at Van Gogh’s sunflowers or just sit with a cappuccino at an outdoor cafe (when it’s not raining). Life in Amsterdam is quite extraordinary. And as David Byrne wrote, “This Must Be The Place” so we should do our best to enjoy it.