And so we go (or leave) home

About a year ago, Heather and I were wrapping up our final weeks in the United States, packing up our apartment (or apartments, depending on the exact timeframe), saying “bon voyage” to friends and family, and emotionally preparing ourselves for the move abroad.

Since then we’ve done a lot. We’ve made new friends, started new jobs, adjusted to all the differences (and similarities) of Danish culture, society, workplaces, government, healthcare, grocery stores, and so on. We’ve really established ourselves here in Aarhus and enjoyed all the benefits of living the expat life: travel to fun locales, shockingly good tax rates, and the sensation of never quite knowing where home is or will be next.

Yesterday we started packing up our apartment. We’re in the process of moving on to a new apartment. Our next place is just down the street from where we live now, but we’ll be taking a few months between apartments in a quaint house a little closer to the city center. It’s sort of our winter “stay-cation” for the really dark months ahead. But we’re also packing up to travel back to Minnesota for about ten days. So a third of our stuff is packed up for the trip, a third is packed up for our January move, and the remainder is scattered around in piles that we’ll have to consolidate, box, and move in the first few days when we return in January.

Our twenties have apparently been defined by moves, from dorms to apartments to other apartments to houses to condos to apartments, back and forth, yadda yadda, lots of boxes and trucks and miles on the road. Now we’re moving again and travelling internationally in the middle of the move. Realistically this is up there on the list of dumbest planning decisions ever.

But the thing that’s really striking me with this move is that it’s opening up all kinds of questions about place, about the idea of home, and about the role of physical geography in a digital age. Heather and I have always thought of Minnesota as our home and I think we continue to do so (I won’t speak for her). But increasingly Denmark feels like home. It’s where we’re rooted, where we spend most of our time, and where we come home to (even though that’s in the process of changing). When we travel, Aarhus is where we come home to feel comfortable after my work trips or the hectic activity of travel.

One of the critical aspects of surviving expat life is recognizing that non-expats can’t really understand what your life is like if they’ve never lived abroad, and even then every experience is unique. Flying back to Minnesota feels like we’re leaving home, even though we’re headed to the place we’ve always known as home. Wrestling with those feelings is something I know will be hard to explain and probably even harder to understand.


3 thoughts on “And so we go (or leave) home

  1. Obviously I’ve not lived as broadly (or abroadly) as you, but what you are feeling is what you should be feeling. When I left my hometown I’m not sure I ever considered it my home thereafter. It was more a place that I was ‘from.’

    Even now, after thirty years in Shoreview I don’t really think of this as home as much as I think of it as a place I live. If there is a sense of ‘home’ for me it’s spread around; a little here, a little ‘up north’ and in that abstract notion of what’s to come. It’s a sequence of homes for many. The most important home is where and with who one wants to be.

    I’m very happy for both of you. George Carlin has the benchmark story on home and ‘stuff.’

  2. I think every expat deals with the feelings of home and not belonging somewhere. The more you stay somewhere the less connected you feel with the place you used to know. When you go back everything is the same, yet something has changed.

    I also deal with my feelings of home here:

    But I was going to say, my mum and dad emigrated from their original home nearly 30 years ago and they still struggle with the same thoughts and concepts every time they go back to visit. It took my dad 8 years to go back ‘home’. And we still call it home.

    Enjoy your trip to Minnesota and relish the beauty of that lifestyle. And enjoy Aarhus, I love that city! =D

  3. I wasn’t getting the updates, so changed to my personal instead of offic emails. Another WONDERFUL winter day in Illinois, it’s actually above zero and the wind isn’t blowing gales, so enjoying this catching up of your experiences. Thank you! They are enjoyable as well as educating. And here I thought I was too old to learn anything! :o)

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