At the risk of sounding like a meme or a break room poster quote, let me explain.
When you move around, you spend an awful lot of time focusing on the where.
Where are you going? Where did you come from? Where will you end up?
As another season of goodbyes rolls in, I’m watching another set of friends and I-wish-I-got-the-chance-to-know-you-better acquaintances ready themselves to move on.
Myself? I’m not packing, just pondering how we all got to this point.
Unsurprisingly, we tend to focus on the where; the latitude and longitude, measuring postings in distance from home, hours on a plane, FaceTime Zones. Are the map coordinates of where you end up important? Absolutely. But sometimes it’s not just the place you land, but all the steps which brought you there: what you’ve learned along the way, the ways in which you’ve changed, the things you’ll take with you.
Not the destination, but the journey.
The journey is all those months you dug deep to find a strength you didn’t know you had. It was discovering or uncovering a latent talent. It was swallowing fear. The journey is the time you took a different path and found a field of unexpected friendships. The journey is the growth and challenge that living a life a little less ordinary affords you. It’s finding out what you’re capable of, as well as what you’re not. The journey is paved with the time you forced yourself to be brave when brave was the last thing you wanted to be. It’s the overgrown and tangled time you had to do the hard, unexpected thing when it would have been more comfortable to do the easy, expected one. It’s a journey of discovery, about the where, sure, but the who as well.
And the who is you.
As friends pull out the bubble wrap and cull the household goods for shipment, as the packing tape unwinds and the cuts from packing boxes start to scab over, there’s worry, even some second-guessing.
What if I hate the next place, the where?
For some, Copenhagen was the first expat experience. Some started out on wobbly legs, baby giraffes, trying to find their footing. They found that footing over time, sure and solid, cementing their place in the landscape here.
Now they have to start again, in a new place, a new where.
Don’t overlook how you got here and what you’ve learned along the way. There’ll be more than just keepsakes and furniture in your shipment. Traditions and ideas will come with you as well. Friendships. A sense of resilience. Knowledge, understanding.
Experience. How have you changed? What did you learn? What stays and what goes?
What gets written in permanent ink upon our expat souls?
Expat geography is a funny thing–it’s people pinned down to a time and place, both physical and personal. Those little pins mark more than just a spot on a map, however, they’re our lives. As each uproots to pin itself some place new, the landscape changes, both here and there, the way a river changes course over time.
Pay attention to the destination, yes. But don’t forget to pay attention to all the steps that got you there. The journey.
For more musings about a life abroad, check out There’s Some Place Like Home, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.