Of course I knew this feeling. I now remember it, and only too well. I have been through this before. Yet, this feeling is getting to me in a strong emotional and even physical way. I had not anticipated this: the toughness of being alone somewhere, having to rediscover everything, building a new, yet temporary life in a new environment.
Particularly at a period of my life when I’m going through transition, I thought this ‘being away’ would be so good. And it probably is, or rather, will be. I trust when I look back in a year it was an important and (hopefully) transformational – nurturing and building the new – period in my life.
Yet, right now, I find it tough and just want to shout it out. I turned 50 earlier this year, a moment in life when you think you have kind of established yourself, know who you are, what matters (and what not), built some kind of a nest, have a family and a circle of friends.
And let me be honest, I am not alone out here. I am with my daughter, who is clearly far more grounded than I am. She does not really relate to my ‘missing them back home’ in the way I do.
The fact that I am a people’s person could not have been clearer than this last week. The work environment is lonely, one other colleague is here right now and as our air conditioning was not working, we have been working from home. The connections with my colleagues, my teams were through the virtual means. I realise very strongly how I love an office environment, with the buzz and where we work through things together, face to face and where we have joint meetings. Working from home on an on-going basis is truly different and not sure it is for me. I love inspiring the troops. I get energy from people and actually trust they get energy from me. Inspiring the troops over Skype is different, let’s be honest. At times, sure, great, but we need each other for real and need to be able to hold hands and punch each other when we want or need (as a matter of speech).
My daughter and I have not made friends here as yet and though we get out all the time and have joined zumba classes, we have not actually sat down with others and talk life. Where to meet others? Where do you meet people in a new town? Yeah, I spoke with a Dutch couple at the hospital recently, when I had an appointment there. Yet, not even sure meeting new people is our goal. All memories of living abroad come back to me. I remember much more clearly again what is was like to build up lives in London and Norway and what is was like to return back to The Netherlands after having lived abroad for over 7 years.
It is hard to establish something new and probably harder the older you get (or at least, that is what I am told). People lead their own lives, have their established routines and then someone new joins in or tries to. I can understand only too well why expats and national tribes hook up together. It is just not really ‘my thing’.
Living at a distance from my loved ones and friends is the hard part, I think and the time difference of six hours is not making it any easier. Everyone continues his or her own lives. We all have rites that we built over the years. Only when you break out of this does it become clear what the on-going life is really like. This is very good at one level, actually. It certainly prevents me from becoming complacent in taking what I have for granted. So I am not complaining and don’t regret this temporary life I am living.
I have come to realise that building a nest is something that is very easy for me. I am a gypsy who very quickly can make a place feel like home. Even hotel rooms can feel like that soon, as long as I do a couple of things to the room that are ‘mine’, like that novel on the bed side table, playing the music that makes me feel at home and looking at the photos of my loved ones and friends.
Keeping up with loved ones and friends, is not easy, especially as I need them very strongly. I love people and both in my work and private life I tend to be with people all the time and this makes me extremely happy. I guess I was the one moving away and should thus be the one who connects back and makes the connecting approach. Actually, some of my friends suggested to me not to embark upon this temporary adventure, as we have such beautiful friendships to live. Yet I felt it was only temporary, an amazing work opportunity and good for the period of life that I was going through.
Maybe I was too optimistic. Being away from my teenage son is much harder than I anticipated. And I cannot say he did not warn me. I remember the conversation we had earlier this year when he said I should go for this opportunity and take it with my daughter: “It will be wonderful to spend time together with her, mum, as she will leave the house when you get back. Yet, please remember that the connection you and I have is very much over sharing meals nowadays and to connect over Skype is not really my thing. Are you sure you want to do this?”
He was (is) wise, my son. I miss him, more than I anticipated. Fortunately, he has been over to spent time with us. Yeah, call me naïve, but the eternal optimist in me only saw the ‘bright side of this temporary life’. But now I want it to pass quicker than I thought I would.
I connect with my loved ones and friends on a daily basis, which is great, but I have discovered the restrictions of digital connection only too well. Connecting through whatsapp and Skype is great, but the nuances of the connection can get lost, words wrongly interpreted, physical gestures taken out of context. I guess the way to look at it – especially being a communications professional (ha ha, the paradox in that) – is to devote even more attention to the way I communicate. Finding the right balance between spontaneity and wisdom in my communication is something I further need to master, but only too wiling to apply.
Yet, let me be clear, thank Heaven for the digital connected world. At least we can stay in touch. And I am a typical social media addict and share on an on-going basis what is going on and in some shape or form that makes me feel connected with all of you out there.
There is nothing like real contact though, thankfully. A close friend of my daughter has just come out here and the two of them are exploring town, which is really great. In just under two weeks, my love will arrive. I cannot wait. It is good to realise how important love and friendship is. It is good for me to realise what wonderful people I have in my life, even if I cannot be with them right now ‘all the time’. Thank you all for your love and friendship. I am grateful.