As travel blogs and social media presences often do, it’s easy to sugar-coat the experience and present only certain moments to the public. Perhaps I’m guilty of that too. But I’ll admit, it’s hard to move to another country on your own. There’s something about the constant feeling of being an outsider, where conversations around you sound like a distant buzz and cultural references fly straight over your head, that can wear you down quickly. Even going to the supermarket can turn into a chore. Everyone is going about their lives around you, and you’re just trying to start a new one. It’s a different kind of silence.
Because I’m not a student anymore, I don’t have an automatic set of peers. The community here was warm and welcoming, but during my first two months I found myself exploring the city and taking weekend day trips alone. I would have liked to go to concerts, have picnics at the sea fortress, soak up the last real days of summer. I tried not to let free days with nothing to do turn into stressors. But in turn, this made me more open-minded and receptive to any type of social gathering, whether it was with co-workers or people I just met. I never said no, and eventually, just when I thought I had settled into a pattern, I met a group that I clicked with and also included me in plans–two very important (and often overlooked) factors.
The last hurdle, and one that I was admittedly nervous for, was getting used to living by myself. I went from having three roommates in college (and at home, too) to coming home every day to a quiet room. But it turns out that overall, I was nervous for nothing. Although I do spend some evenings video chatting with other JDC fellows or friends and family from home, I have largely grown to appreciate the quiet time. Virginia Woolf wrote about the need for “A Room of One’s Own” to write and decompress, and I did discover that to be true. Although I certainly prefer company when exploring Helsinki and its surrounding cities, I’ve learned to enjoy coming back to my apartment at the end of a long day to cook, read, watch TV, and enjoy the dark winter nights.
Of course there have been other struggles: constantly being a role model, making do with tight budgets, still having to use Google translate in the supermarket–but in the grand scheme of things, I have a wonderful job and am living in a country I never dreamed I would call home. Although I have been exhausted, I can’t even begin to imagine how this experience will change me the minute I set foot back in America.
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