On free-fall and new beginnings…

It’s been 3 months since I arrived in Vietnam and 4 months since I left my home of four years in Tanzania. Moving and changing locations every few years has been my forever story. Rarely one to stay put for long, I find myself getting the four-year-itch and feeling the urge for new adventures and a new location. This move came at the predictable time and, career-wise, was a great decision. Life and mental-health-wise, however, it has been a struggle.

Having never really called anywhere ‘home’, Tanzania was probably the place that came closest for me. At some point in my four years there, something in my heart settled and nestled deep. Laying down roots is not something that comes easily for me but Tanzania definitely made me consider it. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why this move has actually been so hard. While confident in my relationships and friendships surviving the distance between us, stepping away from the place that had become like home to this unknown new place felt a little like going into free-fall.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney

The concept of home is quite different for me. As a child I never lived anywhere for longer than four years so ‘home’ was never a physical place. Home became people. Home has a heartbeat. When I think of home, it is always linked with a person or a feeling and almost never a place, bricks and mortar or a location.

Now I find myself here in Vietnam, starting over in a new job and trying to remember just how to make friends! How did I become friends with everyone in these pictures? How does a 35 year old woman make friends in a strange new city like Hanoi? I have to remind myself regularly that my friendships in Tanzania didn’t happen overnight – I was there for four years and I was involved in many different things outside of my job. My friendships were built on a variety of foundations – familiar strangers becoming friends, mutual friend introductions, random meetings in bars, making music and performances together. One of the main things is building up a life outside of work – something that I have yet to do here in Hanoi.

Hanoi is a big, busy, bustling city. There are many things to do and there is always something happening. No matter what day of the week, you are sure to find something to do. Yet, going and putting myself out there feels like a monumental effort! Part of the reason this is so hard is simply because I have had 3 months of settling into a brand new job, meeting new people in that context, getting my head around routines, roles, how everything works, and tuning into a language that right now feels very distant and unintelligible. I am mentally exhausted by the end of the week and the idea of doing it all again in order to start making friends and finding new things to do feels almost impossible. When the weekend comes around, I often want to hide away and let my mind reset before doing it all over again the next week.

There is a natural emotional rollercoaster that happens when you relocate and I know that I am just at the 3 month low-point. So, I give myself this pep-talk on a daily basis: This is normal. You just miss the people who know you the best. You are going to wonder if you made the right choice. You feel lonely in the midst of this new normal. It is important to stay positive and not to lose sight of the reasons why you made this decision in the first place. The job and career opportunity is amazing – you have taken another step up the ladder and are stretching yourself as a teacher and a manager. Financially this is the best choice for you at this time in your life – you can finally save money while still being able to do all the travel and adventures you want to do. There are people coming to visit you soon and you can show off your new city and explore with them – it will renew you and give you the boost you need. You have done this before and built a great life for yourself – you can do it again!

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