Two big suitcases, a one and a half year old and our bike trailer in a big cardboard box was all we had when we landed in Seattle in October 2011. I still remember the ride Frederiks’ professor gave us to our rental vividly. As if we had arrived in outer space. Even Janne did not sleep, just staring at this whole new world. This was our adventure and we just went for it without big plans for the future. That first year was so exciting. We were just part of daily city life during the work week, but transformed into tourists in the weekends, visiting all these new places.
But I also still remember being quite lonely during the week. Homesickness was very bad for six months and slowly got better thanks to the YMCA, Janne’s Preschool and what Frederik called our ‘proto-friends’. It took us about a year to start feeling at home: Some of our proto-friends had become real friends and we had to travel much further to transform into tourists. In our second year, Willem was born, which changed a lot again. Our anchor baby really did throw out the anchor, making some people part of our daily lifes and hearts, transforming them into family.
And then we left. Why? Because Frederik did not have a permanent position. Because my American family reminded me of my family in Belgium and I started feeling guilty. Because somehow our big adventure had come to an end. We had children now, well two now – which is a lot more than one, who we could not raise in Seattle on Frederik’s income. And I wanted to work but I wasn’t really allowed to in the States.
We moved to Germany at the end of 2015 as Frederik had gotten (yet another) temporary position here. A good five hours from our Belgian homes, it seemed ideally located in a middle-sized German town. And as a neighboring country of Belgium of which I already knew the language, I imagined a smooth transitioning period. I remember thinking: “Give it a year!” Boy was I wrong. At first, I was so homesick – this time around for my American home and family – that I could physically feel it. After that, things got worse. Part of this had to do with traumatic events in our personal lifes, but most of it came down to adapting to German society (and finding a job). A Japanese friend of mine told me recently she still does not feel integrated even after living here for twenty years. It not only resulted in a depression but also in a lot of regrets, one of which being that we should not have started this whole enterprise to begin with. Why? Because I am torn on a daily basis. Not being depressed anymore has not changed that feeling. I feel like part of me is always in a state of missing. Missing my friends and family in Belgium, missing my friends and family in the States. Life in limbo is a life of heartbreak. Where is home when your heart is in different places? Where can we move and not miss someone?
Frederik does not share this feeling. He looks at it from another angle, a 180 degrees other angle. “Think of all the things and people we would not have seen or known!” He is right, you know. Never in the world would I want to give up the experiences I had and the friends we made. Being torn in this case is not about what we have lost, but what we have gained. I just haven’t found the right angle to deal with it, which is why Frederik bought me a ticket to Seattle, just me, for two weeks. I can’t wait.
(Who knows? Maybe, in time, I will loose a piece of my heart in Germany too.)