With less than two weeks to go until my Italy trip, it suddenly struck me. The guilt feeling. That little voice inside your head asking you why you are using a few of your precious holidays to go travel a foreign country, all on your own. The answer is very easy of course: with the exception of one weekend in Milan, I have never been to Italy. And on the list of cities to see before you die, Venice and Florence are ranked really high. That should have been reason enough to go to Italy, but I am an expat. That means that voice in my head is forever present.
Being an expat means that travelling is always a balance act. It means that if I decide to go on holidays to Italy, this is a week I can’t spend at home. If I decide to go out and discover the world, it means that I’m going to miss another birthday, wedding or PhD defense. If I pick Florence, it means I’m not going to see my family and friends for two or three more months, unless they decide to come to Hamburg in the meantime. With limited leave days, it means that tough decisions will always have to be made. The birthday or the PhD defense? The PhD defense or the wedding? And if the PhD defense or the wedding, whose PhD defense or wedding? Will I pick my cousin’s wedding or my friend’s? And if you’re particularly popular: the wedding of which cousin or which friend? Unlike people who work in the same country as they were born in, I need my leave days for two things: to go back home and to explore the world. And even though I would love to do both, it often simply isn’t possible as often and as long as I’d like to.
It is more than just a guilt feeling though. It is also a certain sadness. I’ve been home three times since I moved to Hamburg some 1.5 years ago. That is more than many who live far away from home, but considerably less than others whose hometowns are equally far away. Mentally, I feel so far from home, as it feels as too far to do for just a weekend. And most of the time I’m relatively okay with that, but these days it makes me sad. It has been three months now that I was last home, and even though the weather improves and Hamburg looks friendlier day by day, I find myself thinking about home a lot. I should be happier now winter is over, not sadder. The birthdays I missed, the PhD defenses I missed, the weddings I missed. The big things, but also the small things. On another uneventful weekend day or evening, I find myself thinking about how my friends and I used to get together in Leiden, cook dinner or bake cakes, drink tea and watch movies. This is what I have sacrificed to be here, and please friends, know that I miss it. I miss it more than you could ever imagine. Is this homesickness? I don’t know really.
When I got offered the job here in Hamburg, somebody told me that I could either choose mediocracy in Leiden or excitement in Hamburg. He was wrong. There is nothing mediocre about life in Leiden, or nothing particularly exciting about Hamburg. People tell you it’s super amazing to live abroad, and sometimes it is. But the end of the day, I work the same 9 to 5 job as I would have had back home, only at a slightly more exciting company and with slightly more exciting colleagues. But unless you sell all your stuff, go freelance and travel the world, working abroad isn’t really much different from working back home, at least not in the case of Germany. And I keep wondering, is this really worth it? I’m not yet convinced that the answer is no, so I’m going to hang in here for a while longer. As long as the good things outbalance the bad, I will stay. As long as these moments of melancholia will pass, I will stay. But know that I miss you. Even if I don’t let you know enough.
Photo: my most beloved Leiden.