Saturday, August 15, 2015

So...why did we move...?

Summer 2015 started with a two week dose of the familiar as we headed back to the USA for Jon and Emily's wedding in Colorado and my youngest brother's graduation in Las Vegas.  We couldn't have planned it better to have both things happen within a week of each other. For real, perfect timing.  Covering four states in two weeks, we hiked in Zion National Park, walked the Las Vegas Strip, visited the place we got married, ate our favorite Mountain Sun nachos, watched a Mets game, agonized with the hometown crowd when the Cavs lost it in overtime (as we watched the game at the Cleveland airport on our anniversary during the worst flight delay ever), and tried to see as many of our favorite people as possible as much as possible.

Jon and Emily got married where we got married!
And it was so great.  Sigh...

In all honesty folks, I had been feeling kinda down on Denmark in the weeks leading up to our visit.  The weather was s&!#.  Aalborg was boring.  My job wasn't perfect.  I was incompetent in Danish. People weren't welcoming to foreigners. The beer was expensive.  There was nothing that could escape the scope of my complaining (just ask David).

It doesn't get any more Boulder than a morning hike by
the Flatirons followed by Mountain Sun nachos for lunch.

With those thoughts on the brain, I headed to the USA. And I think the people I talked to will vouch for me when I say that I didn't really gush on and on about wonderful Denmark while I was there.  Then we actually returned to Denmark, and the post-homeland-trip-slump only magnified my negative feelings.  Why did our time in the USA seem so great in comparison?  Well, it was probably because we spent two weeks surrounded by people we love and hadn't seen in a long time.  And it certainly didn't hurt that we didn't have to work or clean the house or go grocery shopping or run errands or worry about any of that day to day stuff for two weeks.  So of course vacation time always seems better than "normal" time and that realization helped move my perspective in a bit more positive of a direction.  But still, if all I was going to do was complain, then why did we move to Denmark?  We made it back for this wedding and this graduation, but there have been a few weddings that we've missed out on.  Why were we choosing to miss kids being born, PhD defenses, birthdays, other important things?  What were we thinking when we made that decision?  What did I expect to happen on this journey?

Some good looking kids.
There's a tendency to think (among people I've talked to and myself too) that moving out of the country is kinda like a really long vacation.  All those things you worried about at home don't matter, and you're in this cool new place trying all these new things.  And it did feel like that for a little while.  But eventually, you realize that you have to make a life in this new place.  On vacation, it doesn't matter if you make any friends or not, it's only temporary.  But when you're living somewhere long term, you want real friends in your actual location.  And all of those work-related stresses that come up on a daily basis still come up on a daily basis even if you're in another country.  Now they're just partially (or maybe totally) in another language.  And every day isn't some grand life-defining moment of self-realization where I'm sitting on the beach laughing with my Danish friends as the wind perfectly blows my hair around my face.

Was I totally off base 1.5 years ago when I thought moving to another country would be a good idea?  Well, no, I don't think so.  In my ignorance of what the experience would actually be like, I may have had some ideas that didn't turn out to be true.  But a lot of things I thought would happen actually did.
On top of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.

We have met SO MANY people from pretty much all over the world.  Denmark, Romania, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Honduras, South Korea, China, India, Malaysia, Ghana, Philippines, Iran, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands.  It does seem to happen that when you're a foreigner in a country, you meet a lot of other foreigners.  Something about solidarity, I guess (and getting put in the same Danish class).  This really is the coolest part.  Hearing the stories of people who grew up so differently than me, I appreciate being able to learn more about a country than what's in a (typically negative) news article.  Cliche but true...we have a lot more in common than we think.

I now know all this stuff about Denmark.  A lot of it is random, like that the Queen turned 75 this year.  But I'm also fortunate to know a couple of Danish people who have been willing and interested in talking with me about Danish culture and history and values and how that compares with my American perspective.  Evaluating how/if certain Danish concepts would work in the United States, discussing pros and cons to various laws and traditions from each country, realizing that politics and politicians are crazy just about everywhere.  I may complain about some things here that I'll never really "get", but this isn't the first time that I've mentioned the amazing Danish pastries, and Denmark is really beautiful in its own non-mountainous kind of way.

I have a million times more compassion for people who are trying to learn another language because I too have to try my hardest just to communicate some really simple concept very slowly and with mispronounced words and verbs in the wrong tense.

And it's not just language learners, but everyone feeling uncomfortable in a new place.  Never before in my life have I been in such a regular state of feeling uncomfortable.  And it's no one's fault.'s my fault because I chose to move to a different country.  In general, people have been very friendly, but there are still instances where I'm just not sure what to do and I'm just praying that the person I'm interacting will be patient and gracious with me while I attempt to learn their language and culture.

Of course, one of my biggest hopes when moving here was that we would be able to travel not just around Denmark but to lots of different countries around Europe.  I am SO thankful it's worked out that we've been able to do this.  I think I'm uncomfortable in Denmark then I find myself in Greece where they use a completely different alphabet, and I'm even more dependent on other people's kindness.
Somebody wasn't too excited about the Mets game.
I never studied aboard in college or in grad school so this was my first experience being not a tourist in another country.  Obviously, I still have a ways to go, but it's been helpful to think about just what I expected when we made this move and consider that in light of reality 1.5 years later.  I'll credit you in the USA for reminding me that the opportunity to live abroad is really cool.  Thanks for letting me attempt to impress you with funny and embarrassing stories about our time here.  You too can have funny and embarrassing stories to tell your friends if you come visit us (bring some Sriracha and Trader Joe's mango slices, please!).

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Alana - your reflections, your honesty, and the snippets that demonstrate your courage as you continue this life abroad that you've chosen. Nice work!