I’m no stranger to moving. By the age of 11 I had lived in four different towns around New Zealand. But a week after moving to Helsinki I started to feel pretty low and it got me thinking: Is homesickness a dis-ease?
Things didn’t feel difficult, they just didn’t feel very easy. And it’s not that I felt un-easy here – but I missed the sense of ease that comes with being in a familiar place and knowing all the social norms and expectations. I felt temporarily in a state of dis-ease.
Everyone speaks English here but often the signs are all in Finnish or Swedish, so until I could ask someone I was looking around for social cues as to what was expected of me. Where do I queue? Do I take a ticket? What does that very important-looking sign with the picture of the stroller say? Park here? Don’t park here? Is everyone wondering why I’m doing the opposite?
But don’t feel sorry for me! I feel much better now and am genuinely enjoying the experience and am grateful to be here. Those challenges now feel character building, rather than overwhelming. Of course I still miss family and friends but that’s different than really pining to be back home again.
One thing that makes a big difference when you are new somewhere is the kindness of strangers. The chance to have a conversation or some banter in the street takes on a whole new meaning when it may be the only interaction you have that day. I’m so grateful for the support I have received from home and also that of people I hardly know here.
My sister-in-law checking in on me (I do know her), her sister-in-law checking in on me, people I’ve never met who have agreed to meet up because a mutual friend has asked them to, even when they haven’t seen that mutual friend for a very long time! The woman I met in a playground who gave me her number and invited us to her daughter’s birthday party.
These interactions and acts of kindness mean so much when you’re new in a city. Sometimes they turn into lifelong friendships and sometimes they don’t. And that’s okay, but they give me the courage to keep going and talk to the next person I meet and feel better about how life is going here.
I’d really like to ask you: is there someone you know who is new to your town that you’ve been meaning to have a coffee with, may have even suggested it to them, but have not followed up on? It might only be an hour out of your time, or just ten minutes to ask ‘How are things going?’ but don’t underestimate the difference you can make in someone’s life as they begin to find their place in their new home.