Living Abroad,  Personal Essays & Opinions

Can you create a home far away from home?

I have moved away from home in 2011 and I have been living in Germany for eight years now. In these eight years I lived in four cities and visited I-do not know-how-many, I survived the German bureaucracy and complicated train-tickets machines, and somehow got to learn enough German to get myself some beer – the holy grail of drinks in Germany. In these years that passed in a blink of an eye, I met hundreds of people from just as many countries, familiarized myself with the World through my constant curiousness about the people’s cultures, and tried variety of dishes that I would have probably never gotten the chance to taste unless I took the leap of faith to study abroad. Most importantly, I studied what I loved, I pursued my dreams no matter the cost, only to finally reach a certain financial independence and a large probability for a fruitful career. Many would think: my life is perfect.

Somehow, however, with each day spent on a foreign soil, I am distancing myself more and more from home. After all of these years, I often feel like I go back to Macedonia just to visit my parents and each time I leave with a bitter heart because I know that it will be a while until I get to see them again. As I wave my hand and hide the tears at the airport, there is always one question that starts to amuse my brain: since the people back where you come from have started to treat you as a foreigner, and the people in the country where you are currently residing have always been treating you as a foreigner – and most likely will continue to treat you as one – is there a way that you can create for yourself a home far away from home?

It is in our human nature to always imagine, and up to a certain extent romanticize, that the grass is always greener on the other side. We leave our countries and start this expedition, this searching journey for better life, for better career options, for more happiness, and in some terribly sad cases, merely for a safe home far away from the atrocities of war and hunger.

In addition to either curiosity or pressing circumstances, we are also surrounded by the image that we are supposed to travel, explore the world, earn the money to do so, and we – especially the younger generation that is active on social media – feel like we are lacking behind if we are not going on these “great adventures”. Young people are increasingly interested to join programs like ERASMUS, or go for an exchange year abroad, or search for a job somewhere out of their motherland, or at least have a job that includes a lot of traveling – and trust me, this trend is present even when the person is from a developed country like Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, USA, or Japan.

There is certainly an unprecedented beauty in moving abroad, but it comes at a cost, usually on a personal and emotional level. For example, as I was getting to know new people, I was slowly loosing my friends back home. Each time when I would try to reconnect, we were forgetting where we have paused our relationship. Naturally, our lives and interests would drift apart and with time, keeping a friendship at a 1000+ km distance was not easy. Then, as soon as I would make new friends in Germany, I or them would change the city, and I would have to start building my life again from scratch. This never-ending cycle made me so tired and with time – less and less interested to really get to know people, because each time when I said more than a “hello”, I was facing the possibility of a very painful “goodbye”.

I started to deal with the fear of loosing people by not letting them get very close to me. I would end possible relationships before they even had the chance to start, or avoid dates all together, or ignore the person who would show an interest in me until he decided to leave. It felt safe that way, and I was constantly trying to convince myself that my priority was to study Physics, not make friends or get a boyfriend.

What I was often forgetting though is that when you feel lonely and isolated, your brain literally changes and it can no longer work at its full capacity or live up to its full potential. It is funny really, because I often felt like I would have liked to have closer friends, but each time when I would end up at Uni or at a place where I was frequently going, I would shut out and would refuse to just let these people in into my bubble. I just didn’t feel like settling down yet.

As the accelerating time was shrinking the pool of people around me, it was simultaneously – and ironically – making the life abroad feel more natural. I realized that the people will always come and go, but I can change my perception about this and just try to enjoy their company as much as I can. I got more used to the pace of life, to the German lack of spontaneity and constant need for time planing, and to their willingness to help you twice as much if you do not start the conversation with “sorry, do you maybe speak English”, but with “guten Tag”. I learned their values and what they cherish a lot, how much they appreciate hard work, politeness, and honesty. It came easy to actually practice these, since I have actually always been a hard-working, polite, and honest person.

With time, I learned that I do not have to forget who I am, and that by honoring and embracing the foreign values, I do not have to loose myself. Once I realized that my wish to belong here does not have to mean that I should forget where I come from, and by simultaneously embracing hardship and happiness, I grew in ways I thought impossible.

Through having the weirdest of jobs – such as delivering newspapers each day between 2am and 6am, or washing dishes in a restaurant so that I can help my parents financially; through paying the bills, doing the laundry, cleaning my room, fixing my bike, burning my pasta because that Advanced Quantum Mechanics homework was just not ending, through loosing friends and making new ones and more importantly realizing this is part of life’s natural flow – through all of this and so much more I became this strong, independent, never-quitting fighter with the skills to finally enjoy her life in Germany.

But, was this enjoyment enough to call this place, this country, this city… home? What is even home? Is it the need to have roots, to belong somewhere, to have somewhere safe to go back to? I do not know.

What I know is the following. Home is not always where you were born or where you come from.  It can be, but it does not have to be exclusively so. Home is also not “where your heart is” and home is not “where your phone automatically connects to the wi-fi”.

I come from Macedonia, my heart is partially there, partially in Germany, partially in Portugal, partially on the beach, partially in the house of my sister where I can now see her six-months-old twins, partially in every Physics book I have ever touched, and in every poem I have ever written.

My phone connects automatically to countless number of wi-fi networks and yet I get to connect to a new one simply by asking someone for the password. I wish home was the simple question “can you please tell me your wi-fi password”, but instead it often feels like home is the World’s most complicated password itself.

What I am trying to tell is: you can belong to several places at the same time. This phenomenon is observed even in quantum mechanics. You can have your one feet “here”, and your other feet “there”, and your arms up in the air, and your brain somewhere floating in the vastness of the Universe, and you do not have to feel thorn apart. You can – and you should – collect all of these experiences and pieces of yourself and make your home within yourself. That way, you can carry your home wherever you go. Like a snail. You might be slow, but you will get where you are going eventually.

By learning to deal with goodbyes, you learn how to open up space for new experiences, new personalities, new friends. The people who need to stay in your life will find a way to do that. The rest can only be a part of a beautiful life phase in which you get to learn something – be it about yourself or them.

By learning to accept certain foreign values and to make certain adjustments to your lifestyle, you learn how to only add up content to your former values and habits.

By learning to engage in challenging activities, you learn how to trust yourself, how to depend on yourself, how to follow your gut to survive.

By learning to immerse in whatever this new country is throwing at you and let it all sink down, but not drown you, you learn how to bend, but not break.

By learning to respect the people from different cultures, races, religions, sexual orientations, or socioeconomic backgrounds, you learn how to become a more tolerant person who values open mindedness, diversity, and creativity, and by valuing these you yourself become an open minded, diverse, and creative person.

By learning all of this, and so much more, you learn that following your dreams is not easy, but it is worth it. Nothing worthwhile comes overnight anyways. By learning all of this, and so much more, you learn that even though your home is maybe no longer your home, and where you are is maybe also not your home, you now have the skills to find your home within yourself.

Give yourself some credit. Cherish yourself. Endure. Persevere. I cannot think of a bigger blessing than this. To wander, but not be lost. To sometimes be alone, but not lonely. To not have the need to create a home far away from home, because home – that is you, and everything, and everyone you cherish in your heart and mind.


  • Dimitar

    Well written Ivona! I think it strikes a chord with many, many people, even micro migrants within the same country (village -> town -> cityA -> cityB). We all do it in the hopes for a better life, although it feels like in many aspects we have it worse in the short run.
    Keep writing, you have some natural talent about it! I’ve been forever planning to write some stuff as well, but the process takes so long for me that it’s hard to justify doing anything. So I mostly let thoughts and photos and whatever else slowly rot away in the archives of the mind and disks.. Maybe an idea for one of your next posts: describe how writing these blog posts works for you, from the idea to publishing 🙂

    • Ivona Kafedjiska

      Thank you Dimitar, it makese me really happy to read comments like this one, especially from people I have not heard from in a long time 🙂
      I should just say that you gotta try at some point, otherwise you will never know. All of those amazing photos that you take should get more attention. Do not let time make them pale and take their beauty and significance.

      And I like your idea about my next post, I might actually do it 😀 Thank you!

  • Sophie Ochmann

    I can relate to this so much. I just returned to my hometown after having been gone for 7 years now and it’s definitely not felt like I’m returning home after some super long vacation. Not just you but also the place and people you grew up in have obviously moved on (or away!).

    The pain of losing friends (and two ex-boyfriends) to an international life can feel overwhelming, so this blog was soothing to read for the guilt that sometimes creeps up, that I’m “not trying hard enough to stay in touch” and that it’s my own fault for making these life decisions… keep it up Ivona!

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