Accompanying the move to an unfamiliar place is the scary and exciting potential of reinvention and reestablishment. Maybe you’ve experienced this at some level, the sensation of essential self-reliance as you forge ahead on the new frontier, whatever/wherever that has been for you. The realization of – “no one really knows me here” – can beget two very different and opposing mindsets: (1) either a sense of freedom, opportunity for growth, and new adventure, or (2) a sense of fear and invisibility as you walk among unfamiliar faces, always trying to find genuine connection in spite of loneliness. Or sometimes, these two come as a pair, and the choice to make is which one to focus. (Kind of like that often-repeated Native American proverb that you see on a poster in some highway-side diner or gas station in the states).
Since moving to Europe, I’ve been in both of these mindsets (at times, even during the same day)! I don’t think they are opposite feelings, but that maybe even they go together most of the time. Each day, I try to consciously focus my energy on the first. This is not only a more positive step for my well-being, but it also helps me to be the better version of myself. I can continue the progression towards the person I want to be. Also, opening myself up to the unexpected and unfamiliar has put me in the path of beauty and yes, even thinness. I want to share a few anecdotes of how that has happened and how I have been inspired.
Each morning, I choose to seek wonder in the day-to-day. I don’t want to take my life here for granted. Whether it’s choosing to take the longer yet more scenic route on my way home, moving my homework spot from my apartment desk to a newly-discovered cafetería or a patch of glorious sunlight in a park, or simply choosing a bench in a busy area to unplug from my Spotify playlist, sit, breathe deeply, and observe as people go about their individual lives – I want to take time each day to reflect and enjoy life amidst the hubbub of the big city.
When random opportunities come my way, I try to say yes in the face of uncertainty. (I want to add in a note for my loved ones: I do this in a thoughtful and safe way, so no need to worry – I know what you’re thinking, Mom). I have a few stories for this one, but I’ll share one for now. A few weeks ago, I met a woman who invited me to volunteer at a tea party fundraiser she was doing. Being new to the city, I definitely had no prior plans, so I accepted. On that morning, I caught the metro, a bit nervous and not knowing at all what to expect when I arrived. After meeting my fellow volunteers, I was thrown into the event and found my place in a tiny church kitchen, furiously making hundreds of tiny sandwiches and keeping 7 tea kettles constantly brewing with Earl Grey. It was such a long and tiring day, but I felt so content – working SUPER hard with other people towards a common goal, collaborating and helping each other in dynamic ways – for me, it was so refreshing and fun. And the community I met was incredibly welcoming – from pouring champagne for each other in tea cups in-between shifts, smashing dozens of loaves of bread for sandwich prep, eating scones and jam and excess cake and laughing all the while – I left feeling so grateful to have said yes to the initial invitation.
I have also been working on being more aware of the world around me. This one definitely ties into my first point of seeking wonder, but I have a specific example to accompany this one. One evening, I attended a information fair/party to learn more about English speaking organizations and clubs in the city. After talking to a ton of booths, I pushed through the crowd to get a drink and caught a glimpse a tiny sign with an arrow that said “LIBRARY THIS WAY” leading into the hallway of a building. Being an book-lover myself, I forgot my drink and made my way through the masses of people to investigate further. The sign led me to a small room with shelves lining the walls, with hundreds and hundreds of English books stacked high to the ceiling. The lady at the desk greeted me kindly, and we got to talking about pretty much every topic under the sun. Fast-forward to one week later: I became a member of this little library. Now, I go once (if not twice) a week to check out books and visit with/help out my librarian friends, who welcome me with genuine smiles and update me on the happenings with the library and themselves. They inquire about my life, give me advice, encouragement, coupons, and (of course) book recommendations. This library has become a thin place for me, because it is warm and safe, full of two of my favorite things (books and friends), and I know that I will always be welcome to pull up a chair and connect with kind people. I know I am accepted and welcomed there. Going back to that night, if I would have overlooked that little sign with the arrow, or just been apathetic and didn’t follow where it led, my life here would be different. I want always keep my eyes open and be aware of these little corridors I might come across, like the dim corridor that led me to the library – the mysterious and beautiful corridors that we all happen across at some point in life. (I’m planning on doing a post about the library in the near future, so if you’re interested in hearing more about it, you’re in luck).
I’m glad to share these things on this blog, and I hope they give you some new food for thought or spark something within you. By trying to put myself in this mindset as I navigate my new home and life, a lot of unexpected avenues have opened up that I would not have expected three months ago. But they are full of beauty, wonder, genuine people, and new beginnings. It’s exhilarating to think what adventures could be lying ahead, and who or what I could encounter next! Yes, there is fear and there is freedom in reinvention and reestablishment – and overall, an astounding amount of personal growth. I am grateful for the total experience.