From an Ex-Pat…with Love: Global Lessons

ColumnPlace matters nothing. It’s all about what you house in your head and heart.

Nine months ago and on something of a whim, I threw down roughly $300 for a one-way Air Berlin flight to Europe. I never issued proper goodbyes or otherwise indicated that I wouldn’t come back to San Francisco, and yet some small, reckless part of me already knew it was foregone. Now, I have under my belt nearly a year abroad and, even better, a German-issue work and residency visa affixed to my American passport.

This week, I’ve popped back into the States for the first time since my departure and am currently holed up at a friend’s little flat in Brooklyn. New York energizes and animates me like no other place in the world, but Berlin is a magnetic and beautiful beast that compels me to splash right back across the pond. Europe isn’t exactly home to me but, at this juncture, neither is the United States – returning to my country of origin has only confirmed for me what I already suspected: I will not remain and cannot return here with any permanence.

The absence of home, conceptually, isn’t a lack – but rather a liberation. Because I don’t chiefly belong anywhere, I by default belong everywhere. Girdled by my journalistic impulse to indulge curiosity and bolstered by my professional prerogative to document culture in real time, I don’t quite feel like a citizen of the world: Not, at least, in a blasé cosmopolitan sense nor with a corny “global village” sentiment to validate my existence and experiences.

It’s the people we meet who give us license to continue. Without them repelling or attracting us – indeed, without the mere presence of people as placeholders, markers and signposts – we cannot be free to hack off our roots and sally forth into new and unfamiliar terrain; we cannot be free to contribute our song to the universal chorus. Our allies and enemies alike provide us with belonging – whether they be present in a corporeal sense, like a lover curled in bed in slumber, or whether they be the fodder of imagination, like the memory of a lover long lost. While he might never surface again in the flesh, he remains just as real in the adventures of the mind. Within you, his is an existence of eternal return.

Home then is a notion. It’s as much an idea as a place. The figment is no less real than the physical expression – in the end, won’t both come to dust? Maybe home isn’t what you carry on your back at all, but rather what you house in your head.

Psychological projection is a powerful agent. It’s why we reflect on what has come and harness these experiences to inform what will. If you can make it up, you can make it so.

Berlin-based Abigail Wick is a contributor to The New York Times and National Public Radio. ‘From an Ex-Pat…with Love’ is her weekly EcoSalon column about cultural dislocation, romantic relationships and lifestyle choices – filtered through the lens of an American woman living and working abroad in Europe.

Author Image: Alina Rudya