Being expat

Years spent “in between” are over

I know this sounds ungrateful or even sad, but since our move 4 weeks ago (time flies!) I realized that what I somehow felt for a long time: I had spent 12 years “in between”.

Here is what I mean with “in between”. It’s when you live in a place or are stuck in a role that doesn’t feel really yours life circumstances make you live in a way that is not really what you would choose for yourself if…. (fill in the blank…) – and you spend months, years, to find out what you can do to feel more “you” and to make things work in a way that you feel “home”, content and connected with yourself.

I think I have finally managed to grasp this feeling that many associate with “home-feeling” and link to a place. I hope I can find the right words for it – bare with me if I switch languages… I have lived in many places and adjusted to all kind of situations. We can adapt to everything, really. But I think we only realize that we have been holding back with something when we don’t have to anymore… For me this moment is today.

My past “in betweens”…

Today I realized that although I have lived 12 years in a place I called “home” and where I have the fondest memories with my children growing up, it was only one of my places “in between”.

I had them before and sometimes I recognized them right at the beginning, like when I moved to a temporary room when I studied in Zurich. I knew it would be only for 3-5 months, that it was going to end soon, I didn’t concentrate on the time spent there. I was continuously thinking about the time before and what would happen next, ie. that I would find a place, reunite with all my belongings and start the new semester – all but a mindful living! – that it had an end.

And there were those months spent in an empty house – the one I spent most of my childhood years in – still fully furbished, hoping that my parents would decide to come back “home” after a year and a half spent in France for work, that it would only be a parentesi nella vita before all would get “back to normal” or (more or less) how it was before. – This would never happen, alas. They would move to, again, another place, sell the house that I so longed to go back home to, and I would never be able to have a place filled with memories for a long time.

And those wonderful 3,5 years spent in Florence, where my son was born, where I got the chance to dive into my research while maintaining my little family. I knew we would only stay for a few years, but there was always the hope to stay longer, maybe forever… Nevertheless, it felt like another parentesi nella vita, because I wasn’t working in academy like before, but was hoping to get back some day… – Funnily, this too didn’t happen…

Sometimes those “in between times” expand, like when I moved to Zurich for study, my intention was to not stay longer than one year. Only that one year ended up becoming 16 years on and off… Or, like when we moved to the Netherlands, and we planned to stay 3-4 years, and now, in 2018, it’s already 13 years that we live here.


The end of an era

Today I realized that in hindsight, the 12 years we lived in that house were another parentesi nella vita. We had lovely neighbors, but for some reason we never hang out with them. We wouldn’t just catch up over a coffee, invite each other spontaneously.
Today I woke up from that 12 years life “on hold”.

We invited our new neighbors for a housewarming party and almost all came! Within 30 minutes our house was filled with smiles, laughter and kind words. Not one awkward second or conversation. They were all so happy to meet us, to get to know us, they were genuinely interested in who we are – believe me, I know the difference between a polite but superficial “oh, where do you come from… interesting…” to the genuinely open questions that seemed not to end that we experienced today. – Since a very long time, I think it’s more than 28 years, I experienced this feeling of being welcome, welcomed, invited to be part of other people’s lives without having to do anything but being me. Without explaining why, when, how long…

We’ve been embraced with true kindness today.

welkom pc buitenstraat

People often say that we need to “live to our full potential” and “do what makes us shine/happy…”, “find out what holds us back…” and “make sure we get what we need”. It’s hard to do all this when you have the intense feeling of not belonging to the life you’re leading or the stage you’re in.

I didn’t realize until today that the place I lived before was affecting my life. I am aware now that I silenced part of myself for a long time. And the interesting thing is that it was the place that had a great part in all this. Maybe it seems odd, but places do this to us.

In every place I lived I had the impression that my whole life changed: my routine, my perception of time: in one place I felt like time would just evaporate, whereas in another it seemed like if I had extra-time. Also the way I felt about myself changed in every place I lived. In some places I had to adapt too much to other people’s routines and habits.

We have lived in neighborhoods where “foreigners” where treated differently, where “people like us” were tolerated, but not really welcome, and places where we felt good and safe, but that “something” was missing. – Today I am very grateful that we have found a safe and comfortable place. And it’s not only a place but a new village that will help us raise our children. Children come over spontaneously to play or hang out with our children. At the end of a long day we sit in front of our house watching the sunset and chat with the neighbors.

Now, for the first time since I have children, I feel we belong, we can integrate easily and my children will thrive. And so will I.

  • Have you experienced living in “times in between”?
  • How was that, when did you realize that they were “times in between” and how did you “get out of them”?


9 replies »

  1. What an amazing, thoughtful, spot on post Ute. I totally relate. I feel inspired to write a similar post, but don’t know if I’m brave enough :). I’m so happy to know that others feel this as well. I struggle between the ‘mindfulness of being in the moment’ and the ‘when will I get to the place I belong?’ feeling. Your post really speaks to me. I’m so happy you have found such a welcoming community! Community is really what life is about: connection, feeling accepted and welcome, being welcoming, supportive and there for others. I notice you didn’t mention where you moved. Very curious. Can you PM me? Hope it’s not so far away that I can’t come visit! xx. Author Kristin Anderson

    • Thank you so much, Kristin, for your comment and your very kind and supportive words. They mean a world to me! Yes, community, its connections and the feeling of being welcomed and supported without any ulterior motives is so liberating! I really have looked for it so many times, I have tried to fit in, to blend in, but after a while I had the impression that I had to hide part of myself because it wouldn’t have been accepted or understood. I didn’t move too far away from The Hague, just a few km eastwards, near Leiden 😉
      I would love to catch up very soon, Kristin! I’ll pm you, for sure! Thank you: you made my day xxxx

  2. Bonjour Ute! Ça fait probablement 4 ou 5 ans que je suis ton blogue. J’ai déjà écrit un peu plus mais bon… Moi aussi, j’ai eu ce feeling de “in between”, d’être entre deux eaux, d’être là mais ne pas être capable de jouir du moment présent. Ça duré 10 ans dans mon cas, ce sentiment d’être assise entre deux chaises et ne jamais vraiment connecté avec les voisins même s’ils étaient gentils.

    J’habite une nouvelle ville depuis 8 ans et demi et bien que je ne me sens pas tout à fait encore rendu au bout du voyage, je suis capable de pouvoir m’y imaginer vivre plus longtemps. Depuis l’été dernier, un paquet de petites choses sont arrivées qui font que je suis mieux ici. Mon voisin a vendu sa maison et nous avons des voisins qui sont bien charmants. L’automne dernier, nous avons rencontrés à la bibliothèque, une maman et son fils qui est presque du même âge que le mien. Leur famille est multi-culturelle et il me semble que j’ai plus d’atomes crochus avec eux qu’avec les “natifs”. Finalement en décembre, je suis devenue membre de la société de généalogie de ma région (une de mes passions). Encore là, j’ai rencontré de nouvelles personnes qui font que je me sens beaucoup mieux ici, je recommence à avoir des loisirs, des choses qui me passionnent, de pas seulement être une maman, bien que j’adore ce rôle et que je suis bien avec mon fils. Bref, ton article m’interpelle et arrive à point dans ma vie. Ce matin, j’ai l’impression d’être à la même place que toi dans ma vie.

    En terminant, puis-je te demander dans quelle région tu as posé ton baluchon? Ça m’intrigue! 😉


    • Chère Thérèse, quel plaisir que de te relire et savoir que tu me suis depuis si longtemps! Cette impression d’être assise entre deux chaises… quoique certaines situations sont bonnes et agréables, mais il y a quand-même quelque chose qui manque. Cela fait si bien que de savoir que je ne suis pas la seule! Merci de tout coeur pour me raconter ton histoire: 8 ans et demi. Quel plaisir que de voir que peu à peu, des pièces du puzzle que l’on cherche à composer, se trouvent dans ta vie: les voisins, cette maman et son fils… la multiculturalité des autres qui te fait sentir plus à l’aise.
      C’est tellement important que de savoir ce dont on a besoin pour se sentir à l’aise, bienvenus, acceptés et surtout: compris, sans préjugés!
      Je suis très heureuse que l’on soit à la même place dans notre vie. Moi j’habite aux Pays-Bas, pas loin de Leiden. J’ai réalisé seulement depuis que le temps “in between” était passé que c’était une période pas complète de ma vie…
      Je sais que cela peut sembler ingrat et difficile pour mes amis qui m’ont soutenue et accompagnée pendant ces années, mais comme je dis, parfois on ne se rend compte de ce qu’on manquait que lorsqu’on l’obtient.
      J’aimerais si tant que de continuer cette conversation! Puis-je demander où tu habites?

      • Bonjour Ute!
        Je croyais que tu avais changé de pays! C’est vrai que, des fois, changer de quartier ou de ville peut faire toute une différence! Je suis Québécoise et nous vivons en Ontario depuis 2009. J’ai découvert qu’il y a plusieurs descendants d’Hollandais ici. On m’a expliqué que c’était parce qu’ils étaient doués pour l’agriculture qu’ils étaient venus ici après la WWII. Le gouvernement donnaient des terres pour les agriculteurs à cette époque. Tu sais que les Hollandais nous donne des milliers de tulipes à chaque année en remerciement pour avoir héberger la famille royale néerlandaise durant la guerre? À Ottawa, il y a le festival des tulipes à chaque année. Ce qui me fait penser que le printemps tarde à arriver cette année, j’ai hâte de voir mes tulipes pousser moi aussi!
        Pour revenir au sujet de la conversation, nous avons une expression au Québec qui traduit bien l’état d’esprit dans lequel tu es présentement, “changer le mal de place”. Quelquefois il faut simplement changer d’endroit, même si ce n’est pas loin, même si on traîne nos petits “bobos” avec nous, mais au moins on est mieux.

      • Ha, non, cette fois-ci ce n’est que quelques km… C’est intéressant le lien néerlandais dans la région canadienne! Quand est-ce que vous avez le festival des tulipes?
        J’aime l’expression “changer le mal de place”! Je ne savais pas que c’était la place qui était la cause de mes “bobos”, mais tu as raison: on traîne les bobos avec nous, mais le changement peut faire du bien.

  3. Very interesting post Ute! I have to say I’m definitely living ‘in between’ but I’ve largely taken it on the chin and found my positive spin – all the world is my home!

    • D’habitude c’est en avril le festival des tulipes à Ottawa, je crois! Je te donne le lien ici :
      Je ne crois pas que les tulipes sortiront de si tôt, nous avons un printemps sous les normales de saison pour la température, le mercure ne grimpera pas avant la mi-avril ce qui est inhabituel. Bon, je viens de regarder par ma fenêtre et il y a quand même des balbutiements de bulbes qui veulent sortir de terre! 😉

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