Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Making the Decision to Move Home from Abroad

Making the decision of returning to the US after four years of living in Europe was no simple, cut and dry, black or white moment that can be clearly marked.  However there were a couple of key experiences and emotional milestones that solidified the choice in my mind.

Though the idea was already glimmering subtly in my heart for months prior, the first of those key moments that really helped solidify the decision was this: during my second day wandering Stockholm, Sweden, a solo trip during summer of 2016, the weather took a turn for the gray, chilly and drizzly.  So, what better activity for a rainy day than reading, writing and snacking in a cozy cafe?  With that end goal in mind though, first making my way down to the harbor to see about booking a trip for the next day.  A boat ride out to one of the thousands of islands that make up Sweden, choosing Sandhamn.  This particular island being one of the outermost, close to the edge of the choppy Baltic Sea.  Apparently this is a new development.  Boats taking people for tours of the islands.  I believe I read this has only started being a thing within the last 20 years or so. 

Three photos from the boat ride out to Sandhamn...

As I walked along the harbor side of Stockholm, I was drawn to the boats bobbing along the waters edge.  Rustic, antiquated, worn, but romantic and enticing.  Allowing myself to imagine packing up and moving here upon retiring.  I could easily picture hosting dinner parties on my boat deck.  Candles casting warm flickering glows on the food and faces of my loved ones.  The sounds of laughter and silverware clinking plates filling the air.  A warm breeze from the Stockholm harbor blowing through our hair.  The hours falling away as we ate, shared engaging conversation, gut busting laughter, the evening magical and seemingly endless. 

Part of Stockholm harbor.

After checking schedules and prices, I asked the ticket sales-boy where to find a non-touristy (key word) charming spot to hunker down for the afternoon.  He recommended Snickarbacken 7, circling it on the little map I carried.  The cafĂ© was love at first glance.  Dimly lit, all of the tables set with a single candlestick, flame dancing atop.  The inside of the cafe heavily wooded, intimate, offbeat and artsy.

I sat cozied into this sweet spot for three hours.  Pen flying across page, as well as reading through half a book, “The Girls” by Emma Cline which was both riveting and repulsive.  Guzzling cups of green tea, so charmingly served in bell jars.  Enjoying a thick slab of their banana bread, moist and yummy.   

And then the next day, I was off to Sandhamn.  Popping out onto the boat deck sporadically to take photos and upon which, very nearly forgetting I was in Sweden.  Instead, finding myself taken back to New Hampshire.  The water choppy and wildly waved.  The skies a brilliant blue, swathed in heavy, thick white clouds.  The coastline was rocky, rugged, and forested, breathtakingly gorgeous.  Boats sprinkled across the seas surface, multi-colored and in varying sizes dotting the harbors.  Red clapboard houses with white trim seeming to dominate in terms of color and style, though most of the shorelines were bare, save for decor in rockiness or greenery.  All of this oozing New Hampshire charm and atmosphere, filling me with yearning and nostalgia.  

People come from all over the world to boat the waters of these Swedish islands.  Near carbon copies of my own turf, I realized.  Home seemed to be closer than I thought.  It’s ironic and interesting that I was once so bored by and desperate to get away from my home state.  Dull and uninteresting, I had decided.  In the past few years though (I wonder, is this a culmination of age or just having been away from home for so long?  Or a combination of both?), I have been surprised in my developing a new longing toward and nostalgia for home that was never there previously. 

And then…along with the air turning crisp with autumn, my third in Europe, I began giving deeper consideration to thoughts of returning home.  Despite my heart tugging me toward New England though, I was terrified of making the wrong choice.  What if returning was a dire mistake?  

Much of life in Europe is infinity better than in America.  Social systems and cultural values are such that a sense of mental and financial security, health, as well as easily prioritizing close relationships with one’s family and having time to actually enjoy life are all safe guarded and prized in Europe.  This is obvious in the standard vacation time, three times what one receives in the US.  It’s evident in the health care system.  The fact that new mothers are offered up to three years of paid maternity leave.  It’s clear in the way college education is offered for a fourth of the price in America, or in some cases, even for free.

Why on earth would I ever go back to the US, I asked myself.  It felt foolish and nonsensical, knowing via comparative experience, how much easier, lighter and more inclined toward a joyous life Europe set its systems up to encourage.  I considered and pondered, mulling over prospective reasons and thoughts for weeks.  

Then I imagined Boston, with its blanketing snowfalls, its red brick buildings, narrow alleys, and towering cheeseburgers.  Boston with its booming food scene, its history and European charm.  The Commons and gardens, an explosion of flowers and greenery come spring and summer.  I pictured Charles Street, with its antiquated, original iron awnings, brick lain sidewalks and inviting storefronts.  Wrought iron benches lining the way.  Each shop awning in a unique shape symbolizing what the shop sold or still sells.  I saw Beacon Hill with its stately townhouses, gas lit streetlamps and narrow walkaways. 

I saw autumn in New Hampshire, the trees an explosions of flaming colors.  A symphony of shades in burning reds, vivid oranges and brilliant yellows.  The beaches and mountains, either one within an hour’s drive from just about anywhere in the state.  I could close my eyes and imagine the feel of driving those winding back country roads and quiet woods, the peace and serenity of the New Hampshire country.
Turning it all over in my mind’s eye, allowing the images to wash over me.  I considered numerous possible angles to my decision of whether to stay or go over the next couple of months.   

And so, like a spoon stirring batter, the idea of returning home continued turning and mixing itself in my mind.  An urging that began as a whispering and, over time, continued growing in both volume and confidence.  Initially an insecure warbling like the child in school terrified of speaking up, steadily increasing to the tone of that particularly bold friend to whom you have always looked up, ever pushing you into biting the bullet.  The confident, strong voice telling me unwavering, "go back.  You are ready."

And then "Trump Triumphs" glared out at my from the computer screen, smashing down hard on what had otherwise been a sense of certainty, anticipation and thrill that I had come to feel in thinking about returning to Boston.  Aghast, it had to be a joke.  The man who had shouted with cheesy dramatic flamboyance, "You’re fired!"  On the trashy reality show, The Apprentice years prior was now the leader of our country.  A person who, during his campaign had shown both via action and word in countless ways to be bombastic, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, dishonest, cruel, and just generally a terrible human being.  I walked around Frankfurt that day feeling an out-of-body sense of distress.  The words "no fucking way, this can’t be real, impossible" on a repeat reel in my head.  Now I definitely can’t go back, I thought, resigned, resentful and crushed.    

Dear.  Lord.

Weeks went by though, and I reconsidered.  Certainly not changing my mind with regards to Trump (that’s a total disaster, though not a theme nor topic of this post).  Instead though, coming to the conclusion of: this is it.  Life, passing by as we speak, minute by minute.  Time we can never get back.  So the question wasn’t about Trump.  The question was, where did I want to go?  What did I envision as the next chapter of my life?  What had my heart been urging me towards?  And more importantly, was it still?   
Trump won’t be around forever, and with the way things were going, hopefully not even for long, I thought.  But then, neither will I.  So the pressing question was: where is it that I am longing to go next?  When he was removed from the equation, I found my answer.  

And yet still, I paused.  Despite knowing where I wanted to go, taking action felt fraught with potential for regret.  The main source being all the goodbyes I would be forced to say upon leaving.  Because while it’s true that you can find meaningful, worthwhile friends/connections anywhere, they don’t grow on trees.  Not the high quality, truly resonating ones.  Friends/decent connections can be found everywhere, but the poignant, extraordinary ones don’t come along every day.  When you find those souls that truly groove with yours, your hearts counterparts, it’s a noteworthy thing. 

However, I am also a firm believer that once a foundation has been built, maintaining a friendship is very possible over distance.  Assuming both parties put in the effort, no need to worry about treasured friendships being lost within a move.  Therefore, close friends are not a reason in and of itself to remain somewhere either.  

I sifted through both this emotional dilemma, as well as my concerns comparing life in Europe versus the United States.  Considering my dad’s words, "You are never trapped anywhere.  And you know what life is like in Europe now so if you come back to the US and hate it, I think you have enough knowledge of the culture in Germany, as well as several close connections, that you could move back and get reestablished fairly easily."  

Several times, I clicked open the internet page for Google flights, typing in the details for a one way ticket from Frankfurt to Boston.  Staring at the screen while powerful, nearly overwhelming emotions washed over me.  Of an ending, a thick book slamming shut, a step off a cliff edge into an abyss of air swirling in my consciousness.  

Heart pounding in my chest, palms sweaty typing in the details for each informational field.  And yet, I couldn’t do it.  Guiding the mouse to the top right of the window and clicking the X each time. 
Weeks went by, Christmas approaching.  Two weeks before the holiday, I sat, legs crossed, on my bed one random Tuesday evening.  Freshly showered, having gone to the gym just beforehand, dinner finished and concluding a post on my recipe blog.  Something in me drew towards looking at one way tickets yet again.   

Finger combing my wet hair before pausing to type Google Flights into the search field.  With quaking hands, I filled in the informational fields.  Name, address, credit card information.  No, this wasn’t necessarily confirmation that I would finally be booking.  Having made it this far previously several times only to chicken out.

The screen glowed, a beacon of possibility, heavy with life changing potential.  All I had to do was click "submit."  My hand hovered over the mouse, considering my usual course of action of clicking the X.  Instead, I sat up straighter.  Taking a deep breath, allowing my lungs to inflate like twin balloons.  I closed my eyes, urging my racing mind and galloping heart to still.  The room, warm and silent.  

If you remove fear from the equation, what is it you want?  I asked myself.  Where do you see yourself one year from now?  The answer that came back was immediate.  Boston.  New England.  

A sense of simultaneous calm settled over my heart as I cupped the mouse in hand, dragging the curser to the bottom right, allowing it to hover.  My chest expanded in deep breath.  Then I pushed down with my right pointer finger, clicking "submit."  

I waited for feelings of terror or regret to come crashing over me.  For my stomach to clench in agony and nerves.  None of this happened.  Instead, I felt buoyant.  The end to all the waffling and uncertainty feeling like a deep, cool drink of water.  Refreshing, energizing, much needed, and absolutely awesome.  Adrenaline and thrill coursing through my chest and limbs, as though I had reached the very peak of that first roller coaster hill and was about to take the plunge.  Surprised by how elated I felt, a huge grin on my face.  

And so, the countdown was set in motion.


Fast forward to the airport on the day of my departing.  Though prior to that, days were packed full of dinners with friends, tea and cake coupled with long conversations, heartfelt cards and gifts exchanged, heart rending letters penned.  Afternoons of rushing back and forth to various official offices, waiting in long lines, sweating bullets as I handed over paperwork, praying fiercely that they wouldn’t catch on to the fact that my departure date was a week after the expiration of my visa (a detail I had neglected noticing when booking my one way flight home, which was brought to my attention by a colleague maybe a month before my departure.  Blood running cold and heart stopping at her innocent question regarding the mismatch of those two details).  

Luckily, I made it out just fine, though had they noticed, it could have been a several thousand dollar fine and potentially being black listed from Europe for a handful of years following.  Let me tell you, the phrase sweating bullets took on new meaning as I moved through the airport(s) and customs on the day of my flying back to the US.

Now, onto that final morning in Frankfurt.  I woke up bright and early, despite having barely slept after an emotional goodbye party with my friends the night before.  My five bags, monstrous, imposing, sat like soldiers on alert, lined up in my otherwise empty room.  I choked down a single pancake, though unable to eat much more, before deciding on heading downstairs and outside for a few minutes of fresh air.  Two of my best friends, Judith and Melissa, were due to arrive soon.  My partners in crime and accompaniments to the airport that morning.  Having both enthusiastically and gracefully accepted my request at their filling the roles of pillars of support for that day.

Fast forward through our taxi ride across town.  Now at the airport.  Flight departing in just two hours.  Leaving.  My heart crumpling like tissue paper in the palm of a clenched fist as Judith’s arms encircled me, her body trembling against my own as she cried.  Pulling back, throat tight, I looked at her.  Spilling out with what our friendship meant in my life, how special she was to me.  My face falling in on itself, chest heaving as I began crying.

Nodding, her face mirroring my own while swiping at tears.  Her own face crumbling.
“Making that was so hard,” she started.  Referring to the scrapbook she had presented me with the night prior, at my last hurrah of sorts.  The people I love, save for a few who were sadly out of town, filling the table around me.  Everyone laughing, eating, chatting and drinking.

In the scrapbook, Judith had written, sketched and detailed the storied history of our nearly four years of friendship.  Our adventures to Scotland, Dresden, Italy, Berlin and Heidelberg.  The meetup group we had created and run together for a year in Frankfurt.  Our silly moments and our touching ones.  Even the stickers on each page matching those photos themes.
“As I was making it, I had to stop a lot of times because I was crying.” She said, doing the same now.  And then we were in each other’s arms again.
I had said goodbye to Melissa just before.  Having turned to these two fabulous women, heartfelt friends who’d brought me and my five, thirty pound plus monstrous bags to the airport.  Melissa picking one up and slinging it over her back, and hoisting up one of my heaviest in her arms, hoofing it across the airport.  Filling my heart, and my chest with laughter.
“I’d like to say goodbye to each of you separately” I had told them.  Offering a little smile and meaningful gaze between each.  Both of them returning my gaze with a smirk and emotion laden looks of their own.
Melissa and I walked off together first.  Looking into her huge blue eyes, I felt my own fill.  Just moments prior, the three of us had sat, giggling over tea, salad, and recounting hilarious past disastrous dates.  The three of us clutching ourselves in gut busting laughter. 
Now, I looked into this woman’s eyes who, over the past year I had grown to love.  Nearly every Friday spent with her, Davor, her husband and their baby, Vanja.  Making and eating food.  Long, in depth discussions, heart to hearts and much laughter.  Going on walks together.  Tea and cake, dinner parties, brunches, and birthday celebrations.  Melissa is a friend who shows her love in action.  Reading every one of my essays, even a book I wrote, in a matter of hours.  Stunning me further by reading my book not just once but twice within just a couple days, wanting to really “take it in fully,” she said.   

Cooking me dinner one evening, taking care to make things without flour, sugar or dairy.  Excitedly presenting me with the recipes she had experimented with, really hoping I would love them, she said.  Offering up use of their apartment when she and Davor were away for two weeks as a respite (to escape my disastrously dirty roommates).  Rushing to meet me one particular day after work in a moment of anxiety and sadness when something upsetting happened.

Trembling, tears falling down my face, I looked at her and said goodbye.  Telling her just how special she had become to me.  What a meaningful presence in my life she was.  An awesome, reliable, engaged, responsive, rare friend. 
I walked away from them, Judith and Melissa, turning back and pausing to look at both.  Gasping a little as I tried not to lose it and break down sobbing in the middle of the airport.  These two wonderful women, to whom I had grown so close, with whom I spent time multiple times each week.  I couldn't believe that no longer would I be able to just call them up and sit across from them the following afternoon.  That no longer would I be able to put my arms around them in greeting each week.  Watch their faces break into laughter while sitting across from me.  Share food, drink, stories and secrets with one another in person.  It seemed impossible, all of this ceasing the moment I walked through those airport gates.  I pushed the thought aside, knowing that in carrying it with me, I might not be able to keep walking.
And then, there were the other goodbyes and gestures that stopped my heart in its tracks.  In his farewell letter to me, one of my best friends Dali wrote, “it feels like a part of my home is leaving along with you.”  His gift, a one year membership to a writing school I had been lamenting about in Boston, dying to take a writing class there.  Breath stopping when giving me this gift.

Bhakti telling me, “this friendship is so important to me, Brooke.  It’s a really special one in my life.  It’s changed me.  I’ve found myself within it.”  Cooking an elaborate, authentic Indian dinner for our last night together and presenting me with a gorgeous pair of small, gold, dangling ruby earrings from India.

Lisa writing in her card to me, “you are one of my best friends in Frankfurt now.  You helped me get through some tough times and always listen to me.”  Handing me a bag filled with each of my favorite teas from every one of my favorite cafes in Frankfurt.  Rendering me speechless and mind blown over how personal, thoughtful and effortful her gift was.

Amy penning to me, “Brooke, it’s rare to meet someone as open and kind as you.  I always feel like you truly listen and feel understood by you.”

Amira, handing me a package of wish paper lanterns to write ones wishes on and then light, releasing into the sky which, unbeknownst to me until I opened them, she had already written several wishes on them for me, including: “I wish for closeness to come back into the relationship with your sister,” “I wish for your book to be published,” “I wish for wonderful things in living with your mom,” “I wish for you to find your next big love in Boston.”

Moving to Europe changed my life in incredible, huge, awe inspiring ways.  I came face to face with my own resourcefulness.  Learning to tap into my bravery and inner badass, my sense of confidence and belief in myself growing and expanding over the course of my time spent overseas.  I walked straight into and then through some of the deepest loneliness and sharpest fear I have ever known, being in a foreign country, initially with no one there to whom I was close.  A social slate wiped entirely clean.  

I acknowledged the realization that for too long, I had continued looking at a door which should have been closed tight much sooner.  I mistook whom my big love was, missing the point for quite a while that actually, there were far bigger loves lying in wait.  Even blooming all around me, which I found and experienced in Europe.  Within my last year of living in Germany, one day looking up in shocked awe to realize that never before had I felt so happy, secure, loved and comforted by my friendships and the people within my life, whom I had chosen to build close connections with.  I saw my own love-ability reflected in my close friend’s eyes, realizing that in fact, many people liked me deeply, possibly even loved me.  Something that took me years to believe in and see within myself. 
My heart was humbled, swelled, and rendered by my work at Phorms School.  In the sweet connections I developed with several of the children there.  In hearing a chorus of little voices whenever walking through the halls, calling out “Miss. English!  Miss. English!  When are you in our class next?” Or in hearing my students whisper, “Miss. English, you’re my favorite.”   

I felt satisfaction and wonder with the booming of my travel blog, something initially begun just for fun and for keeping in touch with my loved ones.  What an awesome thrill, learning that actually, my writing and work was being read by a much wider audience after all.  While I had been a foodie for years, my love of cooking and baking truly taking flight when overseas, culminating in weekend torrents of recipe experimentation, photography and ultimately, the beginning of a fun food blog.  My work and passions even coming to such a climax as resulting in the writing and completion of not one, but two, full length books (one fiction and one non).  Both now lying in wait for further work and editing...smothered in hopes and prayers from my end that eventual publishing may be a thing. 

Finding myself filled with wonder, magic and joy within each of the adventures I was blessed enough to take while living overseas (Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, skiing the Swiss Alps, Paris, the French Riviera, Budapest, Amsterdam, the list is a long one).   

Moving to Europe was, hands down, the best decision of my life.  One I wouldn’t change for anything.
I left several poignant loves in Frankfurt.  I think of them often.  Some of them even daily.  However thus far, my decision to return here hasn’t felt wrong.  While I miss, sometimes even ache, for the company and presence of my closest friends back in Frankfurt, I do not regret my coming back here as of now.  That is not to say that it hasn’t been without challenges.  There have been several difficult, jarring moments for me.  A handful of obstacles I have had to work through (and a few am continuing to do so) for sure.  Returning to the US has been a complex, interesting, exciting, certainly surprising experience thus far, to say the least ;-).
One which I will detail in the next entry.  A follow up, Part Two if you will, to this one.   

For now though...moving abroad?  If you ever have the chance to do so, take the leap.  Its likely to result in some of the greatest adventures, growth inducing, and awe inspiring experiences of your life. 


  1. Brooke, this was wonderful and inspirational. Love, your bro