Hamburg calling: To be or not to be (abroad)

Hamburg calling: To be or not to be (abroad)

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Expatica columnist Dave Baxter swaps “Hamburg's nautical sprawl for a landlocked British habitat” and muses about his nomadic existence.

Undoubtedly travel and, less romantically, the nuts and bolts of day to day life in foreign nooks of the world can prove formative. Experiences grow, attitudes (sometimes) change, and people (usually) mature in one way or other. Though not always perfectly comfortable or ideal, a spell abroad can be an eye opener and tell a person as much about their own culture as that of the enigmatic 'other' land.

And as my second spell abroad ends, and I swap Hamburg's nautical sprawl for a landlocked British habitat, my mind begins to wander and jaunt. As those in their 20's should, or perhaps shouldn't, begin to do, I become entranced with contemplations of the future.

The main issue in my currently over active, under worked mind is whether to succumb to a recurring nomadic streak in my nature; is Wanderlust a legitimate way of life or a foul addiction marked by temporary friends and Ryanair ticket stubs? Should I be living as widely, loosely and internationally as possible, or is this shirking greater responsibilities?

Perhaps the question of responsibility should be avoided altogether, and I should count the pros against the cons. Both living around the world and finding a set, comfortable location have valid justifications.

The nomad route, be it daunting or thrilling, is the more exasperating option. Living abroad can be a challenge; making new friends, understanding both cultures and languages, and adjusting to the violent upheaval of switching countries is stressful. And if continued, it inevitably drives people away from the friends they do make, leaving small colony-like masses of contacts scattered about countries and regions. This can all be frustrating, but equally rewarding.

Mastering a language and getting to grips with a new culture can be satisfying, as well as mildly hilarious at times. And friends strewn across the globe makes it a much smaller world.

The other option--to find a place I like, live there for some years and establish myself-throws up similar arguments. Life in one place can be dull after time; the freshness, and thus the novelty of a place may fade. The challenges of everyday life are lessened at home, and tedium can ensue. Everything rolls into one comfortable grey mass.

This, however, is the pessimistic view. Home can offer a routine, and still be exciting. Friendships can have time to develop, without you rushing off to make more semi-acquaintances. With greater permanency, a person has more chance to fully commit themselves to causes and hobbies they enjoy in the area. And a place that is not foreign may be closer to one's heart.

Both arguments are strong and alluring. Should I settle for a while or jump on another plane? After a second short life abroad, I appreciate the comforts of the known-the language, the people and the ease of it all. Things feel happy, settled and bright. Yet the bug may creep in again; interesting languages to learn, persuasive travel articles and great anecdotes could all convince me to live away, further and more often. Perhaps it isn't time to throw the passport, or the phone book, away just yet.

Dave Baxter/Expatica

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Another Ex-expat posted:

    on 19th August 2010, 14:21:08 - Reply

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your article- I can certainly relate! I lived abroad both working and as a student in two different countries. Each time I relished the adventure and personal challenge that living somewhere completely new could bring me, and I think I am a better person for having had those experiences.

    But for all they gave me I worry about being a nomad forever, especially as friends and family members age, get married, have children or just move on without me. I feel a bit like Peter Pan by comparison!

    A part of me would like to settle down, but the reality is that I get bored quickly once I am back "home" - career and friends are great, but often I feel others don't understand/ or give me credit for my life abroad. It is as if someone else did all those things, not me, and that is reflected in others' expectations of me.

    Overall I find it hard to experience the same level of challenge at home as I did abroad, and that is what makes me want to go abroad again! Let's face it I am an intense person and I like my life to be exciting, even difficult! So far travelling abroad is the least destructive way to meet those needs. I wonder if anyone else has found a better option?