Experiencing Time and Home Abroad

The experience of students abroad is a peculiar one. As young adults, I think we have the desire, or I do anyway, to set up our lives permanently, but of course, everything has a half-life when you’re away like this (and in general). For much of the beginning of this year, I thought about what I was learning to better myself for when I return, for things to take away with me and to apply to my life back in Niagara. But in those last few months, I passed that point and proceeded to become increasingly worried about the fleeting nature of my life there. I wrote in late March,

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“It will be over soon, and I will be back home with my friends and loved ones whom I’ve spent most of my life with. And many of the new friends I met here I won’t see again for a long time. Years probably, if ever again. And I love them dearly, but still, much of all of this is temporary. There will be a handful of long-lasting relationships I’m sure, and I will cross paths with some others probably if they diverge here.”

Soon after, I found one of several applicable adages: all things come to an end, good and bad, my year was a good thing, and it has ended.

My last few weeks were busy ones: finishing exams, moving out, having farewell hurrahs, and once again falling behind on my self-imposed blogging schedule. I finished the March Travels Part 2 blog on Rome, and I have one for my Belgium trip coming up, but in the meantime, while I was still in Aarhus, I needed to put my thoughts to the page. 

There is no time to write like the present … he said, a week or so ago… months.

Now (late June), I am on a bus to pick DJ up from the airport in Copenhagen and have a mear three fleeting days in Aarhus, with likely little time for writing between them. I am failing, I think, to actually process the end of this year. I’ve talked to friends here about it, and they all seem to say the same. Some are already home and letting their new(/old) lives really sink in, minute by minute, it sounds like a slow process. Most of these friends are Europeans or close to here and are not doing the month of travelling before return that I am. I wonder thus, how my experience of settling will compare.

It was difficult – I say ‘was’ now because I have left and am writing this from Germany (though it is going to be published in Canada) – to understand what it meant to be leaving a place I learned to call home while I lived there, and it has been hard still. DJ and I’s jaunt through Denmark, and now Germany, has felt like a sweet little holiday and not much like moving, and I fear that none of this will feel remotly as final as it is until I am in Niagara again. Going away for longish, shortish periods like this means that every note you play has a certain finality to it. While I didn’t get done all I had hoped to, those sour-seeming feelings are not so (maybe yet) instead, they fill me with a desire to return and when I think of the many friends I have made, I am merely glad to have made them, and eager to see them again. I struggle to determine whether this is my disposition, naïveté, or something else. For weeks I was looking longingly, mournfully perhaps, warmly, out my window and those of public transit, knowing that my time there was precious. Here is where a more sentimental person might talk about their experience as a microcosm of the rest of their life, but I won’t. This whole writing my life down thing is a lot of narrativizing potentially random events already, and I see no need to pretend I know how this ends, let alone to have the foresight to foreshadow. We shall see, I suppose. I have gained much from this experience, my exchange year, and I imagine I’ll be reflecting and reading into what I have learned for months, likely years to come. And one day, when I self-righteously compile some kind of full working story of a life mostly lived, I may imbue it with utmost significance. But for now,  I shall reflect briefly on some of the things I feel and felt.

When I was younger, I think, I had a tough time coping with temporary things, with loss, especially with regards to friends. And I have always been one for a few good long-term relationships rather than many short ones. So the limited timeframe of this exchange gave me much to consider when making friends and meeting new people. And brought about a big question: does one cling on to withering relationships, or does one let them grow, and blossom, and then leave them be to see if they return some other Spring? I believe that this is one of the rare social questions that actually has a mostly right answer. The latter. If you love something etc.. And so now, I have left. And some friends I hear from frequently, some less, some on occasion, and some dear, dear friends I have been unable to reach for whatever reason. This is the way things go, and I am making peace with that.

The Same For Everyone* by Nathan Coley outside Aarhus City Hall. Denmark gets this so right. [That line has infuriated me for years since I wrote it. The same for everyone does not exist anywhere. People slip through Danish social systems, refugees (those few Denmark excepts) are put in separate schools and communities, and Denmark, like so much of Europe continues to profit from the accumulated wealth of hundreds of years of colonialism. – 2022 Kostyn]

One of the recurring themes of my exchange involves the concept of ‘home’: what is home, what’s so important about it, and what happens when it changes. Midway through the year,  I wrote a short poem about this and read it at a couple of events. I’ve posted it here to accompany this piece. While abroad, I often thought about this TEDTalk on the community of now mostly elderly women who stayed in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, in their homes, even when they were told they really had better leave, and it makes me question the practicality of home. I feel that I have two homes now or one split, Niagara and Aarhus but I have a house and more history in one than the other. There are perks of both, some practical, some emotional: free schooling, better social systems, more accessible travel, higher standards of living, more community-oriented life, etc.* in Aarhus, Denmark; and established family, family history, greater diversity and multiculturalism, ‘wilderness,’ wine, and more D.I.Y. punk, in Niagara, Canada. I have the privilege now of choosing where to make my home if moving it is really possible, and it’s a hard decision. I also have the privilege of not having to permanently settle anywhere or make that decision for some time. The choice becomes harder when one is making it for others, but thankfully I don’t have to do that right now. In this way, I am free, and I am free to make my home what, where and who I want. This is one of the lessons I’ve learned. And this is where I will leave you for now.

More thoughts coming soon, hopefully, less chronologically fucked up. Memory doesn’t always work the way I want it to and writing fragments of thoughts and ideas over months doesn’t always translate into a coherent bit or writing to post on one’s blog.

Anyhow, lots of love from Canada,

Kostyn

Edited with love by my partner, DJ Maki, and my good friend Luke Webster.


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