You cant step in the same river twice

The kids' first Metro ride in Helsinki (October 2010). Some people spend a lifetime trying to see what my kids have seen in the past 16 months. One of the many things for which I am thankful.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, according to Plato, that you cannot step in the same river twice due to the constantly-changing nature of the river. It’s a pretty good metaphor for expat life, especially when that expat life involves moving every 2-4 years. I think I’ve mentioned before that I lived in the same general area of a not over-large suburb for the first 18 years of my life, so this constant moving thing does not come naturally to me.

But that’s not to say that I don’t embrace it. In fact, I’m starting to believe that it is the act of stepping into that river, and realizing that it’s different than it was last time, that keeps me moving forward, keeps me interested. And it’s a good thing, because even though we’ve only been in Helsinki 16 short months, we now know that in June we’ll be moving on.

This time, we’re headed to Ulm, Germany. Tucked between Munich and Stuttgart, Ulm is a university town of just over 100,000 people. I’m excited by the location (close to beloved Strasbourg and the Alps, within a day’s drive of Venice, far enough south to escape the winter dark of Northern Europe) and more than a little anxious about leaving behind the amazing friends I’ve made here in Helsinki.

After the brief honeymoon period of our first few weeks, moving here was hard. There was the moving with kids part, then the intense, cold darkness of our first winter in Finland, then the personal tragedy part, then the culture shock, and of course my usual and on-going cultural identity crisis. Oh, and the husband’s insane work schedule. But then there was the amazing travel, the excitement of learning about a new culture, and the joy of realizing that I will experience the kids’ amazing milestones as any happy parent would, regardless of whether I’m in Colorado, Finland, or Germany, or wherever our next adventure may lead.

Whether it was the time of year that we moved, the trips home I made last spring, or the fact that this was our first international assignment with kids, it took me a solid 9 months to settle in here in Helsinki. So it seems really unfair that we have to say goodbye so soon, even if we are totally excited about the new locale. The first few months in a new location, filling your social calendar (and one of the new friends I’ve been gushing about recently pointed out to me that my need for social interaction rivals that of Paris Hilton!!) is an act of will. Nine months in, it becomes much more organic, and I like that.

Afternoons spent exploring the city, knitting, or drinking coffee were a solitary activity for me last year. This year, I usually have company. Last year, Skype was my lifeline. This year, well…Skype is still my lifeline to family and friends back home, but I have support here as well.

It’s scary to think about stepping off a plane and setting up house in yet another country where I don’t speak the language. I mean, at this point, I haven’t even visited Ulm and Matt is already pretty much living there and coming home to visit when he can. I’m happy that I’m able to support him in this (after all, it is pretty much my primary job these days!), and the kids & I are managing well in his absence, but it does add stress that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t moving in a few short months.

So we’re moving again. I’ve got another new language to tackle. It’s a place I hadn’t expected and that is unfamiliar to me. I’ve got awesome friends that I am so sad to leave behind. There are more details involved in the move than I can possibly track. And yet, I know it’s not the same river. The move will not have the comfort that comes with familiarity even though we’ve done this before. Somehow, despite all the uncertainty, I’m feeling pretty zen. That alone proves that it ain’t the same river 😉


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