A few days ago, Cory and I had dinner with a couple of our friends here in Kyiv. We tried out a new Vietnamese joint in town and caught up on all that happened over the summer holiday.
As we were leaving, R asked a poignant question: “When it was time to return to Kyiv, were you excited?”
Yes. Yes, we were.
R said that’s a huge indicator for him. As long as he looks forward to returning to his city of residence, he knows he’s living in the right place.
This makes a lot of sense, especially in the international school system where there’s a lot of coming and going. Moving to Ukraine, we knew we wouldn’t be living here forever. At the very least, we’d hunker down for a couple years. And, at the most, we’ll probably be here five or six years. That’s just the nature of this lifestyle.
But for now, Kyiv is home. After a year of nesting, making our weirdly decorated apartment our own and establishing routines in our daily lives, this is our home.
We had a frantic summer in the United States, and we braced ourselves for it in advance. In less than a month, I flew seven times, touched down in five countries, hit nine states and drove more than 1,500 miles.
I visited family members I haven’t seen in a long time and had important conversations with people I love. I cursed the airlines that lost our luggage for ten days. I dug through our stateside belongings, trying to decide what had enough meaning in our lives to send to Ukraine. I walked with my sister, painted with my mom, ate ice cream with my dad. I juggled my work with sketchy internet service, threw flying discs and balls for my parents’ dogs, drank coffee and beer with old friends, stayed up too late, got up too early, endured way too many mosquito bites.
The very last thing I did was fight hard so that Toby could return with me, but, once again, he was turned away at the airport. This time, however, I knew that Rudy waited for me on the other end to console my broken heart (and I know Toby is in exceptional hands in his new forever home).
When it came time to leave, it was hard to believe nearly a month had passed, but I also knew it was time to go.
I was tired of living out of a duffel bag. I needed to get my work schedule back in order. I wanted to kick start my language lessons, morning journal writing and yoga practice, all of which were neglected during our summer travels.
I was ready to return home.
I’ve noticed there is an interesting division among expats: those who live and work one place but consider their native country “home” and those who consider the place where they live and work as “home.” We fall into the second category of people. I know this rubs some people the wrong way, but this comes with our philosophy of living in and appreciating the here and now. How can we live completely where we are here and now if we’re always longing to be somewhere else?
Don’t get me wrong: My home state of Wisconsin will always hold a special place in my heart. I like Wisconsin, and the city I grew up in has definitely come a long way since I lived there. Heck, it’s even cool now. But now, Wisconsin is my childhood home. It’s where my parents live. It’s a place we enjoy visiting when we travel.
When I was 18, I moved and my home changed. When I attended college in Washington state, that was home. For the many years we lived in Las Vegas, that was home.
And now, Kyiv, Ukraine, is home.
Cory and I went for a walk last week. We talked about how far we’ve come in just a single year. We’ve navigated visas, foreign banks and new cultural norms. We have preferred places to buy groceries, pet supplies, clothes and stationery. We know how to order water and a taxi. We have favorite cafes and running paths. We can navigate the subway and streets. We can ask questions — Cory in Russian and me with sign language/Google Translate.
Right now, we are in the place we are meant to be. It’s not always easy, but life isn’t easy. Together, Cory and I have built a comfortable lifestyle that works for us right here and right now. Technology makes it simpler to be in touch with our families. A shift in work habits has allowed me to continue working just as I always have as a writer. And, we’ve been able to take full advantage of our living situation to travel extensively.
As long as all of these things continue to be right for us in the present moment, we know we’re in the right place. And, with that, we open our arms to our second year as expats living in Ukraine.