Europe calling: in search of a simple life7 min read
What if a place that you keep dear to your heart rejects you because of who you are? What does it mean to live life as an urban nomad, moving from one place to another in search of purpose, for a place to call home? In this personal account by Krzystof Lechowski, accompanied by the poems of Ashleigh Kathleen, we journey through the thoughts and emotions of a couple of young expats, traveling from one European country to another in pursuit of meaning, and of a home.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been curious about other countries, about other people and their ways of life which I often would imagine being different from mine. I left my parents’ home at the age of twenty. Since then I have lived all over Europe. Some places felt more familiar to what I knew from Poland, from home. Others were harder to grasp.
I started traveling because I wanted to expose myself to foreign cultures, I wanted to meet new people, get new impressions and experiences.
In each country I’ve found a new home, I’ve made new friends, bought new plants – knowing that I won’t be staying long enough to see them grow. I try to live as a minimalist, never exceeding three suitcases. The same goes for friends – it can be difficult to open up when you know that it won’t last.
Yet there are some people that I’ve met on my way, who I know will be there for good. Whom I’ve grown such strong bonds with because we live the same kind of life, going from one place to another. It does not matter if we haven’t seen each other for two years or spoken in six months, the bond is still there.
I met Veronika at the Italian Red Cross four months ago. Veronica is from Bratislava – a place that she has not called home for many years. Living as an expat – first in the US and now in Italy, she does not regret the life choices that have turned her into a nomad.
Most of the time she doesn’t miss her homeland. She has found her place for now. She feels settled with her friends, her current environment, and her job, it gives her what she needs.
When I ask Veronika about her life choices, which so far have taken her to different parts of the world, I can sense the radiating joy she has from being here and her gratitude. She tells me “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Money for the project that I work on might run out and I would have to leave, so I enjoy every moment that I have”
I notice that one of the moments that she cherishes is when I speak to her in my broken Czech. Living in Italy, she rarely meets anyone who speaks Slovakian or Czech. In these moments, her eyes begin to sparkle, her voice softens, and she smiles. What a joy to see!
I think that we are all looking for something that we can call home. A reminder of home for Veronika is language, even if it is my poor Czech.
Veronika and I were fortunate enough to meet thanks to the European Solidarity Corps Program. She found what she was looking for. For me, however, this is more like limbo, a stop on a journey to a better place, where I can learn about myself and try to understand what I can do, or how I can further contribute to society. I am no longer limited to the small world where I grew up. I’ve learned that we have the whole European Union, to explore and seek answers for ourselves. It’s an embodiment of Jean Monet’s message of inspiring people to work together for a better place, to live despite national origins and no matter where this place might be.
Living abroad, I try to merge with local culture, yet in so many places I’ve seen expats who strive to recreate a piece of their old home in a new one. It can be a Polish sklep [store] in a French city, or that specific Trattoria where all the local Italians go to in Dublin, why not a Bulgarian church in Switzerland.
I believe that staying true to your heritage is important, especially if you don’t know where you are going. Despite deciding to leave my own country in search of a better life in other places, when asked where I come from, I always start by saying “I was born in Poland, but I have lived in many European countries” simply because I am Polish by birth and I was raised in Polish culture, but I found that there is more to my identity than being a Pole.
What if what you called home and kept dear to your heart rejects you because of who you are.
I don’t want to be labeled, and my life as an expat is a search of procuring liberation.
There is an ongoing exodus of gay people from Poland to other EU countries, driven away by homophobia, hatred, and unacceptance from society and family. Poland currently ranks as the most homophobic country in the EU.
While I lived in Warsaw, a gay couple was attacked 50 meters from my apartment, one of them being stabbed (thankfully non-lethally). Losing friends or going through a traumatic family experience because you came out is something that many of us have experienced.
Together with the Church, Polish politicians branded the LGBTQI community as a left-wing ideology, calling it bolshevism and an infectious disease. People who are openly gay are scared and tired of not being able to be themselves in public.
I believe that the pursuit of a place in life to claim as your own is what defines us as humans. Trying to give a purpose to life is what makes life worth living. For me moving out of Poland was a liberating experience, it gave me a sense of peace which strangely I hadn’t felt in Poland. In Poland, I felt that I had to pretend to wear a mask, so people wouldn’t judge me. In Italy or Denmark, I can blend in while staying true to myself and who I am.
I spent some time in Paris. A city of twelve million people where everyone’s free to express themselves without judgment because everyones’ lives are happening at the same time, and they are focused on their story, not yours. I was one of the millions, yet I wasn’t lost like I used to be in Poland.
Deciding to live as an expat was a life-changing decision for me. It has put me in a position where I’m in constant search for a purpose. Leaving the place that I had known since I was a child, made me question axioms like family. The dynamics of personal relations changed, as I was no longer with my biological family. Therefore I’ve also sought a new, chosen family often consisting of people, who like me have chosen a nomadic lifestyle.
In my case, finding a new family made me question socially accepted constructs about how we live our lives and the purpose of living. The pursuit of a place to live in, and among people who we don’t know yet, forces us to abandon preconceived structures. Exposed to different cultures, styles of living, and approaches to life we try to define ourselves through our experiences.
My life as an expat puts me out of the comfort zone that I cherish so much. I see this as a violation of my human nature. But this might be a never-ending journey, in a world towards an undefined paradise inside myself.
What makes this way of life worth living, is that nothing is certain, people come and go and circumstances change constantly, so like Darwin on the Galapagos Islands we are able to observe the evolution of ourselves. This might be the point of nomad life, to experience how our psyche evolves, to destroy social constructs via revolution. What other people may call personal mayhem and a ceaseless chase, gives solace and meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence.