Posted on November 11, 2010
First published in Trespass Magazine
The other day my friend asked me, rather insightfully, ‘do you feel like you’ve arrived?’ I thought about it for a few seconds and then said, decisively ‘almost. Yes and no. I think around the middle of November, I’ll finally feel that I’m really here.’ The middle of November, for the record, will be two and a half months since my plane landed in Dusseldorf and I disembarked complaining loudly about the weather and the restrictive feeling of leggings after a bare-legged Mediterranean summer.
It’s easy and in many ways quite logical, to assume that by physically arriving somewhere new, the process is all but over. And what a process it is – farewells and flights and customs and overweight suitcases and making airport floors your home. That feeling of pure relief when you lug your suitcase through your new bedroom door and fall face first onto your new bed seems to be, for all intents and purposes, the end. You have reached your destination. You have arrived.
Oh yes, in some ways, many ways, it’s enough just to be somewhere new. Breathe new air, shop in new grocery stores, hear a new language. But, in many others, it isn’t. Because whilst you’re physically bounding about your new home, soaking it all in, you’re mentally all over the place, trying to reconcile the New with the comforting feeling of familiarity you so desperately crave because it makes all this exciting newness a little less … overwhelming. So whilst you wait for the New to become Familiar, you turn to the Old Familiar. And, of course, this reminds you how much you miss your friends. Your family. Knowing what the hell the operator on the other end of your mobile phone is telling you (insufficient credit, it turns out). And suddenly you start to exist in two worlds; home-world and new-home-world. You doggedly keep one eye on what time it is in home-world so you can be sure to catch friends on Facebook and Skype, because these people are your comfortable old slippers. And you spend your weekends with a bevy of new faces, your brand new sparkly shoes you need to wear in and adjust to. You keep in the loop about everything that’s happening in your friendship circle in the home-world, via lengthy Skype conversations and feverish emailing, at the same time as trying to create a new loop in the new-home-world. You zigzag between time zones and languages and cultures clinging and building simultaneously, waiting for the New to become as safe and known as the Old.
And then there’s all the run of the mill things you need to get sorted in order to actually exist in a new country; a house (and everything that goes in it) a job, an identification number with the city hall, a tax card, a bank account, insurance, your first pay cheque, wireless bloody internet. As you’re sorting all of this out, you begrudgingly accept a sparse bedroom and an ever sparser wardrobe are just going to have to do until you figure out how to fill in your timesheet in another language so you can actually get paid into your brand new-home-world bank account and stop living out of your home-world bank account that charges you a fortune to withdraw money. And you lie in bed at night running through all the things you need to do in order to function as an ordinary human being in the new-home-world and realise that, on some subconscious level, you expected far too much to happen overnight – and when it didn’t you were a little surprised, more than a little frustrated, and in some moments, slightly depressed.
I’ve come to understand, as I get closer and closer to my imminent arrival, that arriving means cutting some ties with your old-home-world. Or at least putting those ties on hold as you anchor yourself to new ground. It is being a series of different numbers with the bureaucracy whilst your old numbers wait patiently at home for you to come back and file them with the ATO. It’s understanding a new health insurance system whilst the old one at home waits patiently for you to come back and have your wisdom teeth out. Arriving is having a place to call your very own and feeling that little well of comfort as you push open its front door. It’s having people to make weekend plans with. Someone to text on a whim for coffee (and your barista knowing your order … okay I had that sorted within a week of getting off the plane). It’s getting mail. It’s living out of a local bank account. It’s knowing what night your favourite TV shows are on and what radio station plays the best music. It’s your first pay cheque. It’s committing aisles to memory in your local grocery store. It’s a new set of memories and personal jokes with a new set of faces to share them with.
Every single one of those things take time. Around ten weeks, to be precise. And my arrival is coming. I can feel it in the air. I know where to find vegetable stock in the grocery store now and I feel that little well of comfort every time I push open my front door. Any day now, I’m going to wake up and feel that I have truly, absolutely, arrived.