Last month, I finally got to visit my family in Moscow after almost 2 years. I used to go there twice a year, but these last 2 years – due to the pandemic, the borders closing and the plane tickets being unbelievably expensive, were an exception. Finally, I could book the flights for the summer. However, as I was planning this trip, it never occurred to me that coming back home might not feel the same this time.
Being stuck in Amsterdam during the pandemic made me change my perception
My Home in Amsterdam
Even though I have been living in the Netherlands for over 4 years now, I could never call it home before. I used to think of it as a place where I had to be to pursue my education and career. But any time I had the chance, I would go back home – to Moscow.
Being stuck in Amsterdam during the pandemic made me change my perception. We moved to a better apartment; I learned to organise my life and leave time for my hobbies and my health.; I had to face my fear of the Dutch medical system and start calling my GP when I had a problem because I had no idea when I would have a chance to see a doctor in Russia; I had to stop postponing things to “later when I go back home”.
Consequently, I started to feel safer in Amsterdam, as I could get whatever help I needed here, without the need to wait till I go to Russia.
Sharing this new and often terrifying experience with millions of people here, under the same government and the same regulations, made me feel a part of this country
The pandemic also made me feel a little Dutch. Sharing this new and often terrifying experience with millions of people here, under the same government and the same regulations, made me feel a part of this country. While in Russia everything was open after just one month of lockdown, in the Netherlands, we stayed inside our houses unable to do almost anything outside for over one and a half years. Because of that, I became even more detached from my home country. I unfollowed all Russian influencers and even some of my friends because it was too difficult for me to see daily reminders that somewhere people are able to live their normal lives, see their friends and families. And because of the difficult political situation in the country, I even stopped reading the news at some point, as I didn’t have enough mental capacity to comprehend them.
This detachment led me to finally see Amsterdam as my new home. It is the place where I feel safe, where part of my family is, where my apartment is, where I understand how things work. But can I have two homes? If Amsterdam became my home, what about Moscow?
My Home in Moscow
I grew up in Moscow and lived there for most of my life. My childhood room, my family, my school and my school friends – all in Moscow. So how can I stop calling it home?
My father picked me up at the airport after my flight and all the way to my parents’ house I was desperately searching for things to talk to him about. Not because there were no topics, but because I simply forgot how to have face-to-face conversations in Russian. When we got to the apartment, I entered my old room and was surprised by how empty it was. My bed, my table, my wardrobe all felt strange and distant like it was never mine.
This feeling of being a guest in my country and my own house stayed with me throughout the trip. I had a great time with my family and friends, but I couldn’t stop missing my home in Amsterdam. Everything around me felt unusual.
Almost no one was wearing masks or keeping their distance which added to my anxiety about getting infected. Places like cafes or gas stations were a lot less clean and organized than in the Netherlands.
And what shocked me the most was how enormous, loud, and bright everything was. We would go for a walk at 10 in the evening, and the city was still living like it was the middle of the day – people, cars, and lights everywhere. Everyone probably heard that “Moscow never sleeps”, but as I grew up there I never thought I could be so surprised by this. But I was. Even after just 2 years of not going back to visit Moscow, this rhythm of life suddenly felt unsettling and stressful. Only when my family and I went to stay in the countryside for a week, could I breathe freely.
Home is where…?
So, what does it mean? Does it mean that by finally feeling at home in Amsterdam I lost the feeling of home in the place I grew up? Not entirely. During my stay in Russia, I noticed that the brightest, happiest moments there were always connected to my family and my closest friends. And even though I often felt uncomfortable in-between those moments, they were definitely worth it. On the other hand, what I missed the most about Amsterdam were my partner, my friends, and my dog.
It might just mean that you find a new home in the people you get to love in this new place.
It made me realize that home might not always be a place, but the people who you love there. Your family and your closest friends, no matter how far they are, will always be your home. When you move to another country and settle there, you might start feeling more comfortable there than in the country where you grew up. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you give up your old home in exchange for the new one. It might just mean that you find a new home in the people you get to love in this new place.
Edited by Andrada Pop