I’m at peace with where I live, even though my heart’s in the Highlands

December 12 | Guest post by Amber Fox

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The Long Hot Summer continues….The weather man says it's raining…
Photo by Keven Law. Used under Creative Commons license.

I grew up on the fringes of the biggest city in Canada, but lived the first ten years of my life on acres of land, surrounded by ancient trees, a forest for a backyard. I used to love being a contradiction, constantly carving out a place by leaning a little bit to one side, a little bit to the other. It was probably this strange beginning that shaped my love for both city and country: give me skyscrapers or rolling fields, but keep away that picket-fenced suburbia. For me suburbs are sort of like those rooms in the movies where the walls slowly close in on the hero trapped inside.

This ability to be equally at home in country or city is useful, but when you love both equally, it's a problem. What's a girl to do in her mid-twenties, firmly ensconced in being a real live adult and having to make the decision about where home will be right now?

There are obvious considerations: I need to be somewhere where I can earn a living, preferably one that doesn't necessitate eating nothing but Ramen noodles. I need to be somewhere where I have reasonable access to basic needs. I need to be warm and dry, and if I can have some kind of a social life without having to buy a car or take a bus for hours and hours, that would be good, too.

There are less-obvious considerations: I need to be somewhere I'm happy to wake up every day. I need to be somewhere I feel alive. I need to be somewhere I feel lucky to be, even after weeks and months and rainy days.

Loch Ness from Fort Augustus Scotland
Photo by Dave Conner. Used under Creative Commons license.

When I decided to move to London over running away to The Highlands I knew I was making a choice between one love and another. To make it less troubling I focused on the practical: my career is in London, I have debt to pay and I can make good money here, my friends are scattered in and around the city, it's a giant playground with so much history and so much romance and so much stuff to do. All good reasons, to be sure, but they don't mean I still didn't feel some level of sadness because I wasn't going to wake up every day and see mist over fields, pull pints for locals who knew my name, swim in the still-freezing-cold August North Sea.

Growing up North American wasn't something I ever thought about until I moved away, but it seems to me that we have a way of rushing through life that's more frenetic than I've ever found anywhere else. Even in Western Europe people have managed, perhaps unconsciously, to maintain at least some kind of ability to remember to enjoy the every day. It's a welcome lesson for someone whose natural tendency is to speed through where she is lest she not make it somewhere else. Life is about living, not about getting to the end.

And London? Oh this city. It's wonderful and beautiful and even though I'm not collecting my own eggs or sinking my hands into the dirt I still chat with the farmers at the market every Saturday, and I have to admit that Greens of Glastonbury makes better mozzarella than I ever could. So I smile that even in London they close roads once a week to honour a tradition that's served this land farther back than we can remember, and I avoid dogs and children underfoot to walk through the stalls in my heeled boots and long red coat. Perhaps I haven't stopped being a contradiction after all, but since finding this place I'm a more mindful one to be sure. One who adores both where she is and where she's going, whenever that day comes.

I accepted it's okay to not be totally sure about where you live. It's okay to be somewhere with most of your heart when a piece of it is somewhere else. It's okay to love and appreciate where you are while still knowing that one day you're going to want to try to be somewhere else, and it's okay to not know when that will be.

  1. "it seems to me that we have a way of rushing through life that's more frenetic than I've ever found anywhere else. Even in Western Europe people have managed, perhaps unconsciously, to maintain at least some kind of ability to remember to enjoy the every day." Oh, man. I do this – I constantly worry about what's ahead, and never seem to appreciate where I currently am. I noticed when I visited Great Britain that no one there seemed to have that problem (or at least everyone we met seemed so content to stop and chat, to sit down and watch the bay/hills/whatever, to take the time to sing along in a pub in the evening… instead of hurrying to get the shopping done, packing your day full of stuff, and being grouchy and exhausted at night). I want that. Do I have to move to get it? Or is it something in me? :(

    I will try to live in the moment more. I do think it's difficult though when you're really pressed for time and money. How do you simplify a life of pets and school and work? and still get sleep?

    Sorry about the long rant. The post just made me think.

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    • The English countryside is like nothing else; it's almost frozen in time in many ways. The people you find outside of the big cities seem to be almost universally good at just chilling the hell out. The fact that shops close at 6 in most places helps I think, you can't run around and do errands after work because nothing is open so you have to just hang out and relax.

      You don't have to move, I don't think…maybe you just have to set some boundaries in your head? For me it helps to remember that everything is temporary and very little is life or death so just sit down and relax already…everything else can wait.

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  2. This is an awesome post–I grew up with a similar set of life experiences, and likewise loathe suburbia, but it's where I've now found myself since there is no work in the part of Rural PA I was living in. My question is, as a 22 year old living in NJ and tutoring part time, how do I wind up overseas, preferably in Europe? I have a degree in European Studies and I speak German, Spanish, and a bit of Italian, but I feel lost and my college career counselors have not helped…

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    • Thank you!

      As for moving tips…it's a bit different for me because I have British ancestry and I'm a Commonwealth citizen so I can work here very easily…Americans have a harder time. Do you have any ancestry rights in EU countries? If you have a parent or sometimes a grandparent born in one you can often get citizenship through descent.

      It depends what you want to do but I have several friends who are Canadian teachers who are now living and working in either Europe or Asia (not just teaching English, they're qualified teachers)…for them getting a visa was easy. Your ancestry and your profession can be ways in.

      Have you thought about Au Pairing or teaching English? Those are popular ways in as well. As is getting into a big company that has EU offices and transferring…I know people who have done that.

      I also know people who have gone the internship route. A friend did one an an NGO in Geneva and then stayed on with a work visa…the fact that you've got languages will help there…

      Good luck!

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  3. So when I read that you moved to London and, knowing you were from Canada, I assumed you meant London, Ontario! I grew up in rural Canada (Florenceville, New Brunswick) and moving to larger cities like Chicago was strange and wonderful. I now live in Delaware and I miss the excitement of the city and the peace of the country.

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    • haha, no a bit farther than that!

      I know what you mean about the excitement vs. peace thing…it's a balancing act, to be sure.

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    • Just wanted to say hi from another Delaware reader!

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  4. I completely relate to this post, and it was helpful to read it from another person's perspective. I'm torn between living in a not safe neighborhood in a town I hate because I have an already paid for house here and my mom is here and the fact that my heart longs for the pacific northwest – the oceans, the forests…it's felt like home to me since I first visited there fourteen years ago. I'm slowly trying to come to terms with the fact that I want to leave my family so I can wake up someplace that makes me smile and not someplace that makes me cringe. I'm struggling with not knowing how to logistically and financially make the move and with not knowing when that might ever happen.

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    • Glad it helped. :)

      I was lucky when I moved because I didn't have a lot of attachment to where I was; if you do it's a bit more of a mental leap in a sense I think. When I decided to move permanently rather than just spend some time here travelling I had no idea how I was going to do it financially or otherwise I just knew I was…everything fell into place after I made that decision. I guess I was lucky in a sense because I was 23 and fearless. Now I'm almost 26 and fearless with student loan debt, haha. I guess what I'm saying is…there are things that you need to consider money-wise, etc but if you want it you really need to just decide…it's the decision to go itself that's the biggest part…everything else you can just break down into small parts and tick them off the list as you go. :)

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  5. Funny, I was just thinking about this sort of thing this morning. I grew up in the outskirts of a very small, very Southern town, in a "neighborhood" where you walk across several acres to get to the neighbor's. It's not quite the middle of nowhere; my parents have all the modern luxuries and a Wal-mart within driving distance. But I never thought I would be anything other than a country girl. Now, I'm about to graduate from college, and I've loved my last four years in a university city. There's so much culture here that I just can't get back home. I love being able to walk up the street to my favorite coffee place, or hop down the road to the Asian supermarket, or go to the theater with some friends on a Friday night. I've made a life for myself here, and it's hard to imagine doing it any other way.

    My parents have recently moved to a new house in the same town, and actually have more land. There's a pond for fishing, trails for riding dirt bikes, and a beautiful patio. I admit, it is wonderful to spend a Saturday touring the local wineries with my mom, come home and cook dinner in their kitchen that is almost as big as my studio apartment, and then make s'mores in the fire pit. It is definitely a slower way of doing things.

    For me, I think I'll continue living in the city. I never have been one for slowing down very often. And I'll enjoy coming home to my family and escaping the hustle and bustle that much more.

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    • I'm absolutely with you on all of this. I'm starting to come to terms with fact that city is what I want now. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll move to the middle of no where. :)

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  6. We've managed to combine the Highlands and the city by moving to a little seaside village that's 30 minutes by train from Edinburgh. It would be nice to live further north but there just aren't the job opportunities. I think everyone needs a bit of city time though, I lived in Orkney (islands off the north coast of Scotland) until I was 10 and couldn't wait to leave, now I love going back but not sure I could live there again.

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    • I know what you mean about jobs up there…it's really difficult. I love the far north of England as well…Cumbria and Northumberland, but work is hard to find.

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  7. This really spoke to me as I'm just leaving London after five years to return to my version of the Highlands. I keep telling myself I can change my mind if I don't like it. (I'd also choose city or rural over any type of Suburbia).

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  8. Oakville girl here (and I know you know where that is, fringes-of-Toronto). I grew up where you avoided – the middle-class, white picket suburbs. But my parents were both from the Maritimes (Nova Scotia & Newfoundland), and I felt like by driving my two sisters and me to visit family every year, I learned how to understand 'home' in many different locations.

    I still live in Oakville, but I always wonder whether I will end up in a city like when I was in University (Toronto & Glasgow), or back to where I started – the suburbs. Hearing your flexibility with your situation made me feel more confident about my own. As the wise Pumbaa once said: "Home is where your rump rests."

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  9. "I accepted it's okay to not be totally sure about where you live. It's okay to be somewhere with most of your heart when a piece of it is somewhere else. It's okay to love and appreciate where you are while still knowing that one day you're going to want to try to be somewhere else, and it's okay to not know when that will be."

    Thank you for this. After several years of talking about not wanting to do the long commute thing (fellow Canadian here, commute is to Toronto) and not wanting to live 'behind my garage', my husband and I just bought a house in a suburban neighbourhood.
    It's a nice house, a nice neighbourhood, a good investment and near lots of things that I enjoy; but we both stop short at declaring it our forever dream home – because it's not.

    Thanks for the beautiful reminder that it doesn't have to be in order for us to be happy.

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    • Yes, this.

      I live in Toronto but grew up in suburbia. I have a dream in the back of my head of living in the middle of nowhere, but given my job and my fiance's business (and our total lack of DIY abilities or even one driver's license between the two of us), it's not going to happen anytime soon. We're currently looking for a house here. And in fact there are many things I love about urban living. Thanks for the reminder that it's okay, and to keep appreciating where I am right now!

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  10. Oh man, I feel this. I want to live in Washington state, in the San Juans, so bad it hurts. It HURRRRRRTS. But my family and my spouses family all live within about 30 miles of each other in Missouri suburbia. I browse real estate in WA constantly, but I can't move. Our four kids are so close to their family, we can't take them away from each other. I'm not at peace with it yet, I want to move today…but I'm trying. I deal by visiting when I can and soaking it in.

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  11. i recently moved from the states to thailand … when we discovered where we were moving, i quickly googled the town & that returned a big ole NOTHING. so, i was moving to the middle of nowhere. it wasn't mountains, city, or ocean side like i likely would have picked. when i saw the flat fields, my heart sank a bit.
    fast forward 6 months & having now traveled to the places i WOULD HAVE PICKED, that middle of nowhere town is actually my fav place in thailand! so, i'll attest that sometimes we have no idea what we actually want or need. ^_^

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