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Monday, 18 March 2013

“I want to be there” –or what “Sesame Street” can teach us about being an expat

I wrote this a while ago, but wasn’t sure whether this is good enough for being published. I’m now trying to get back on track with blogging, so I figured this piece would be fine with some adjustments and corrections.

When I was little, my parents let me watch lots of TV in German just so I wouldn’t forget this language. So, I watched pretty much everything that was appropriate for children. Among these programmes, there was “Sesame Street”. A very memorable episode was the one where two monsters were exploring the concepts of “here” and “there”.

You see, just like “you” and “me” change according to the person speaking, “here” and “there” change according to where you are. Another thing about “there” is that once you get “there”, it becomes “here”. You can’t really be “there” because you are always “here”. Therefore it is a very hard concept to learn for children. The show tackled it perfectly.

This particular episode stuck with me for reasons I didn’t understand at that time, but now I think I do. While I never wanted to leave Poland for good, I’ve always had the need and the desire to explore other places. The Germans call it “Fernweh”- the very opposite of being homesick. “Fernweh” refers to missing a place you’ve never been, you’ve never seen. It’s one of these untranslatable words in German, together with “Schadenfreude” and “Weltschmerz”. Oh the things the Germans gave us.

Anyway, “Fernweh” can be best explained with the “Sesame Street” episode mentioned above. It is, put very simply, the desire to be “there”, somewhere where you are not at the moment.

Why am I mentioning it here? Simply because among the many reasons someone may decide to be an expat, Fernweh may be a very powerful one. It has inspired me to go to Germany, where actually “there” really became “home”, because I met my husband.

The funny thing is that even now, away from my home country, I can still feel “Heimweh”- homesick, and “Fernweh”- the desire to be “there”. I want to travel, I want to explore, I want to see new places. There are so many places I’ve haven’t visited yet.

Now, of course, with three children, going “there”, or going anywhere, really, can become increasingly difficult, but I guess there are ways to do this without losing all your savings and your sanity in the process. I just have to explore these options.

Another thing that connects “Fernweh” and “Heimweh” is the “weh”. It means “pain”. We all know how bad being homesick is, and the words themselves reflect this- it is equalled with being sick, or being in pain. It is no wonder then, that you can find the “weh” in “Fernweh”.

Because wanting to be “there” can be just as bad as missing home.

Did you feel “Fernweh” at some point? Did you want to be “there”? Where did you want to be?

Oh, here's the episode for your enjoyment!

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  1. Oh, how I love this post! It really hit home with me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Lynn :) glad you liked it! I bet this is a feeling more expats share...

  2. Heimweh and Fernweh become the same when I feel the need to go back to a place where I lived before. It occurs to me for Florence, Paris and a few other places. But then there is this feeling, Fernweh, for new places... If you just want to visit a new place for holiday, that's fine. But what if you really need the urge to pack up things and move? I had this feeling so many times in my life. I used to move every 3 years (during my stay in Zurich I moved 5 times in the same city). I think when you have children this feeling somehow changes, at least it did change for me.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Ute! Yes, sometimes Fernweh and Heimweh are the same thing- epsecially for us expats! Thanks for pointing this out! And, I agree there is a huge difference between moving for good and just seeing places.


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