Finding the Words

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Enjoying the sun that has made its way back to the Baltics

Writing is a tool that I have always used to process my experiences. When at a crossroads in life, I have so often found solace in writing letters to others and essays for myself about my thoughts and emotions. I wouldn’t call myself an overtly public being, so the writing that I choose to share is only a sliver of the writing I have done personally.

I find a lot of meaning in just sitting down and letting my thoughts dribble out onto the page. Through writing, I can explore my internal and external experiences. Through writing, I can dedicate myself to a task. Through writing, I can attempt to better share with others what is going on in my fast-paced life. I wrote a lot in college — I used to joke with friends that it felt like I pumped-out an eight page research paper every three days or so. In all honesty, this is probably not that far from the truth! Yet, I love that high-intensity dedication as it yields results and keeps me accountable. Going into this year, I knew that I wanted to keep writing in order to stay in the habit and process my life in Latvia. Instead of my writing being mainly academic and structurally-focused, I have taken time to develop my style and prose. I have found a way in which I can write for personal use that helps me process the world and doesn’t feel too vulnerable to share with those who ask about my experience.

Recently, however, I have found that it has been harder to articulate my thoughts either to myself or others. In many ways, I have reached the point of full comfortability abroad and in my day-to-day. Life in Latvia is the “new normal” and life at home in the States seems far away and faint. The head space that I was living in during the fall has flipped. More often than not, I now think ahead to the activities that I have coming up in my schedule here than being hyper-focused about what my family/friends have going on back home. Instead of reminiscing about what I am missing in the Midwest, I am currently sad that I will be gone for Latvia’s summer activities. With the weather finally having turned nice , I find myself disappointed that I cannot see this country in its prime of beauty and instead have lived here through the dark months of winter. I find myself subconsciously calling this place home.

Though this turning point certainly elicits confusion, I think it is the moment in which I can say that I have fully adjusted to being an expat. In many ways, if it wasn’t for the people back in the States, I feel that I would be perfectly happy staying here. I have an orchestra to play in; a church to go to; I have a variety of friends; my schedule is full of commitments; I am doing satisfying work for others and am excited about where that work is going; I have my favorite places to go to in the city — coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, parks. I am very happy. Maybe this is the reason that when I have sat down to write in the past month I have felt at a loss for words in how I might describe this experience. In a lot of ways, the experience has now fully consumed me and I am only regretfully wrapping things up in the next few weeks.    

There are so many moments here where I wish I could pause the clock and jot down what I think about something. That I could use my writing to better sort through the messiness I feel. That I could record word-for-word the amazing, silly things my students say. That I could capture on paper the side-stitching laughter I have experienced when something ridiculous has happened to me. The pure satisfaction I felt when we started having sunny days for the first time in over five months. The horrendous feeling of losing a loved one. The unexpected joyfulness and sparkling newness of a growing relationship. That I could describe what spring looks like in Riga — it is beautiful I tell you! I have realized only recently I have really never experienced a true spring in Minnesota. Yet, instead of finding this solace in writing, I have found it stressful to think about how I will ever summarize this experience. How could I begin describe what has happened to me this year? How could I articulate the things that have frustrated me, invigorated me, and changed me? Will those closest to me ever know these things? The answer to these questions feels like “I can’t,” “I won’t,” and “no.”

Even so, instead of dwelling on this, I will choose to do the thing that takes much more effort and faith. I have to trust that time, in and of itself, will help me process all of this. I have to trust that the millions of crazy, funny stories about my life abroad will somehow sort themselves out and that I will find the best, most descriptive ones to tell others. That I will discover a comfortable and succinct answer to the “how was it?” question. That those closest to me will help me process these things and will be there for me when the transition back is difficult. That I can remember, while my family and friends in the US were not with me this year, they do know me and even better, they love me! And, maybe, most importantly, that it hasn’t been a solo experience. I have curated friendships and relationships that I hope to maintain for life. People with whom I can reminisce about that one time I moved to Latvia for a year at 23 with very little direction. People that will forever make Latvia a place in my professional and personal life. 

Yes, as these next few weeks roll forward I am doing a lot of trusting amidst my gratefulness and mix of emotions. Maybe the words and writing will come when I am finally back home in the US. Maybe, they won’t ever come. Yet, I am trusting soon enough I will be welcomed back into the fold. That I haven’t been forgotten about, even while I have been away. That this year will eventually and evenly meld into the rest of my life — the stages of “before Latvia” and “after Latvia” will become one. And, in the meantime, I will enjoy these last, fleeting, indescribable moments in a place I have found to be home. 

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