For my entire adult life, I moved to a new city or country every 2-4 years. In the past 14 years, I have lived in six different places, four of which were different countries.. No matter how much I fell in love with the place or especially the people, I couldn’t ignore the siren song of new cultures, new challenges, and new experiences.
In my late 20s, it started to wear me out. I have been extremely lucky to find fun, supportive, and meaningful communities everywhere I have lived. For a long time, I framed it this way: The world is so vast, and there are people who could be my best friend everywhere-I want to find them! But as I grew older, I saw the difference between relationships based on time versus those that were new. I craved relationships with rich memory banks, people who knew me over years of changes and interests and conversations. Instead of expanding wider, I wanted to go deeper.
I thought Greece would be the place where I would do that. After finishing my initial year in Athens, I excitedly told everyone that I was ready to commit to another five years with an eye to stay longer. But then immigration issues and red tape made staying overly complicated, and after two three-month visits, I said goodbye to Greece.
That disappointment fueled my desire to put down roots in a place where my status would be easily managed. An obvious question is why I didn’t just return to live in my home country, to which I say: Pfh! I still wanted the mystique and adventure of living abroad, but with a much stronger dose of safety. When the opportunity to move to Vancouver, Canada presented itself, I seized it.
I have now lived here for three years, I have permanent residency for at least another five, and I have no intention of leaving. When I think about living in Vancouver long term, several perks spring to mind.
- For one thing, there’s no actual rule that staying in one place means you’ll have stability! I’ve lived in Vancouver for three years, but in that time I’ve lived in four locations, two of which were couch surfing for three months because I was laid off and my work-related housing was taken away. The relationships I made at my first workplace faded after being laid off, and oh yeah, a pandemic swept the globe, which drastically altered everything. I’m not sure I can even claim that I’ve settled in Vancouver, which is my point. Life is full of changes, so my desire for new experiences does not have to be contingent upon living in new locations.
- It’s disorienting and wonderful to take the future into consideration with friends. I’ve very rarely expected to live in the same neighborhood, let alone country, of the people I love. Not for very long, anyway. So when I joke with a friend about starting a business together in a few years, it’s incredibly strange to realize that it could actually happen.
- Financial stability has always been something I crave but actively worked against because I thought it was a sin. [Insert sad noise here.] I took jobs that paid very little because I believed in the mission and I trusted God to provide. He did, and I don’t regret those jobs at all. But now that I’m older and I see my parents comfortably living in retirement and my lack of desire for children means I can’t rely on the next generation, I see the wisdom of stable jobs with pensions. And if I’m totally honest, it feels really good to spend money on basically anything my frugal heart wants without worrying about my budget. This is such a new and delightful feeling that I shout “We’re wealthy!” on a regular basis with my girlfriend when we, oh, buy deck furniture or splurge on farm-raised bacon.
- Knowing that I have no intention to leave Vancouver, I find myself both exploring more of the area and returning to old favorites. When I lived in Greece, I never wanted to spend vacation time going back to a site I had already visited. There were so many things to see and so little time! But with Vancouver as my home, it’s possible to have a standard weekend getaway, a favorite hike, and a favorite walk. Interestingly, I also find that stability allows me to see more of Lower BC. Whereas I might never have visited some of the smaller towns or less well-known hikes if my time here was limited, now I have the freedom to explore everywhere without worrying that I might choose incorrectly and waste my time.
- With the big picture secure, I can enjoy small changes. I have lived in my apartment for seven months now, and despite the fact that I occasionally suggest moving elsewhere (it’s hard to kick old habits!), my girlfriend reminds me that we have an awesome place in an amazing location, and we haven’t come close to fully enjoying it yet. I’ve made a list of all the restaurants within two blocks of our building (from Ukrainian to Korean to Persian to Japanese), and we’re going to slowly try all of them over the next few months. And then we might go to three blocks away! Similarly, I have never lived in a cozier home. Knowing that this apartment will be ours for the foreseeable future means that we can work our way through upgrading our furniture into non-IKEA pieces that we deeply love and enjoy without worrying about whether we’ll have to sell everything that doesn’t fit into two suitcases and head to another country.
I won’t deny that there is still a part of me that itches to go somewhere new, start a new life, and see what experiences are out there. Unfortunately, this is hugely fueled by the fact that we’re living through a worldwide pandemic, and I haven’t been able to travel further than two hours away in over a year. I eagerly anticipate the day when I can get on a plane and visit old homes or explore new cities. But I also eagerly anticipate coming home, and that is something new.