Confessions of an Alaskan Expat…
(Originally I wrote this when I was a year into living in Denmark. It was two websites ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. But ironically, things are eerily similar now that I live in Nuuk, Greenland. Nuuk is a little bit Denmark, and a whole lot Greenlandic. Life has improved although it is a striking similarity to living in Denmark. Only now people look like me, as they say I look Greelandic. People speak Danish and have Danish mannerisms, and are an eclectic mix of Greenland and Denmark. This is an update to the original 2018 blog post).
I confess that…
Even though I live in another completely different country, I still miss home, Alaska. (yes, I still consider Alaska my home).
I lived in Alaska for most of my life. From rural Alaska to the biggest city in Alaska, I have lived all over the great state of Alaska. Now, as an expat living on Kalaallit nunaat land, the biggest most uninhabited island on earth, I confess that there are things that I just can’t let go of. These are things that I either love, can’t live without or substitute. These are usually things I CAN’T FIND or they are RIDICULOUSLY expensive and/or I just LOVE and will not be swayed. What things am I talking about? Well let me look at my last Amazon order: Lawry’s Seasoning salt, waterproof dog booties (yes my dog needs paw protection:), a camera tripod stand, Mrs. Dash seasoning, a vegetable chopper, personal finance books in English, glucosamine pills (because joints), cosmetics, and a few toys for the kids. I suppose this is the American consumer in me that just needs to shop or have these items around to feel like I’m not so far away from home. Nonetheless, it just makes sense and thank goodness I found a company that I can ship to Greeland from Amazon, for a price.
And so my love affair with Amazon continues.
Here are other things that I confess that are challenging as an Alaskan expat living in Greenland:
My Danish is still limited.
Even after 3+ years, I can’t speak the Danish language fluently. I can muddle through a basic conversation or ask questions but my go-to is always, “Taler du engelsk?” In my defense…it’s a pretty damn HARD language to learn. This is coming from a gal that learned Japanese in high school. But you will find that most people, especially the younger generations are trilingual. Yes, they speak three languages. These are Greenlandic, Danish, and English (and not in that order). Anyways, I guess I should try harder.
I still use power converters.
I still love my trusty American curling iron. Enough said;)
I still don’t like the bread.
Rugbrød (pronounced opuul) is not my cup of tea. Like Denmark, Greenlanders love their dense Rye bread. I hardly ate bread before I moved here now its a staple in my home because of my Danish husband and Danglish kids. But the butter is amazing…who knew about this creamy goodness. Anyways, rugbrød is a staple in most homes here and I am slowly coming around. To each their own.
I miss my subsistence food.
(I wrote this when I lived in Denmark, now that we live in Nuuk, we have more access to native subsistence foods) I grew up hunting and fishing for moose and salmon. I rarely bought ‘store meat’ because our family would collectively hunt and fish to put food away for the winter season. Now that we are in Greenland, we have an abundance of Indigenous foods that are not native to me, but I am grateful that my family and I get to experience other native foods like caribou (tutu), Greenlandic lamb, whale, muktuk, and so much variety of fish. I do miss my native soul foods but these Inuit foods are almost as good, almost;)
Moving away definitely changes friendships. I found who my ‘real friends’ were after I moved from Alaska and I value them more than ever. It’s hard to make friends though. You are forced to get outside of your comfort zone and meet people. But social media really helps with this. There are Facebook groups, meet-ups, and expat groups where you can meet people with similar interests. However, in a smaller community like Nuuk, the dynamics are different and I feel as if people don’t let new people in so easily. I have found this to be similar to Danish people when we lived in Denmark. The struggle is real but I did manage to find a circle of friends that I have come to value in Nuuk.
Less is more.
I left Alaska with 11 bags, two dogs, a toddler, and a baby in my belly. Looking back, it was a bit excessive. It was a lot of bags with stuff that I really didn’t need, but I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know what to expect so I packed a lot of everything. Since we’ve moved so much, I’ve become somewhat of a professional packer and minimalist. I’ve learned to keep it light. Now, I’m down to ‘the bare minimal amount’ of crap. Less is definitely more.
Loneliness is the norm.
I think it’s different for everyone. But for me, the loneliness really doesn’t go away but it comes in waves. It’s more of sadness for things that are familiar since we were constantly moving so nothing is ever the same. But it stays with me and I am probably getting too ‘comfortable’ with being alone. Freelancing doesn’t help with this as I work from home. Hence, I have a more introverted personality. But any new unfamiliar place is what you make it and I am making more of a point to network within the community.
Sadness…I still cry.
I don’t know what else to say other than I just have to let it out when I get overwhelmed with waves of homesickness for my family & friends, for home, and anything that remotely reminds me of home. Social media can be a brutal reminder of this. Even after 3+ years, the birthdays, losses, the holidays come and go and life just doesn’t stop and wait for you. I find myself missing even the smallest of things that I find myself painfully missing the most. It can get really hard sometimes and even with supportive family and friends, I’ve learned to be my own hero and carry myself through those days. One thing I have noticed though is that time is a great motivator to go home on holiday and visit. And over time, the sadness does get less heavy and loaded. It’s still hard at times but it’s less of a sting as time passes.
It will change you.
I confess I am not the same person that I was when I arrived in Denmark in the Fall of 2016. I dearly hope not. I was a nervous, anxiety-ridden, pregnant, hot mess when I arrived. Don’t get me wrong, I am still all sorts of anxious and worrisome, (just not pregnant), but I am more confident nowadays. I can wade through the city on my own and get lost and adjust accordingly. I can muddle through a basic Danish conversation. I know which shops have certain comfort foods. I am constantly forced to leave my ‘comfort zone’ and I’m better off for it. The same can be said for living in Nuuk, Greenland. After almost two years here, I’ve come to love the funny little trails over hills to take the kids to school, the people that acknowledge you and smile with their whole faces as they pass you, running into friends at the store, fresh seafood, Greenlandic kids that want to practice speaking English with me, and relationships that I’ve cultivated over the years.
I’ve come this far in this life abroad and I’m not about to leave it anytime soon. I was always an independent native woman, but…this new animal of living in another country, especially since this is the second country I’ve lived abroad in. It’s a whole new level of ‘grown’ and I am left changed into a more evolved woman.
Do you live in another country? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve ‘integrated’ into the country. If you want to know more, subscribe to my email list here.
Stay tuned for more unconventional life lessons and stories on the Naetif Jen Podcast.
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