Porcupine's wisdom

The path of a modern shaman

Forever expat

What do you become when you end up living in 4 different countries for many years in each of them?

What kind of identity do you create, having being immersed in various cultures, languages and walks of life?

Is it a massive valuable experience or a very difficult life road, where one ends questioning one’s own identity, sanity and peace of mind?

It was at the age of nineteen that I landed during a warm summer day in Brussels, Belgium. I wasn’t an immigrant but travelled on a student visa to do my studies in French. I had no clear goal in front of me, I was just grasping the opportunity to do something interesting with my life. Having been born in Russia and having lived there for 19 years, I was curious about the rest of the world, and especially about the French speaking world, as the French language was my passion. I wanted to see Europe, explore and looked it as an adventure.

After five years in Brussels, where I completed a bachelor and a master, I got a bursary for another master in Amsterdam. I was so naïve then, thinking that it was all more or less the same, after all the Netherlands was a neighboring country, and I thought that the move would be easy. How mistaken I was! It was a world apart, not worse, but just totally different, speaking in a language I didn’t know, with other culture and totally different interaction among people. Still I stayed seven years in Amsterdam, learning to speak Dutch, becoming Dutch, integrating into the society. It was there that I got my first psychosis – maybe it was too much for me? Changing the countries, learning new subjects, changing radically my career? After all, with the diploma in languages, I ended up working as a financial analyst of banks and a portfolio manager – probably not the best choice for my character and personality, although the company I worked for was superb.

From Amsterdam I moved back to Brussels, abandoning a PhD bursary at the University of Amsterdam, going instead for a short spell as a headhunter at a very nice company in Brussels. I missed the city so much, that any job was good, as long as I could move back. I loved Belgium with all my heart! But I got unwell again and ended up in England, in Sheffield, with a psychosis in a psychiatric hospital, from which I emerged happy and refreshed because my short staying in the hospital showed how friendly and amazing English people are. I got another PhD bursary at Sheffield Hallam University, and stayed in Sheffield eleven years in total, getting a PhD, creating a family, working as a lecturer, making amazing friends.

But Sheffield didn’t last because I wanted a more stable job to be able to raise my son and once I was offered a position in a Dutch city, in Leeuwarden, I hesitated at first but then decided to give it a go. And so, more than three years ago, we moved to Friesland, and build our lives here at this moment.

Personally I think that I should stop moving, unless within the same country. Changing a country of residence is extremely hard, and almost impossible when you are over forty, with a child, and in a fragile mental health. I have to watch out for psychoses for the rest of my life. This is what uncertainty and starting over leads to – the mental barrier in your brain simply can’t cope with so many changes.

However, I don’t really regret my massive experience gained after living in four different countries. I speak four languages, I encountered so many interesting people, I have friends all over the world, and I have an out-box-thinking attitude towards life. Integrating into different cultures, taught me the wonders of this world, and gave me a unique perspective to understand deep level of human psyche.

It has been a marvelous, albeit, very difficult experience. My identity has changed. I can’t really associate myself with any particular culture and feel like I am a true global trotter, a European citizen, with an open perspective towards life.

But when I left Russia at the age of 19 I was crying. I kind of predicted that I would become what the French call ‘unracine’, meaning a person without roots. I became unrooted. This feeling will change once I integrate more in the place I am currently living, but it will aways be there. I miss different parts from all countries and places where I lived. I miss the deep thinking of Russian people, I miss the Belgian ‘joie de vivre’, I miss the picturesque view of the Amsterdam city, and I miss Sheffield, where I had built a whole life, its hills and amazing nature.

But I will tell you more about my international experiences in the next posts.

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About Me

I am a doctor of philosophy, a university lecturer, and a lover of cats, fine wine, dancing, theatre, and human eccentricity. Born in the Soviet Union (Moscow), I grew up in both Russia and Donbas. I am fluent in four languages, and have spent all my adult life studying (except from 18 to 19) working and living throughout Western Europe. Despite a surname-Netchitailova- that translates from Russian into English as “unreadable”, my great passions in life are reading and writing. My personal struggles have made me appreciate the manifestations of weirdness that exist everywhere. My novel ‘Elena: A Love Story for Humankind’ telling a story of a Russian pianist, diagnosed with schizophrenia, looking for her twin sister in England, can be found on Amazon (see the link)


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