I grew up in post-communism in a fractured generation. Each with its own bubble.

Unicorns!! Image credit: a facebook group (to be id)

Hi! Every time at Edgeryders we start a new project or build a new community I am digging into my life story from a new angle. I am Noemi, a longtime member and co-founder of Edgeryders back in the days. I will keep this version short: at 30 I walked straight into a personal life crisis and found myself in a systematic process of understanding where I come from.

I relocated to Brussels two years ago, and for the longest time I had been adamant about staying and possibly working in my own country. I was one of the last “Romanian patriots”, @alberto used to joke. Member of the struggling middle class and living in one of the most developed cities, I and many of my peers built ourselves fairly good lives and many of them are successfully living in more traditional values - marriage, job, house, and bank loans by the time we are 30. All could be well, nothing against traditional culture.

But I found myself having to re-think everything due to the erosion in society that I saw happening. Erosion compared to what it should be, living in the 21st century. Of course, Romania has seen worst in communist times, yet for some of us values like freedom, equality are non-negotiable and a one way street, as well as playing catch-up with the West. Still, every day media and forums go crazy about yet another political threat to democracy and human rights; every day we are confronted with other bubbles - mainstream and generalised - of hyper conservative values (i.e. “filthy Roma people do not deserve housing”).
The surprise for me was when sometimes, these statements came from places I least expected, friends of friends who let it slip that their true opinions are the opposite of inclusive progress and a shared future. It is shocking because in Romania we’ve been used to politicians swinging it since forever (we called it “politicianism”), but new flavours in the past ten years or so are going left and right. Populism captures many souls looking for quick solutions and intellectual shortcuts. When people you know who are the new generation become conservative, you realise that politics is down in your house now. So I felt that my living was contrived: I was friends with people whom maybe today I would not choose.

On the positive side, I rejoiced having escaped conservatism due to good upbringing. (self-)Discipline and progressive family values (thanks mom and dad!) make one want to open horizons and look beyond the scarce value offer nationally: unfortunately it often entails getting out.

Getting out is generalized and massive: in the early nineties people were flooding out for the “western mirage” in search of better lives. 3.4 millions left in just the last 10 years, and currently around 5 million live abroad, from a population of 22 million. That’s a lot. 400 000 live only in the UK and are now facing risks of being pushed away by politics gone wrong.

I didn’t leave out of cynicism or lack of hope, to be honest. Still, I can’t help but wonder: the way out is sometimes mentally healthier than staying. The fight remains though, but you do it from a “sunnier” place. Uhm, yes, Brussels.

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OMG, I see some similarities here to my story. Populist party, politics reaching our daily life, middle :wink: age crisis at 30, feeling of choking inside the “happy bubble” that supposed to protect you. My bubble are friends, local politicians from opposite party, activists. They bring hope sometimes. But still. In my case staying in country in which you feel “outsider” and you are litterally called “thread to healthy nation” - hmm, seems a little masochistic. But - deciding to start from the beginning in another country seems just as scary. How did it happen to you? When did you decide to leave and what was your “pull factor”?

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Haha, so well put! Choking inside the ‘happy bubble’ is exactly what I was feeling,
Thank you @ALaAl, I’m so impressed by your read. You should be a community manager, great work supporting another to synthetise exactly what they mean and reinforce it :stuck_out_tongue:

I am a bit of a masochist in general. But this is not just about me and my country - the reasons to stay for a long time were because my family and close support system were very warm, I had a loving partner there. And my friends are good friends, it’s just that a clash of values is not something to ignore - even if you dont discuss politics, you may want to travel differently, eat and consume differently, and so it spills into all areas of social life. You can’t ignore it. Also, the situation of Romania is different than Poland - it’s a pro-Europe, pro-democracy country nonetheless, and it feels stable that way. But with so much room for improvement of course. So I didn’t leave running, not at all.

The pull factor, to be honest, was the mental transition as I was nearing 30. I want to blog about it more, since these last 2 years were a tranformation. Maybe these days. It would go filed under ‘psychological wellbeing’ I believe.

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“psychological wellbeing” brought me to do volunteering abroad when I was living in Germany for one year also around 30 (is this year magical in a way or what? :P) . I thought that being away from love-hate relationship with own country would help to get solutions for own future. Didn’t work in my case because i had terrible job there and was bored most of time sitting in the library which literally NO ONE was visiting, trying to work on phD thesis, feeling stucked in the middle. Seems like not only moving-away but also have meaningfull job could be that factor, no? What you are doing in Brussels?

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Yes, funny that you ask: my meaningful work is with edgeryders. I’m part of the core team of co-founders, so this has been a baby since 8 years. I got into it right after my studies, not wanting to go into PhD… And now this is what I’m doing in Brussels, and what has become also personal life, more than a job:

You should come visit! And also, I hope we can meet at least virtually. @natalia_skoczylas @AskaBednarczyk and their crowd will be organising Virtual Cafes starting September, as a way to put people in touch with each other. It’s how many around the edgeryders network have found new kind of support. It’s like networking in your town, but in a weirder way :slight_smile:

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I have never even been to Romania (bad, I know…), but I can relate to this. I left Italy for the second time about ten years ago, and my environment of origin is now quite at odds with me. It was always like that, but things seem to have radicalized. Or maybe it’s just perception: those guys are on Facebook, and I see them posting pretty bad stuff about migrants and climate, alongside normal or even nice stuff about going trekking. Maybe if I left Facebook I would not feel so out of place in Italy.

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Facebook connected me to a bunch of childhood friends from the years I was growing up in the American suburbs. It sometimes shocks me a little when some of them express what I view as seriously misguided reactionary views. But I admit that things in the USA are so crazy, so out of kilter, and frankly so increasingly violent and intolerant that almost every day I wrestle with “fight or flight” dilemmas. My more hedonistic side wants to just find peace and harmony but I’m just too invested in this society- and it is too militarily powerful - to bail on it. The pathetic excuse for leadership in today’s American government is just not acceptable. Turning everyone in the world into an enemy is a path to planetary destruction. But damn - it sucks over here these days. On days when I read the news anyway. (Sorry to rant too much in this topic that isn’t about me, but this is my version of alienation and my inner conflicts around it. )

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There’s a great great read on Memetic Tribes and Culture Wars categorizing a lot of bubbles today. It ends with ways to fight these wars:

My personal take on your comment is:
Many of us seem to be - which only means that we choose our battles: some prefer a more radical activisty side, others choose to enagage in the debate and build empathy; some operate from the middle of the screaming conversations, other defect and route around. And then, there’s the in betweeners, like some Edgeryders folks and the very culture we are building - of dialogue, but not compromising on the values.

this resonates a lot with me as well, tho luckily (so far) my home country doesn’t have a Trump as PM (yet - we do have a rightwing politician with the same kinda hair as Donald and Boris, whats up with that?).

For me it’s been partially the “expat-experience:” living from home you change, the people in your old space change, but you expect them to be the same, as if time hasn’t moved, and they expect you to be the same as well. Insert: friction between reality and your idea of reality. And it’s not just within your smaller community that this is the case, but the whole country feels alien. I really like how @matthias put it in the interview questions I had for him (working on that right on now by the way!):

“I had a profound “reverse culture shock” experience when coming back from Nepal: nothing here in Europe made sense anymore […] there is a lot of hope in Nepal: a road is coming to the village, or piped water supply arrives (actually they installed it in our house in Kathmandu while @natalia_skoczylas and I lived there!), or so many other little steps of progress. And they expect it will continue like that. That’s what a hopeful civilization feels like…”

I feel the same, thi I had I never felt as a “misfit” back home. But the first time I returned after living abroad for a year, I was shocked with people being upset that the train was a 1 minute late - even though I would’ve been one of those people a year before that. I was upset that my colleagues at the Dutch Parliament couldn’t understand I was giving up my job after a year to move to Ukraine to study a new language. I was annoyed that most of my friends would have time for lunch planned a few months ahead, and would feel uncomfortable if I’d call them to have a drink “right now.”

That was in 2008/2009. And I haven’t lived back home since. I just didn’t feel home anymore.

But living abroad you also live in a bubble. And I think that’s where the shock of the continued polarization of our worlds lays. It’s not that Belgium isn’t experiencing its worst rise in extreme right political parties in decades, but you are not affected by it as it “isn’t your country.” So, you’re worried about it, but it hurts more when it’s you childhood friend who has fringe ideas about the earth being flat, than when it is your neighbor who you only say hi to.

I currently live in a country that is extremely homophobic, extremely religious, and extremely patriotic (Georgia) - all the things that I am not (I used to run the joke that my only religion is equality). But its politics and its views “hurt” me less than the news that the right wing party in the Netherlands has gained more seats in parliament. Talking with someone who says gays are evil hurts me, but when they say it in Georgia I sip from my coffee, politely smile and ask “how come?” whereas in NL I’d probably throw that same cup of coffee in their face.

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Very interesting, haven’t thought about that. If you’ve been living in the new country for a short while, yes, but if you’ve been in Georgia for over 10 years and your now family is Georgian, can it possibly be the same? Does it take so long to feel at home again? Wow. I’ll have to live and see it.
For me it’s also this thing about moving from East to West: as a general direction it seems there is a lot more safety as long as you play by the rules. So even if something bad happens here, is seems like it’s not really dangerous, or threatening. But this is probably much easier to say from Belgium today than from other Western states - US and Netherlands included.

And yes, everything about your country of birth or what was your home before hurts harder, for sure.

Ping @ioana_traista @alex_stef and especially @Piska - I’m interested what the home bubbles and abroad bubbles mean for you, and where you are finding wellbeing.

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I totally get this point with living in your own bubble abroad, and this is exactly why I want to live abroad.
It opens a possibility of living a life that is not determined by your, or any, nationality - in fact, the longer I am away, the less sense it makes for me to say I am Polish. I find such labels misrepresentative and irrelevant for me. But trying to be something else, say, German, makes little sense as well. I guess I need to stick to my passport and my identity as long as it’s necessary :slight_smile:

Based on my experience, similar in a way, I’d assume that @Inge doesn’t consider her family Georgian maybe (am I right?) - if I started a family, I’d probably have to think of a whole new way of calling this phenomena :smiley:

I have been moving for 10 years, and every time it is a bubble - different when I lived in Asia, very privileged but also filled with intense learning and growing, different in various European countries, where who I was could always be tweaked, and was always affected by a whole lot of variables (the way people perceived my education, my Polishness and the stereotypes around it, who did I live with). But the comfort that comes from the fact you’re not exactly, in some sense, a deep part of the community, is incredible. For people who need tight-knit groups and situations, I guess it might be frustrating. For those of us who enjoy freedom and want to lead adventurous, extravagant lives, this is just perfect. You can be whatever you want, free from the gaze and cultural and social limitations that your own country imposes.

The feeling at home is an interesting one, @Noemi, and I think it depends on what you need to call a place a home = I need only myself. I immediately call every place home. Even when I’m only squatting friends for a week :slight_smile:

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Plus, I have to say, feeling distanced to my domestic politics makes me feel great. It’s no longer so much my problem - I am interested in international relations, and I read mostly about American, Russian, Chinese, British politics. it’s nice to feel you’re not responsible for the mess in your country anymore, but you still get a good overview of what shapes the world and how you position yourself towards global, human challenges. National politics, my god, why did we even invent it :rofl:

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This is very similar to my own experience. And compounded by the objective difficulties of understanding what the heck is going on at the social and political level in your host country. Belgium had elections three months ago, the new parliament has been unable to form a government, and almost no expat has a clue why, or what is going to happen next.

Here in Brussels, Noemi’s and my reaction has been to try to burrow deeper in the local context. With our different styles: she’s out talking to local activists who reclaim unused buildings; I borrow books on Belgian history in the local library, and actually do have an idea of why we don’t have a a government yet. I also made an effort to think myself more as a local, celebrating the parts of the local culture that I resonate with (easy in Belgium, and in Brussels in particular, with the anti-authoritarian, anarchic streak and the surrealist humor). I even made myself a citizen. But that only punctured the bubble, not dissolved it.

Also resonates with my experience. But now, eight years on, I am really losing touch with the political mess in Italy: my overview is no longer so good. Just this week I was contemplating getting a subscription to some newspaper or something. I know, a terrible idea. But I look at Italian social media, and I see all this anger and sarcasm coming through, and don’t get it. In the coming months, I think, I will have to decide if letting it go for good or going a bit closer.

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Very interesting you read your experiences here. So similar with mine in many ways.

First time I came to Belgium was in 1999, high school. I got enrolled in Institut catholique Saint Boniface in Ixelles. Had a very weird episode there with the principle inviting me to his office, trying to find in a shady way if I was Ortodox or Catholic, beeting around the bush, then giving me special treatment when he found out. I also saw how all the kids kept separate in school, divided by race, it felt so wrong. I left Belgium 2 months later, disgusted.

When I moved to Brussels again 2 years later I found it refreshing nobody was asking me about my nationality or religion out of some hidden agenda, if it happened it was out of curiosity. I met people from all over the world and it was an amazing experience.

Even though I have changed so much, just like you. The thing is, I believe we changed way more than people who stayed in our countries…it’s just that we perceive they changed a lot :wink:.
I am not distanced from local politics at all, especially not the one in Balkans. At first I resented it, felt powerless and frustrated, but as time passed by I felt I cannot just ignore it. I feel there is more hope and potential for change there, here the system became too strong. Also the change is more urgent there than here in western hemisphere but not for the reasons you might think.

Few years in I realised how special Brussels was and, in spite all the things I resent about it, it is by large the reason I keep coming back to it. Brussels is a city of nomads, of expats, of people out of place but actually in perfect place for them…you might say we form a new nation. Nation based on similar experiences, feelings, perception or belief…I would say it is a belief we are human above all.

Nations are a rather recent invention in human history so I really don’t see why should anyone look at it as something permanent, I don’t. I believe more and more people realise this and in fact solution to accelerate such an evolution is to create better living conditions. From what I see, poorer someone is more likely he is to be influenced by manipulators using nation, race, religion or any other mean to create bigger divisions in society and rule on that foundation of fear of ‘the other side’.

And yes, as @natalia_skoczylas said, result of me moving so much around is that I feel at home everywhere as well :slight_smile:

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I think I see this too in my environment. But I would never say it out loud, it sounds a bit presumptious no? The implication seems to be: ‘I evolved, you haven’t’. And who wants to stay still?

Well I didn’t say we changed in a good way (evolved) and they haven’t :wink:

Experiencing different things, meeting different people,cultures, viewpoints etc, expands your own and normally helps you a great deal in personal development. So even if you said that you evolved more than they did, it would make sense even though it would sound arrogant.

That’s why I don’t judge though, maybe I wouldn’t have evolved much if I stayed in my home town my whole life (Zadar). In fact, it’s highly likely. Why would an organism evolve if it hasn’t changed environment (living conditions)? :smiley:.

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This is so true, whenever I am back in Lublin, where I studied, i go to the hip bars and meet my old friends and they have the same conversations… For real! 10 years later. Nothing bad about it, it’s just a different experience, i completely agree.

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Well, not so long ago I spent an afternoon with @hugi working on some stuff. After a couple of hours we are hungry and go to get some food around the corner. On arrival we meet an old acquaintance of mine whom I hadnt seen in years. Asked him how he was. He had had two kids he said. i asked him how that was - “well it is not as bad as my job”.

On the other hand friends who went out into the world and experienced and did wild stuff- they went back home and settled into nice comfortable lives. They were somehow in the same place, and living fairly conventional lives - but the way they arrived there was one in which their personal development lead them there. An active, well thought through choice. And they are happy.

So it’s pretty unpredictable I think and varies from person to person.

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This is such an exciting post, @noemi I apologize it has taken me so long to answer your ping but, as you know, I moved once again to a new city. I left my hometown 14 years ago and I have been reconstructing my social world since then. I think the ‘home bubbles’ and the ‘abroad bubbles’ have always been fluid for me - ‘home’ and ‘abroad’ have blurry boundaries. Even in my darkest, least hopeful moments, when it felt like I didn’t have a home anymore or a language that feels like home, I tried to remind myself that I left Romania for NYC because I was curious to learn about the world. This is also the reason for which I try to keep my bubbles porous - I believe that if I want to learn with others I cannot live in the comfort of a cozy space. My struggle has been to deconstruct ideas that society takes for granted - that ‘home’ needs to be a stable space, a comfortable one, a space of predictability and intimacy (hence my interest in co-housing). But most homes are not like that or, more accurately, they are like that only in the simplified narratives we create about them. From my experience, there is a lot of hard work involved in building a home both ‘at home’ and ‘abroad’. So, it is this hard work of making a home that keeps me sane because I know that, if I am honest with myself, wherever I go I will have to engage in it. This realization has saved me from cultural shocks and the disappointment with old or new friends. Of course, some days it feels easier to fall back on given narratives about homes and homelands…but those days pass. More difficult is losing friends because of such relocations in space but then again friendships are dialogues and some dialogues end or morph into something else. I guess, I find my wellbeing in trying to stay curious, kind and open to the world around me even when I don’t feel like it or when the world around doesn’t seem particularly kind to me (poetry helps too) :slight_smile:

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There is an old saying in English, “home is where the heart is.”

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