Progress Report

I don’t worry too much about what other people think, except when they start to think like me. Then I’m all like “How come?” and “Since when?”

Two years ago, when I decided to take some time to travel, there were only a handful of people who threw me their full support: my friend Samantha, who once took a Fulbright year in Germany; my landlord, who made his way from Israel to New York by moving boxes and driving pedicabs; and my friend Ryan, who works as a pilot and has not only made his way around the world a few dozen times, but hardly ever pays for the trip.

In other words: people who had done it. People who understand that traveling, relocating and reinventing is not nearly as difficult as everyone else makes it out to be. People who know.

That’s not to say everyone else was a dream assassin. Most people were positive, albeit slightly skeptical. I don’t blame them – I was criminally short on details at the time. Besides, they made valid points, the most notable being that reckless behavior rarely generates good results. Time has proven that I’m the exception to that rule, but no one knew that then.

Regardless, I’m glad I made the change and even if no one else has said so out loud, I think they agree. At the very least, they seem to be a lot less concerned about my comings and goings. In fact, I’m on my way to Serbia and not a single person has yet to complain about how this makes them “nervous.” No one has asked me if it’s safe, if people there speak English or if I’m “allowed” to wear tank tops. No one has made me repeat myself just to make sure that I didn’t say “Syria.”

Maybe people have gotten tired of playing 20 Questions with me. Or maybe they just trust that I already figured it out, so they don’t have to. Either way, it’s progress and I’ll take it.

Here’s another example of progress at work. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been casually floating the idea of applying for residency in Finland – temporarily and independent of a marriage license. Not only has no one suggested that plan sounds like a huge cup of Iced Crazy, but they also haven’t asked me how I expect to execute it. No one – not even my most practical friends and conservative family members – have told me that I can’t up and move to Europe just because I feel like it.

In fact, the reaction has been quite the opposite. When I shared my plans with my mother all she said, “Oh really? Well that sounds great.” And then she started talking about a cat.

It was a response that made me check to see if I had dialed the correct number. I mean, since when? Since when does my mother not care if I live somewhere between Russia and the North Pole? Since when does she not have a single follow up question in matters involving governmental paperwork? Since when does she trust my judgment about living with a man whose idea of a first date is throwing me in a frozen lake?

“Really?!” I asked. “You don’t care if I move to Finland?”

“Well I think you should settle down somewhere,” she said. “That’s probably a safer place than most.”

If you know my mother, then you know that’s huge. And she’s not the only one who’s come around. Where once my friends would lecture me on my dating choices, they are completely unconcerned by my new companion. Apparently, all anyone needed to do to win them over was have great hair and half-heartedly agree to make them a coffee table.

“Enjoy it!” my friend urged when I was home for the visit. “Try it out for a year or two and see what happens!”

“I’m surprised,” I said. “No one’s warned me about a green card scam… no one wants to do a background check… no one’s accused him of being a gypsy who’s after my 401k.’”

My friend rolled her eyes. “You’re the last person we have to worry about having a green card wedding,” she said. “And besides. If anyone looks like a gypsy in this situation, it’s you.”

So that’s where we are now: a few forms short of a residency permit and a wardrobe purge for anything that can be described as Bohemian. The plan isn’t in play just yet, but it will be. It’s exciting – or at least as exciting as things could be for me without getting on a plane to Vietnam.

Speaking of which. Since we’ve all pushed the boundaries of our comfort zone, now would be a great time to tell you that there’s a train that goes from Helsinki to Saint Petersburg. It takes three hours and it costs $95. It’s true that I need to apply for a visa, but the Russian embassy is right down the street from the Ice House.

I know what you’re thinking. But don’t worry. Tank tops are totally allowed in Russia.

  1. Haha.. well I think if he was from a different region of the world, you would get all of those questions. Alas, the world we live in, or is it ‘that we’ve created.’
    Enjoy it my friend! I love having friends in different countries, it means I won’t be drinking alone when I’m visiting.
    p.s. I, too, was supportive. Hehe just ‘marking’ my name here. :)

  2. hey, listen. We only have one life apiece, no second tries at this stuff. If you have the gumption and the desire to do this, do it.

    I hate seeing bright funny cool people spin themselves into a life long career of nothing, just because they think they should. You seem to have good instincts (including humor), and if this goes pear-shaped, you can always write a book about it and make some money.

    Or not.

    Take notes. In my next life I want to grow up to be just like you, and I’ll need the liner notes.

    • well thank you for such a nice compliment. i have extensive notes, this in the form of journals. should someone find them when i die, i will be remembered not as “bright and funny” but as “easily and constantly irritated.” but yes – if it goes wrong (and it can, just like anything can), i’ll deal with it. more fodder for the (eventual) book

  3. As an American-turned-Finn, I adore this recent development in your life. It reminds me of my own journey here. From the bottom of my heart, I hope you succeed and find that Finland is a welcoming place to call your home.

    Just for kicks, I’ll include a list of things Nobody Told Me But Wish They Had when moving to Finland:
    1. Americans like to say things like “Yeah, that sounds great. I’ll definitely come!” But then they don’t come and never meant to. Don’t ever do this in Finland. You will be held to your word. Your word is your honor. If you say you’ll do something, go somewhere, bring something, whatever – you’d better be ready to follow through. No joke.

    2. Finns and alcohol: I knew that Finns (generally speaking) drank a lot. Dark, long months of winter, etc. But I didn’t know just how much. You may find yourself at someone’s 60th birthday party faced with a well-meaning party-goer who wants to make sure your glass is never dry. Don’t try to keep up. Nobody will bat an eyelash if you stop long before anyone else. Some parties don’t even end until all the booze has run out. Now, there are some who don’t drink at all. This is an increasing amount. I’ve only met two in ten years though.

    3. Politics is fun. Finland has 9 parties in parliament alone. This excludes the tiny parties that aren’t able to get to parliament but exist anyway. Politics are anything but boring two-party blahblah. There is blahblah, but it varies and variation is everything. Also, get involved locally. It helps finding friends.

    4. Find Finnish friends. I’m serious. After ten years, I’ve made some friends, but the trend is that if they aren’t Finnish or aren’t somehow tied to this place, they eventually leave.

    5. Learn Finnish. Obvious. Needs to be said anyway. Don’t believe it when someone says you can get along just fine because everyone here speaks 8+ different languages and everyone knows English. That is true, but whether or not they actually will speak it to you is another matter.

    6. To Finns, silence is comfortable. It’s not that they are angry/don’t like you/aren’t comfortable. They’re just being Finnish and don’t mind the silence.

    7. Be punctual. Seriously.

    Well, seven is a good number. I’ll leave the rest up to you. If you’re in town (helsinki) and want a chat, feel free to get in touch. I’m happy to help.

    • Oh my gosh! This is amazing! Thanks so much… eye opening. It helps to have confirmation even on the ones I’ve sort of learned so far (2, 6, 7). In any case, I’d love to hear your story. I’ll be in Helsinki from July 24 to mid-August. You can get in touch with me via email ( or via instagram/facebook, both of which are linked to my name, Nova Halliwell.

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