Wanderlust Au Naturel

Elina Wanderlust Cover

 

We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a young girl who goes travelling alone, oftentimes in Asia, and reports back home with Instagram photos of majestic mountaintops and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The captions include inspirational quotes and ooze strong, universal love for everything and everyone. The phenomenon of exceptional desire to explore is known by the term wanderlust, and this trend of discovering faraway lands and curious cultures has been strikingly visible in the western world for years. Sure, the urge to unearth what is new is a natural part of being human – the fact that in recent decades we have grown to know this trend of travelling is not telling us anything fresh about us people per se. We have wanted to see and conquer since ancient times, I daresay – but moving on from all the clichés, in this article, I am going to explore wanderlust itself.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

The biggest and most straightforward reason as to why travelling has become more and more popular during the age of airplanes, and beyond, is simply economic growth. The development from such small salaries that they only cover every-day necessities to plumper wallets and affordable plane tickets may have had its ups and downs along the way of hundreds of years. However, spending on amusement has been self-evident for decades now, mostly in the western  countries, to be exact.

Thus, we can easily argue that travelling has become mundane years ago, partly because of monetary reasons. Contrarily, backpacking in foreign forests and admiring our earth from thousands of metres above is not every-day life for each young high school graduate, who form the majority of wanderlust campaigners. Take me, for example. I grew up in a small town, or to tell the truth, some country roads’ worth outside of a very small town. My quotidian view was a tall pine forest, a couple of birds flying about the backyard, and a silent lake. It took a car ride to even step out of the land owned by my family and relatives. I lived there for some 15 years, and the same year I graduated from the local high school, I was off to southern Europe, alone. Having spent a year volunteering and travelling around France and a little bit of Italy, having met and said goodbye to people from all around the world, having sensed something very different from the pine of the past, I now claim to understand wanderlust.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Discovering doesn’t always have to be cheesy and Instagram-captioned, it can also be silent and slow. Leaving family and Finland was hardly an easy step to take for the 19-year-old small town girl that I was, and during the first six months I didn’t encounter many #nofilter worth moments. It was mostly feeling helpless, homesick, lonely and tired from the constant combat with French and the French. I had a hard time learning how to do la bise and master the lengthy politeness poetry that was needed to act natural amongst the natives. It shocked a Northern newbie how every shop closed their doors at 7 pm, well before what would still be wonted working time in Scandinavia, the empire of efficiency. I struggled with being forced to take two hours for la sieste at lunch and then working late, while my inner self of the thousand lakes was crying for a faster pace.

This is a part of exploring a new culture that doesn’t always get exactly highlighted, but it still is a crucial part of the process. It is impossible to understand a different culture without trying to get accustomed to it, making mistakes and learning from them, and eventually, reaching that point where you feel comfortable within your brand-new home. For me, the process of fitting in peaked at around 7 months of living on French soil, and when it was the time to leave again, I had become so much of a stranger to my Nordic roots that I had to adjust again. When I, the grand, grown globetrotter, dragged my overweight valise again across the humble Helsinki-Vantaa airport, my family made sure to comment on my eccentric intonation and use of unnatural idioms in Finnish. Meanwhile, I had to gather all my strength to remember how Finns greet each other and, on my way back to life pre-wanders, to bury the idea of dropping by a boulangerie to purchase some Sunday croissants. Only after having been back in Finland for some three months, I felt at home again.

My French discoveries may not have always been Instagram worthy, but the sense of wanderlust I had been secretly growing inside of me for all my teenage years finally got satisfied.  I have come to learn to adjust; I have seen whole new types of trees, houses, manners, work ethics, coffee makers and dinner times; I have conquered a curious culture by adapting to it and learning from it – just for me. I travelled alone, and even though I made unforgettable friends along the way, it was still I who took the steps forward, who waited for the bus that was four hours late to go on a holiday on the coast by myself, who learnt which wine to order with a goat cheese salad in a Bordeaux restaurant, who found a way to an unseen place, who looked at it, and who remembered how to get back.

Photo by Elina Virva

Photo by Elina Virva

Above all: the grass still smelled the same, the sky still looked the familiar shade of blue, the every-day life still felt as ordinary as ever. Only the details were switched around just a little, so that I had to either adjust them or myself. I commenced what became the most difficult journey that I have ever taken, but it also taught me the most about life that I could have ever learnt in one year. And now, I’m happy at home, though as a little changed version of myself.

So, as certainly as is wanderlust a fundamental part of human nature, it doesn’t always equal what you see nowadays on glorious photos in social media. It takes a lot of effort to really explore, and most often than not, you will actually end up exploring yourself instead of a park, a city, or a mountain. One thing’s for sure: if you ever meet this magical motivation to go and see, the one that is known as wanderlust, you should listen to it. Instead of a foreign land, you might learn to conquer yourself. Now, if that is not a healthy hunger – wanting to grow as a person through learning to understand what is different – then what is?

I Was Wrong About…Early Mornings

Photo by Inka Vappula

My friends and family know that early mornings and I have never been in cahoots. In some circles it’s even my unfortunate claim to fame: “Oh, you’re that Inka, the one who threw a punch at someone for trying to wake you up. Yeah, I’ve heard about you”. For the record, it’s been 10 years, it only happened once, and I missed. So put down the sticks people, that horse is mulch by now.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Grossly exaggerated stories aside, I truly have always hated early mornings. I don’t feel grumpy per se, although I have been told I look like I’m ready to murder, I’m just slow to start—like an old PC. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up naturally with the sunrise. And I’ve always had a strong distaste for those inspirational morning quotes: “the morning is full of possibilities” and all that crap.  The whole day is full of possibilities if you ask me. Silly morning-person propaganda, I thought.

University is a paradise for slow starters, such as myself. During my first semester, I made the mistake of enrolling in a linguistics course, which ran at 8:30 am on Fridays. Mostly I remember having a stiff neck all spring from sleeping sitting up. I rectified the situation by planning my schedule so that I never had to be up and about before noon. Ah, bliss!

However, during the past year, my optimal, late-riser schedule went topsy-turvy. I began a teacher-training program, which meant that most weekdays I had to either be attending classes or teaching them by 8 o’clock. It was my Everest.

In the beginning it was a twisted form of torture, I’m not going to lie. Even with a dangerously high coffee dosage, I felt—and probably looked like—the living dead, dragging my cumbrous feet from point A to point B, dazed and unaware of my surroundings. And I was constantly finding myself in the toilet, due to the unlawful amounts of coffee I was consuming. Torture, I tell you! I was miserable and much more adamant in my hatred of early mornings than I’d ever been.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

As the year has progressed, however, strange things have begun to happen. First, my body stopped resisting the new rhythm of life, and then my attitude began to shift as well. I’ve come to relish the way my senses are attuned to the morning and the routines I’ve adopted: the softness of woolen socks as I slip them on and tiptoe downstairs to make coffee; the familiar drip and gurgle accompanied by the rich aroma of a fresh brew as it falls in the pot; dark winter mornings, eating breakfast in the candlelight; or in the spring, watching the sun put on a splendid color display as it climbs lazily across the horizon.

The stillness, the serenity.

I’m a long way from becoming the person who jumps straight out of bed into running shoes. I doubt I’ll ever be that person. But I will admit: I was wrong about early mornings. They are okay–dare I say–even enjoyable, as long as they contain coffee and solitude.

The Horror of New Beginnings: Confessions of an Introvert

Night sky

Imagine the horror of beginning when at the start-up market of new life situations there is never a role in your size available.

You are not the funny or the sporty one. Your forte is definitely not small talk. You don’t have a fabulous fashion sense that would instantly make you friends. Clubs and activities your new school offers don’t interest you. You aren’t nerdy enough to be the one everybody comes to in order to hear the correct answers to homework assignments. You are – well, who exactly are you?

You are the introvert. How unfortunate for you, I must say, as it means that your every-day life is inevitably more complicated than that of those who have received the gift of extraversion in birth. You are strangely aware of yourself as well as of everybody else around you almost every minute of your days. You noticed that cold glance some blonde girl – who is approximately 4,567 times more beautiful than you, by the way – threw over to your general direction just now. You feel the current angle of your eyebrows’ arch and question whether it might look a bit too confused, too happy or maybe too uninterested to people around you. You get a headache from being ashamed of that little mystery stain on your left shoe – where did that come from anyway? You realize as if it was being shouted at you that your tone had an accidental slight hostility to it when you said hello to some new acquaintance. You try your best at small talk but your stomach is quietly burning when you hear yourself go on about the price of your asthma medication… And when you

finally

get

home—

familiar fists hit hard, repeatedly, until you are convinced all over again that you should have listened to those words you scribbled in your black, black notebook in the summer of 2007. I mean, who else would know what you deserve than you.

You, at the moment of beginning something new, you know how to straighten your spine smiling, lick your lips moving and curl your hair shining Gossip Girl and Friends up to a kilometre. You are a great actor, actually, that is whilst you are able to come back home every evening, close your door and curtains and breathe for the first time in a day. After a couple of weeks, however, you start lacking energy and so you close your door for the whole weekend. Then maybe for three days. Your flatmates don’t come knocking at the door the whole time as they are used to you spending hermit days.

The worst part is that your pain is not visible. Anyone can see that you’re quite shy even though you can make convincing efforts from time to time. Actually, it isn’t always shyness that is the problem, it is your introverted personality. But, hell, you just spent a year abroad alone, giving presentations and leading group activities in a foreign language in front of thousands of foreign faces. Nothing should be wrong with you then. You are very well able to do wonderful things in your life and you are even keen on trying to develop yourself and thus make your life in this society easier.

These efforts bear fruit for some time. Then comes the occasional afternoon when you stop in the middle of a poem and realize once again that this is never going to be over. You will have to make efforts for the rest of your life and you will ever be able to reach the flow of normal living only once in a while. Even if you did so well at the beginning of this school year, you, who began university in a new city all by yourself and who wasn’t even nervous when you sat down in a classroom for the first time. Your face didn’t smell of fear, you did not have migraine that morning and you spoke to a hundred humans. You did such a good job. You didn’t have to eat alone in the canteen. Victory. Then you smoothly found your way from the library to a new building and a classroom full of expecting eyes – you kept on sipping your coffee and smiled to yourself as you were completely calm. Victory.

What happened next? It is a blur, you can’t get a grip of it, because at some point people became friends and were tagged on Instagram but you… Well, you had found a new, even better wine than that last Syrah you so very much enjoyed. You did still find friendly faces to talk to during lectures, so all was fine…? Then came the freshmen events, however, and you shivered a little when you read on the internet that you had to form groups beforehand in order to participate. After all, you ended up talking with a girl who had added you on Facebook and you joined their group. Victory.

A little later, you were smiling at your books – this is what you like to do, isn’t it! But then, you felt this emptiness in your lungs. You took one, two doses of Ventoline. You poured yourself a little glass of red. You lighted a vanilla-scented candle and tried to remember what makes you relax. You wrote a few lines, oh how great you felt, and you were again with your very own self.

The next day, you were having coffee with some faces you could just match with names and their favourite foods. You kept trying to come up with a reasonable excuse to leave early. It had only been 17 minutes. Why did those people go on about some films you have never seen, celebrities you don’t recognize, events you’re not interested in, cats instead of dogs? Why were you actually doing this ‘hanging out’, even though you felt like a whale in a non-maritime beauty contest? You felt forced as you always do, your life is only 15 percent of what you actually want to do. You cannot see the point of all this suppressing socializing. You are constantly in a role you don’t know the lines for and are not able to relate to. Why were you still in this coffee shop where you couldn’t even breathe?

To wrap up this story of your most recent new beginning: I tip my hat to you, fellow introvert, for now, after some two months of university, I believe you have solved your identity crisis. You have found your little place in the oh-so-chatty community. You have also accepted that you cannot always remain in your holy hermit home and that if you just keep on making efforts, it will all become a little easier after a while. So, congratulations, you have made some progress and you are wholly capable of enjoying this new chapter in your life as greatly as anyone else – even those who have got outgoing nature in their DNA. In spite of your occasional development, those moments, days, years of feeling different, insufficient and lost in the middle of pointless chit-chat – I will have to be frank with you, they will probably never cease to exist.

Night skyYour daily challenge is not a deadly disease but it is a personality type that is underrepresented and not nearly enough appreciated in today’s society and media. You can only hope there is a change coming. Maybe one day it will be totally okay to stay in on a Saturday night to read Pride and Prejudice for the fourth time. Maybe one day you will not have to feel guilty for wanting to escape parties after the first 15 minutes. Maybe one day you will be able to forget about excuses. Maybe one day you can tell your friends, without feeling weird, that you are actually going to stay home to write instead of going out with them. Maybe one day you can accept your way of living as an option that you have chosen because it suits you the best, not as a burden that has chosen you as its victim. Maybe one day it will be enough just to be you.

Until then, have a Happy Halloween.

Reach Out

Alone by Alex Jonessmall

It happens to the best of us. You can’t predict it and you can’t evade it. It may be hard to believe at times, but we’re not alone in this. What in the world am I talking about, you ask. But that really is my point here. You see, I can’t know what it is in your case, what it’s like for you. But I can see you’re going through the same as me. I see that slight shadow in your eyes when I turn to look at you suddenly. I hear the slight falter in your voice when you’ve been thinking on your own and the smile that starts just a second too late. You try to hide it and from the surface I couldn’t even notice. Maybe I don’t notice, years pass and still no one knows.

I know; I’ve been trying to work it out too. Life keeps going and you hide everything away. No one will know. Maybe you don’t want anyone to know. It’s easier to keep it inside, keep it as your own information. And you have no need for talking, you’re doing just fine without anyone, thank you very much. I mean today you’re feeling good. You don’t have any problems, at least not today, right now. Some days are a fight to get through, but you get by. But let me tell you a secret. Most of us are hiding away some problem we don’t want to deal with. It’s not just you and me.

This year I took a huge risk. I decided to be open. I told all my friends how my life has been. The first time was incredibly hard. How in the world do you suddenly open up about things you’ve been hiding for years? How do you switch the conversation from mundane facts of everyday life to your own personal pain? And what if they don’t believe you, or even worse ridicule you. What then if no one takes you seriously. But the reactions I got were not what I expected.

Alone by Alex Jonessmall

I sit in the little corner table of a café on a rainy October evening catching up with a childhood friend, who I have not seen much in a few years. Hours have passed chatting in comfort and it seems we have already discussed much everything that we have done in the past few years, except for… Should I? I nonchalantly switch the topic of conversation. “So did I tell you about how I moved to a new apartment last summer?”. I continue talking, going backwards in time and watch as my friend’s reaction goes from just interested to worried to relieved, and the questions keep coming.

The café owner comes clear the table and we move on to the pub next door. The conversation pauses for a while and I turn to look at my friend much closer. She looks at me long and begins “I really haven’t shared this with almost anyone yet”. Hours later I know I have one more friend who will always be by my side. The rain pouring when we leave the bar at three in the morning doesn’t bother me. I feel relieved like the dust of years has been cleaned.

Trying my luck by sharing my personal life has left me no bad experiences. I found out things from my friends I would never have expected: being bullied for years, family problems, cheating, loss of loved ones, children’s homes, criminalities, issues with money, substance abuse, mental problems, family members who abandon, game addiction, depression, sexual abuse. You must think I’m exaggerating by now, and you don’t have to take my word, but you can only know where telling your own hurt will lead if you open up, little by little. People I thought I had known well for years became almost family.

Giving a piece of yourself and your hurt opens up the way for someone else to share their own. Whether small or big, realizing that we all have our problems and doubts proves that we’re all only human. But the problem is that this takes courage. Maybe you’re embarrassed to admit that your life isn’t picture perfect. Maybe you’re embarrassed to say that maybe I can’t handle this alone. Maybe you don’t even believe that anyone would care to listen or understand what you’ve been through.

Not every pain can be dealt with in the open. Sometimes the cut is too deep to be shared with many others, but there should always be someone to tell. And the end result may be two people who are closer to each other than before. The more I open up, the easier it gets to say everything out loud. Part of getting over is accepting and going over what you’ve experienced. Sharing is like giving away a small portion of the hurt that you’ve been holding and giving it away for someone else to take care of for you.

But what responsibilities does this place on us as the receivers of someone else’s trust? Many of us have obviously read about the hardships that people go through without anyone’s help. Social media is bursting with stories of those bullied at school or struggling with finances alone. But how many of us have really stopped, looked a minute at our closest and dearest and seen just a slight shadow in their eyes or heard a slight falter in their voice. Have we stopped and looked that person in the eyes, and asked them “How are you really doing?”

Many of us shy away from other people’s problems thinking we don’t want to intrude, we don’t want to make a fuss, what if we hurt their feelings by prying etc etc etc. Maybe you even honestly just feel too uncomfortable. But maybe it’s not all that hard, just maybe, all that person needs is that small question, “are you okay?”.

In the midst of problems – big or small – it is incredibly hard to take even a small step towards reaching out to others. In a difficult situation, the human instinct is simply to hold on and try to survive. We fear opening up will make us vulnerable. We share some of our deepest feelings and lay ourselves bare for others to judge. Expressing our fears exposes what we hold most important and it is then up to our listener to decide how they handle our inner self, our self-confidence and thoughts. Do they meet us with contempt, ridicule and a pat on the back to “cheer up” or with sincere concern, the ability to just listen and then perhaps understand even just a little bit of what we have been going through?

Many of us may not even have realized how much we’ve been going through, how much we’ve been fighting just to hold on until someone stops us to ask “how are you holding up?”. In the midst of a wonderful summer vacation, on a girl’s night with good friends, a friend’s simple question wakens feelings I have been holding in the back of my mind and bit by bit I cry my soul clean.

I’m not afraid to admit: I’m not perfect, and never will be, my problems will only make me stronger in the end. One cold shoulder won’t keep me from taking a risk and sharing with others how I have felt, no matter how much every indifferent gaze sears my pride.