While feels like only yesterday, it has been almost 4 years since I took the 15-hour train from Kishinev, Moldova to Kiev, Ukraine. Even though I have briefly visited Kiev (and Ukraine) multiple times before that, the summer of 2015 marked the first time that I actually began to gradually make Kiev (and Ukraine) my permanent base to live in foreseeable future.
After arriving in Kiev’s main train station, I rented a temporary apartment on Airbnb for a month and, soon after that, found a more permanent pad in the center of the city. For the first time in almost ten years, I was paying gas, water and electricity bills!
Earlier this year, I moved to a new apartment in the dead center of the capital. It’s by far one of the best apartments I’ve lived anywhere in Eastern Europe. It’s newly remodeled as well as furnished with all the nice furniture that one would ever want. There’s also a cool balcony that’s facing a very picturesque street.
As crazy as it sounds, signing a contract on an apartment is a pretty big deal for me. The reason is because I was afraid of commitment; previously, I had a sweet arrangement where I lived in a furnished place and paid as I went, several times a month. Then, if I ever wanted to leave, I didn’t need to provide advanced notice or any of that.
Although I have pretty much cut down all kinds of moving around, I still enjoyed the freedom last year when I moved to a different Ukrainian city for several months. I simply gave up my Ukrainian apartment in Kiev and rented another one as soon as I’d arrived in the new city. This is something I couldn’t have done if I had a committed apartment where I was paying rent every single month and couldn’t simple get out of that.
Earlier this month, one of my friends decided to move out of Kiev and start a new life in Minsk. He’s a bit younger than me. In fact, what he has done is something that I might’ve done in my earlier years. Although I spent over two years in Brazil—a relatively long time—that was because I got lucky and stumbled on a fantastic living situation: an amazing pad in Ipanema, near the beach with 3 awesome roommates who taught me more about life than I’ve ever learned with my politically-correct California friends. If I’d ever gotten bored of living in Rio, I was always ready to move to another Brazilian city and try my luck there.
And, sure, while Kiev is super ideal, there’s always the temptation of uprooting myself and starting a new life somewhere else. I can see that happening after an important relationship breaks down, or I reach some other breaking point, or the temptation of living somewhere new grows on me. There’s just something magical about having a fresh start somewhere new.
I recently realized that, in order for me, to uproot myself and move elsewhere permanently, the gain of living in a new city must be higher than the pain of uprooting yourself and moving.
Right now, that doesn’t hold true: the upside of moving somewhere new just isn’t high enough over staying put exactly where I’m.
There are several things responsible for that.
1) Kiev is a fantastic city.
Let’s first give credit where credit is due. For a “third world” Eastern European city, Kiev is a pretty damn cool city. Of course, I say that as I’m sitting in my comfortable apartment in the best damn part of the city, surrounded by beautiful historical buildings and nicely dressed people, but even so, Kiev is far from some of the other Eastern European capitals I visited such as Bucharest and Sofia that are truly rundown and aren’t very livable.
The size of the city is perfect, too. It’s neither too big nor too small, making it ideal for doing different things in different parts of the city, depending on your mood and taste.
2) As you become older, integration into new cultures becomes more difficult.
When I talk about moving to a new place, I naturally think about integrating into the new society. I’m referring to things like learning the culture, speaking the language, and being accepted into society by the locals.
All of that is a lot easier when you’re 25 than when you’re, say, 35 or older. It’s one thing to move to Brazil when you’re 28 and meet all kinds of young people who are eager to make new connections, but quite another to do so when you’re 38 or 48. Of course, it’s still doable, but I can’t imagine moving to Brazil when I’m 48 or something. My expectations would need to be completely different.
That also applies to meeting women—since for many single men meeting women is the number one reason for moving abroad—as I could see having meeting a great Brazilian girlfriend, say for a serious relationship when I’m 28, but would be a completely different story if I was 48.
Furthermore, it’s a lot easier to make local friends when you’re younger than older.
3) You become more conservative with your options.
After visiting Ukraine like 7 times since 2011, I realized that the reason this country kept drawing me in so much wasn’t so much of the city (that was a huge bonus), but because it’s simply where I was born and the language that I speak.
When I was younger, I dreamed about starting a new life in a bunch of different countries, but at this point of my life, there’s no freaking way I would ever get on some plane and move to Argentina, Mexico or Bali. Maybe for a month or two, but nothing more permanent than that.
At this point of my life, I value comfort over adventure and living in a country where I speak the local language and understand the local culture is much more important to me than the novelty of experiencing something new.
Even moving to a city like Moscow or Minsk where I can obviously get by with my Russian feels like an alien idea because of the cultural differences between where I feel comfortable (Kiev, Ukraine) and those other cities. Although I don’t mind visiting a city like Minsk to see what it’s like.
4) It’s hard to imagine things will be better elsewhere.
Every country where I’ve been has had its pros and cons. Brazil had awesome weather, but crime (and the looming risk of crime) plus the slow pace of life wears you down over time. The USA is where you can make a lot of money very quickly, but the culture sucks. Vilnius, Lithuania, has a great quality of life and easy living, but it’s too small and the people are colder than I prefer.
The one big downside of living Kiev (and Eastern Europe as a whole) is the shitty and cold weather for like 6 months out of the year, but if you’re willing to put up with that, the beautiful spring and summers make it all worth it. (Yeah, I know, I could live in Thailand for six months, but then I wouldn’t appreciate the warm Eastern European weather.)
They say that eventually, everyone returns back home, wherever that may be. To me, home isn’t Ukraine, but New York City where my family lives. Heck, I even feel more comfortable speaking in American English than Russian, where I have a slight accent (my Ukrainian sucks). This typically happens when one’s parents age, and the novelty of even living somewhere other than your home—never mind traveling around—becomes nonexistent.
While I could certainly see that happening because I doubt I will retire or die of old age in Ukraine, returning back to the US is something I have pretty much zero intention of doing anytime soon—if ever.
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