Home is where you make it
Updated: Nov 9
– with yoga facilitator, surfer and coffee consultant Hanna Huhtonen
I’m buzzing after speaking to my friend Hanna in Portugal. It’s been a weird year so far and we haven’t talked properly for a few months. We were introduced in 2018 via Instagram – a mutual connection had heard we were both planning to move to Amsterdam a few months apart. Hanna is Finnish, but had been living in Torquay, Australia for some years, and this move was the next big one for her. While mine was a first. So I reached out to her when I arrived in Amsterdam.
We met in Sarphatipark, one of my favourite’s in Amsterdam. Hanna – who happens to be an aficionada when it comes to coffee grading, brewing, tasting and consulting, as well as a trauma-sensitive yoga facilitator – had packed a makeshift picnic for us. At the time she was working between yoga studio The Conscious Club and cafe The Scandinavian Embassy, and house-sitting above it. She welcomed me up into a home with tall windows, deep rooms and a generous kitchen island. Framed art pieces propped nonchalantly against blank walls, expensive rugs filling up broad floorspace.
She had this bubbly, nurturing, welcoming energy, like we’d known each other for years. We talked for hours, and I was genuinely sad to hear that only a few months later, she’d decided to move to Portugal.
She lived in the small fishing and surfing town of Ericeira for some time before moving to an even smaller nearby town of such fame, Sao Lourenco. I’ve visited her twice and again been reminded of how well she lands on her feet, diving into new places with passion even if it isn’t all figured out, and finding herself in some pretty sweet situations.
As is inevitably a theme in my conversations with travelling friends, we talk about home and big life shifts.
Home in your pocket
You’ve lived in a few very different places – from Finland, to coastal Australia, to The Netherlands and Portugal. Does one feel most like home?
“I think ultimately the feeling of home is inside.”
“For me, I feel like because I have good experiences from my root home Finland, it will always be my true home. I’ve thought about going back there at some point. But I think that is partly because of the pandemic. This unsure time.”
I think for so many people, the first half of 2020 in particular has been an uncomfortable, introspective time. And now it feels like a lot of people are saying they’re going to take on that thing they’ve been putting off, or making a big change, like moving back home.
“Especially if you have a good connection to that place. But regardless, I don’t know if you ever really let go of your past, the place you grew up. In the way that it is always gonna affect who you are now. Of course you change and grow, and can make a home anywhere.”
“But I think your root home will sort of always be..in your pocket. With you. And I think your connection to it, what you recall or feel most connected to, might change depending on your life situation and priorities.”
For sure, I think about how when I have kids, I’ll likely feel different about Australia. Whether I’m there or not, my priorities will have shifted dramatically, and my sense of home with it.
“I’ve thought about that a lot too, but then I do really believe you can make a home wherever you want. It’s what you make it.”
Hanna in Sao Lourenco
What is it that helps you do that in a new place?
“People. Like-minded people. I try not to compare, but as such an important experience in my life, it’s impossible not to compare my time in Australia to here in Portugal. I think that if I go back there someday, things will be different because some of the people I spent time with won’t be there anymore. Or they’ll have had kids, shifted priorities. So they wouldn’t have the same time for me as they did then.”
“But there in Australia I felt like…like I fit like a glove. Yeah I didn’t know what the hell Medicare was, or about your weird politics. But people really made my day.”
“A friend from the town, not even a close friend, would bring me soup when I was sick. And I’d just be included in surf trips so naturally. I’d be in a bar on Friday night talking about surfing with people I hardly knew, and they’d be like ‘come tomorrow morning, we’ll pick you up at seven’.”
“Whereas in Sao Lourenco that only happens between foreigners.”
Yeah, like you’re sort of separate to the local community? And I think a big difference there is the cultural and language barriers right?
“Yeah, there are cultural, language and financial differences.”
So if that’s the case, what else helps to make a home?
“I think your surroundings help too. A huge part of what drew me from The Netherlands to Portugal was a need to be closer to the ocean, to be able to surf.”
“We’re pack animals. It’s part of a human being’s core needs to feel that they belong. But here in Sao Lourenco, I’m not part of the community so much. I’m part of this weird, glued-on-top-foreigner-group.
“I mean I am in a small fishing town. If I were in Lisbon it would be different. But I’m still lucky here, I do have some Portuguese friends, and I love my Portuguese neighbours.
"Even though it’s been harder to integrate than Australia or Amsterdam, I'm happy I've been accepted by the line-up here in Sao Lourenco."
I remember you saying that you felt you just needed the ocean. And that then comes back to surroundings. It’s like even if you knew you could make it work in Amsterdam, it just wasn’t your place.
“Yeah, I didn’t want to go through what it would require to make it work. I thought...why take the time?”
“I think we each have building blocks of what home means to us. And for me it was the ocean, like-minded people, nature…”
I love this idea of building blocks. Nature is definitely one of mine too. And it's so important to find people you connect with in a place.
Speaking of people, I also think a lot about what you mentioned about friends and how if you moved back to Australia things would have changed. I have this idea sometimes, that if only I had some of my best friends here with me then I’d have this sort of ‘next level’ of completeness in life. But I am thinking of them and us in a different time. Their priorities have changed. They won’t necessarily have as much time for me.
“And you’ve probably changed too.”
Definitely. A friend of mine who is a new mum was recently telling me how some of her friendships have changed. She said it's not like she’ll lose close friends, but it is an adjustment for both people to figure out how the relationship looks now. ‘Cos it will never be what it was. And that's a big feeling, a big realisation.
And maybe this is the optimist in me, but I think often these friendships evolve to be really close, supportive and beautiful in other ways. Especially the best friends, the ones that have always been there.
“Friends are in a realm of their own.”
Digressing from this very specific tangent on motherhood and female friendships, what do you miss about Finland?
“I think the things you miss are really small. You miss the birds in Australia. I miss sauna and wood, that smell of fire. Certain foods.”
“Or like...specific ways of interacting with people. Like just sitting on a chair not saying anything, and then being half rude when asking for a plate, only it isn’t rude it’s just how we are.”
“Like I’ve had Australian or New Zealander friends say I can be ‘pretty fucking mean.’ And I’m like ‘yeah?’ I think it’s definitely a difference between Finnish and English, or other Scandinavian languages.
“Like in English I would say “Oh is it okay if I sit here?” but what I want to say is “I’m just gonna sit here.” And among Finnish people, what that means is “I’m gonna sit here and if there’s something you want to say about it, just say it.”
And this is one of those moments I wish I was sharing the unfoldment podcast instead, because we both find this hilarious and I can relate all too well, being with a Norwegian. It takes some getting used to, from the blabbering-on of English, to the directness of Scandinavian languages, or Dutch for that matter. But there's something wonderful about it, the more you learn the eccentricities of different cultures.
So one more thing...these things you miss. They are obviously things you can live without, but do you feel like it’s somewhat negative to live somewhere else and still have those feelings of missing people or your culture? Or is it just natural? ‘Cos every so often I get this feeling of nostalgia or sadness and I wonder, am I doing this wrong?
“I think it's sort of beautiful to miss certain things and recognise them.”
“Cos I think when you are home, you don’t recognise them. Like when I was in Finland in summer, the first evening back I ate specific candy and this boring bread that I was dying to eat. But after three weeks I was like, eh, you know...I’m ok I’ll just buy one packet of bread to bring back to Portugal. You take these things for granted.”
“And that is sad in a way. But then in a way you sort of have to. If every time you eat a piece of rye you’re like ‘whoaaaa this is amazing!’ it might be a bit much.”
That’s such a great and poetic way of looking at it. Making a home somewhere other than your root home, is one way we can come to appreciate things we otherwise don’t, or see them in a new way.
“Yeah I think that is beautiful. There are definitely sad moments, but it is actually something that I find helps people grow. To experience that sort of gratitude and belonging.”