I'm a writer, Youtuber, photographer. and old-fashioned romantic in love with celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I appreciate timelessness, the natural world, and a slow life lived with simplicity and intention. When I'm not photographing families or  slowly traveling the world and writing about it in a little notebook, I'm happily grounding myself in nature and cozying up with my sweet husband.

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Where is home to you?

Such is a question that all third culture kids dread, aside from the question, “where are you from?”
 
By defintion, third culture kids are people who were raised in a culture different from their parents or their own nationality and also grew up living in different cultural enviornments during their formative years. While I am not a third culture kid, or “TCK” for short, my husband is one. To him, “home is wherever I live with you.” To him, wherever we live long enough, that feels like home to him. 
 
I wish it could be that simple for me. For me, home has always been more complicated.
 
I grew up moving houses a lot as a kid, and growing up as a theatre kid where a change of location, environment and your cast “family” is constant, I can relate to the uncomfortable feelings that a lot of TCKs often feel when asked such a question. 
 
Now as expats, my partner and I move wherever the next job is. Every few years, we pack up our belongings and move to a new address.
 
For the last two years, we lived in Strasbourg. Currently, we are spending the next three years living on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which lies just southeast of the French mainland.
 
And while we hope to be here in France long enough to acquire EU citizenship, there is no certainty and stability in knowing where our next home is. And for me, home has always more than just a long-term location to rest your head at night and drop off your bags.

For me, home is a feeling.

“Home” is a feeling of warmth, joy and comfort. It’s a place you feel a sense of belonging. It’s a place you fit in: with the surroundings, people, lifestyle and culture. It’s a place you share a deep sense of kinship with your neighbors and community.
 
It’s almost nonphysical; it’s energetic.
 
Personally, I’ve always sought after this cozy feeling of home and belonging, and it took me 24 years to find it. 

The First Place That Felt Like Home to Me: Strasbourg France

Despite my love for the environment in my hometown of San Diego California  I grew up as a kid always feeling like San Diego was lightyears away from me energetically. I valued honesty and integrity, and I wasn’t lucky enough to find this straightforward directness in many people in sunny Southern California. Because of this clash and many other reasons, I moved to New York City at 18 with open arms.

To this day, New Yorkers are my favorite. I treasure their brazenness, their spunk, their strength of character. But most of all, I value their directness. Their harsh confrontational nature always left me in tears, but it made me strong. And for that, I will always love New York, for helping me develop my character and inner strength. But I also could never relate to their intense love for clocking in, making money and staying at the office over time. New Yorkers are ambitious and ruthless, in the best and worst of ways, and living there I realized I was not. I was much too soft, and I didn’t want to lose that softness.

And so, came the charming and small, Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. Still my favorite town in the U.S., I truly treasured my time living there. Cobblestone streets, boutiques, and small businesses flooded my world, and I realized while living there how much I loved the simplicity of small-town life. Plus, it was our first year living together! But the location never felt right. A month into living there, I realized we had made a mistake in moving to the D.C. Metro area, and on my birthday that year, in 2017, I turned to Alex and told him I wanted to experience life abroad. 

And so, we set the intention for that year, on that very day, while sitting underneath a leafy tree on the lawn overlooking the White House, to leave the U.S the following year. How we would do it, we had no idea! But at least, we had a direction….

And that’s where I felt that feeling of “home” for the first time in my life.

Here in this small French city, I understood what it felt like to belong somewhere. 

 

Feeling a Sense of “Home” in  Strasbourg France

Sure there was loneliness and a feeling that I had lost my identity as an “expat wife”, but never have I felt more certain that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I connected with the energy and people in Alsace more than anyplace I had ever visited, despite not speaking French well. I made a lot of friends in my two years there, joined different communities, and even had my portrait work appreciated!

I adored all that Strasbourg encapsulated: relaxed laidback energy, rich history, a vibrant international scene, a thriving art community, live events, a variety of ethnic foods and a plethora of small boutiques and artisan shops. People value art and leisure time in Strasbourg, and energetically, it felt like a match made in heaven for my spirit! Not to mention, Strasbourg is a biking city, with bike lanes intersecting all across the city, along the river and into the leafy suburbs. As biking-enthusiasts, it was a dream for Alex and me to bike everyday on our commute. So, you could definitely say, I was elated to be living there. 

And when it came time to pack up and move this Autumn, I wasn’t ready. It all came so fast. Alex was offered the job just a month before our move-out day, and I had so much to say goodbye to….which is why I decided to revisit at the last minute, when our trip to California was canceled. 

And lemme just say: how refreshed I feel revisiting a place I used to love and call my home.

I didn’t realize how important it could be….to revisit an old place, from an old chapter of your life, to give it a proper farewell. 

Wandering the streets alone, I passed by all my old haunts and mentally parted ways, feeling immense appreciation for all the beauty and memories these spaces held for me the previous two years. I took plenty of photographs, recorded a video to remember the feeling of Strasbourg, and left a bit of space – in between seeing friends –  in my days to just be there….drinking the energy all in. 

 

What I Learned About Home While Revisiting Strasbourg France 

Wandering those streets, I realized how much I appreciated and loved Strasbourg. And in that appreciation, I felt this calm sense of peace, this knowingness, that Strasbourg wasn’t “home” anymore.
 
And how liberating that felt! I felt free. Free at last!
 
I felt these insights, like droplets of water pouring through the crown of my head, walking down cobblestoned alleyways, reflecting on how marvelous the gift of the present moment is. How that feeling of “home” can evolve and transform, just as we are constantly evolving and transforming.
 
We are, and will forever be, growth-seeking beings. And with that growth inevitably comes growing out of our past…and that feeling of “home” we once created. 
 
And it took 20 euros and an hour flight to my old home to realize this.
 
And I also realized: what if it’s possible that having a home doesn’t really matter? 
 
Labeling a place as “home” connects you with your identity. A sense of self, the ego, as Eckhart Tolle calls it in my Bible, The Power of Now. And I’ve realized that that identity we use to associate ourselves with people, places and things….is useless. Utterly pointless.

I realize now that perhaps I’ve placed too far importance on the question of “where is home?”

How freeing it would be to just call home wherever you are…now. Letting go of identity, and putting all of your energy in the present moment, is powerful. And instead of calling “home” a specific place, I bring that cozy feeling of belonging to wherever I am; I intentionally create the life around me and make it my home. 

In big ways and small, I craft a world that feels like home – from the inside out. 

Life Lessons I’ve Learned as an Expat Always on the Move

Moving takes a lot out of you, especially when it’s to a different country.

But I realized early on in my life that I wanted a life of variety…of richness. And not richness in money, fame or glory. But the richness of experience. I knew early on that I wanted to live in different countries, listen to different languages and immerse myself in other cultures. Simply for the fact that I want to learn. I am forever a student, endlessly curious with a deep hunger for truth and understanding.

Experiencing different places and creating a home for myself in different parts of the world satisfies that hunger for knowledge and experience. I am always satiated when I am learning and growing.

Of course, it’s always hard saying goodbye to people you love. Relationships are everything to me, and with every move comes a lot of tears and a stubbornness to never let go. But constantly moving has taught me a lot that staying in one place can’t.

Moving often has taught me that money comes, and money goes. So, don’t be attached to it. Let it flow freely, and be grateful when it comes.

Moving has opened me up to accepting change, especially the kind I can’t control. That fluidity of heart, mind and spirit is profound!

Moving often has taught me the importance of letting go. Deep friendships are cultivated for a sliver of time….and then leave everlasting footprints on our hearts. Those relationships are your teachers. The love doesn’t disappear; it just changes shape. 

Living abroad as an expat has its joys and its challenges. When you are constantly moving and transitioning into new jobs in new places, it’s hard to form a community and feel an immediate sense of belonging. And often feeling a sense of home takes time. 

But this is the life I chose, and still choose everyday, with passion and fervor.

I love a life of movement, of making the world my home. 

More Photos of Strasbourg, France

Here are some more photographs I took while revisiting my old home in Strasbourg France. I have a whole archive of blog posts I’ve written about my expat life in France as well as living in Strasbourg photo guides, and I also create videos on Youtube about my experiences on the Simple Joys channel! I hope these words and photographs uplift or inspire you on your journey! Thanks for stopping by, friend! 🙂

Love,

Helena!

 

 

Where is “Home”? Reflections on Home and Identity as an Expat in France

January 8, 2021

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical moments through photography and content creation! A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I photograph families across the world. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.

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