Friday, September 19, 2014

We're going home!

After calling Slovakia home for three years, Terezia and I have decided to leave this country and we'll be moving back to California in November. This decision did not come easily, and while we are happy about going back, there are things about living here that we will miss deeply.

So, why in the hell are we moving back to the country of bad beer, Kraft Singles, rampant gun violence, and racial tension stoked by trigger-happy cops and out-of-control police militarization?

Firstly, we both feel like we are through with Bratislava - and Slovakia - and we're ready to move on to something else. This small city and country definitely have their charms, but we have been pining heavily not just for our old life in the Bay Area, but the kind of lifestyle offered by bigger and more diverse, culturally switched-on, artist-friendly and energetic metropolitan areas like the Bay Area. To put it very bluntly, Bratislava is not exactly what we'd call a beacon of culture, and it's a bit short on the kinds of things that would make us excited about living here for a longer period of time. (This post explains what I'm getting at a little more in depth).

Of course, we also dearly miss our family and friends in the US, and living so far away from them has been rough and at times lonely.

Importantly, Terezia feels like she has a better chance of re-establishing and sustaining her career as a chef in the US. There are virtually no female chefs in Slovakia - not even in Bratislava - and Terezia really lucked out by landing her job as the chef for the US Ambassador. Her field is also statistically one of the lowest paid in the country, and there are just too few people here who are genuinely interested in the kind of cuisines she so expertly and lovingly prepares. Most of Slovakia remains behind the curve in terms of culinary trends and gender equality, and Terezia feels like this is not a country where a good female chef with international expertise can thrive professionally.

My job with the paper has been a wonderful experience (and importantly, it saved me from having to teach!), but I haven't been able to pick up enough extra work on a consistent basis to supplement the income, so it's just not a tenable situation for the long term. Terezia also wants to find a job situation that is more economically viable over the long haul.

Why not move somewhere else in Europe? We have actually considered this, but as Terezia and I are both quickly approaching 40 (Terezia would like me to point out here that I'm closer to 40 than she is), we'd kind of like to feel settled somewhere and not keep country-hopping around at this stage of our lives.

Well, I personally wouldn't mind country-hopping so much, but remember, Terezia already moved away from her native country at the age of 18, first to Germany then to the US, where she ended up in San Francisco and quickly fell in love with the place. She essentially did what I had always wanted to do, just in the opposite direction, and got it out of her system. And after spending years working her ass off to carve out a career and a life she was happy with, the Bay Area came to represent for her a sense of achievement, success and fulfillment. (Plus, she really likes being near the ocean!)

Terezia shortly after moving to the States, back in '96

It was I who uprooted her and brought her back to the country she left behind (though she did come willingly). Also, the Kafka-esque red tape involved in relocating to another European country is not something we're ready to endure again at this point.

I suppose you could say we're moving back to a place where we feel like we can be happy. But who knows? We're both going to miss Europe like crazy, and we could easily move back to this continent some day.

We never saw this as a permanent move. Neither of us actually thought that we'd want to spend the rest of our lives in Slovakia.

We moved here with no jobs, no clue as to how things would go or whether anything would work out, figuring that we'd try to last for at least a year. After six months of draining our savings, tirelessly searching for jobs and getting absolutely nowhere, and thinking we'd have to move back to California after a year with our heads hanging in defeat, we finally managed to find some really interesting jobs and started to eek out some semblance of a life here. Things worked out for us here much better than we could have hoped, and we stuck around longer than we ever expected.

But one thing we will miss profoundly is getting to travel around Europe without having to deal with jet lag and those nasty, epic (and super expensive) trans-Atlantic flights. Of course, we are deeply disappointed that we weren't able to check off all the places on our list, but we nevertheless managed to get around as much as our tight budget and paid time off allowed.

We went to Prague - one of Europe's most stunningly beautiful cities - countless times, took numerous day trips to nearby Vienna, and also made it to Budapest, Krakow, Amsterdam, Brno, and Croatia's Istrian coast - all thoroughly mind-blowing places (well, Brno wasn't exactly mind-blowing, but it was cool). We took a month-long trip to Italy shortly after moving here, and we've got a trip in the works for this October before we move back.

Rovinj, Croatia
Having a beer in Prague
Krakow, Poland

Also, we did a decent amount of traveling (but not nearly enough) around Slovakia, and had we not moved here, I probably wouldn't have had the chance to see so many of this country's attractive and offbeat surprises, not to mention its abundance of beautiful nature. (And I probably never would have gone mushroom hunting!)

St. Elizabeth cathedral in Košice

Orava Castle
Poľana near Hriňová

But we will miss Terezia's family even more, and they'll provide a handy excuse to come back on a (hopefully) regular basis. While living here we made a point of visiting her parents once a month, sometimes more, and it was wonderful getting to know them and the rural, slow-paced life that they enjoy out in the middle of nowhere. And yes, Terezia is sad about the prospect of living halfway around the world from her family (again), but she feels that she cannot sacrifice her own personal and professional happiness just to live closer to them.

But we're happy that we were still around to see Terezia's brother Tony finally tie the knot with Silvia this summer. No one from Terezia's family was able to come out to California to see us get married, so at least we were all able to be together at someone's wedding.

At any rate, we're super glad that we had the chance to live here. Most Americans aren't able to say they lived abroad for three years. The one thing I always regretted more than anything was that I didn't take off and live somewhere in Europe back in my 20s, when I had the naivety, restlessness and lack of responsibilities to go off and do something like that. And with this experience I tried to make up for that as much as I could.

The decision to go back to the US was a very difficult one to make, but we're psyched to move on and see where this next chapter takes us.

As I mentioned above, we've got a vacation planned for October. Plus, there is sure to be some red tape-related hilarity involved in doing all the things we need to do to extricate ourselves from this country, so stay tuned for that and anything else that pops up between now and our move!


  1. Ciao Jeff, come stai? Leggo il tuo blog qualche volte ancora!

    Oy, my Italian is very out of practice...

    Congrats (?) on making the move back to California! I've been thinking myself to make the move across the pond these days and its good to hear that you don't necessarily get stuck in Europe. I'm also a little jealous that you're going back to the Bay Area!

    Best of luck on the move and enjoy the last few months abroad. Hopefully it includes time in Italy.

    1. Ciao Aviva! Ho dimenticato tutto iltaliano...

      Nice to hear from you. Yeah, it was just time to move on. Three years is a good run. We probably would "get stuck" in Europe if we were living in a city like Paris or Rome, but we do love the Bay, so going back feels good. And who knows, we may very well end up somewhere in Europe again at some point down the road.

      Our trip in October won't include Italy, but it will involve lots of long overdue time spent in Italy's next door neighbor to the northwest.

      Take care!