The Foreign Train to The Foreign Home: Navigating Living Abroad (Photobook)

September 12, 2019

Have you ever walked through unfamiliar streets to reach unfamiliar destinations, take a train and travel its unknown route to get around an unfamiliar place? Chances are, you chose to move cities or countries at some point in your life. Took a leap to a new place which was exciting but also scary, as all new things are.

If so, I hope you’ll be able to sympathise with this piece. It’s less about the actual move itself and more about the thoughts that run through someone’s mind who’s left home to find one of their own. One where they can craft a better future, find a purpose and better their own selves.

I got this inspiration when visiting my brother in Paris. The first part of these series was about a single hectic morning before exploring the city. Unscripted, led by the comfort of two siblings spending time together in a foreign country in hopes to eventually call it home. That is a journey of youth and doubt combined with ambition and curiosity. It is full of silent moments during which you think about your plans and decisions, feel nervous and scared, and more than often overthink.

This second part of the photobook is about coming home that day and the thoughts that followed.

Play the song and keep reading.

Boy taking an empty train after moving to the city of Paris

We did plenty of sightseeing that day. La Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre, Domaine National du Palais-Royal, small beautiful Parisian streets and lots of train rides. I also managed to do a photoshoot with Jade. Squeezing so much into one day, it was hasty and tense at times, yet still extremely beautiful and inspiring. For someone who hasn’t travelled that much yet, Paris certainly opened my eyes to the artistry of this world I have yet to see.

It was around 11 o’clock at night when we arrived at the train station. Exhausted and therefore easily annoyed, we waited at the platform for our train to depart. Then people started leaving our train as it switched platforms. It was only a matter of my brother’s French skills and our ability to quickly manoeuvre between the main departure screen and supposed platforms that we made it to the right one on time (I am secretly terrified of missing or taking the wrong trains, buses or flights).

The train ride was mostly silent. The two of us were surrounded by our own thoughts, agreeing on nothing but wanting to reach home and go to bed. Just that it didn’t feel like it. It’s bittersweet because while you’re on the way home – somewhere familiar and safe – it’s not home yet. You’re most likely renting, living with other people you don’t know or didn’t settle quickly enough. The bed doesn’t feel like your bed, the house doesn’t feel as free to roam around any time you want because you should be respectful and considerate of others living there.

On our way to a shared family home where he had a room, my brother and I were comforted by each other’s presence, but I knew that the moment I left, we both would remain alone in our own respective foreign countries. Feeling scared some days, overthinking on others, all for looking for comfort which is the only thing you need to find to feel safe.

Boy travelling in an empty train in Paris
Boy taking a photo in an empty train in Paris

I moved to the UK for studies at 18, right after high school. My small hometown was the only place I’ve ever lived at. I haven’t travelled much even in my own little country. Coming to England was a pretty big deal – first time on the plane, first time in a different country, first time experiencing and doing things all by myself. Arriving at Bournemouth I had no directions where to go. Finding the agency took me an hour of wandering around. I ended up literally next to it due to pure luck. It’s a wonderful story I tell people once we pass the small-talk stage.

Boy travelling in an empty train in the city of Paris
Boy in an empty train after moving to the city of Paris

In a new place, you’re a tourist and a resident in one. It’s a journey of getting to know the unfamiliar and to familiarise yourself with a place is to create your identity within it. For the first days, something so basic as choosing a supermarket becomes a daunting task. The only solution is to explore the surroundings, find paths to follow every day and find places you’d go often to, then get to know them. Find what works for you and eliminate what doesn’t.

At times you might feel the need to go back home, especially if you moved for a certain purpose. To go back is to remind yourself why you came there in the first place. There’s always a reason. It won’t apply to every situation, but I had gone back to Bournemouth, which I love and consider home, a couple of times. Feeling a bit off track, I had to be reminded about the reasons I left for Manchester – walking the familiar streets with memories engraved in them was reassuring and motivating, and I haven’t doubted my decision since.

Moving is not the hard part – you pack your shit and send it across the border. Easy. The main point of this post is about those silent moments of doubt that visit you while on a mindless commute. Where you observe as anxiety grabs you by the throat. Where you look around, but it all seems distant and unwelcoming. You take the same foreign path every day to the same foreign place which you so desperately want to call home. You’re tired but there’s no rest because tomorrow is as uncertain as today was for your yesterday self.

When you move to a foreign-speaking country, there are those rare moments when you randomly hear someone speak familiarly. Hearing your language feels as if honey drips over your ears. When you get to respond – it’s as if honey fills your mouth. And when you get to do that on a daily – it’s as if honey fills every inch of your heart. Then you meet someone who tries to speak your language to you – it’s most definitely something that makes honey drip from your heart.

Empty train in the city of Paris

These thoughts and feelings are not something I’m going through today, but rather a reflection from my perspective of this journey. At the end of it, we all want to feel secure with a place or a person which we choose to call home.

These Paris photo series, combined as two separate photobooks from the same day, work together by featuring the same subject – my best model, my brother. As I put a strong emphasis on the aesthetics and colour grading in my work, it is the key which ties these two photobooks together.

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