A fundamental skill on a journey like the one I’m on here in South America, is mastering the art of leaving (which is very similar to the Buddhist art of letting go). When on the road, you continuously have to say goodbye to friends and places which you might never return to see again, no matter how much you’d want to. Of course, on a self proclaimed journey, no one’s really forcing you to move on, but if that’s what you really want deep inside, then you just have to be able to let go.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been practicing the art of leaving. Over the years it has become such a repetitive formula in my life that at times I don’t even consider it a big deal anymore. Not until someone asks me: “Sissi, how is it that you can just leave like that?”. This question stops me, because that’s when I realize leaving does not come naturally for everyone. And although I could immediately mention at least five people in my life who are way better leavers than I am (children of diplomats and bicultural children) and who could therefore give you a much deeper insight on this topic, here are my reflections on the art of leaving.

A life-long practice

When I was eight years old, my family moved to the US because of my father’s work. I can still vividly remember sitting in my mother’s arms in our living room right after the news hit me, not sure whether to be happy or sad by the thought of going so far away from what I then knew as home. Although my parents eventually managed to get me excited about the idea, it didn’t erase the fact that I was asked to leave behind all my classmates whilst also losing the opportunity to win over a boy who I was madly in love with. I knew nothing about the US and the only English word I knew was lipstick.

Within one year Georgia, USA, became home for me. I was flooded with friends (which I surely didn’t win over through my linguistic abilities but rather through my climbing skills on monkey bars), I loved the weather (humid and hot) and I adored the open, warmhearted people of the South. I pledged allegiance to the US flag (which I certainly didn’t have to but I wanted to…oh, Lord), sold girl scout cookies door-to-door, went to tap dance classes (which I hated) and even eventually spoke English with that sweet, Southern Bell accent. And then, when everything was just right, we left again.

I’ll spare you the details, but returning to Finland was not easy. Although I’m fortunate enough to have many siblings, I was the only one of us to ever completely integrate in the US and I was the only one who desperately wanted to go back. Yet, just like time always heals all wounds, it eventually also healed this one: year by year I started thinking less and less about the US and began to feel more at home in Finland again. And just as everything starting to gel, my parents told me we would be moving to Vienna, Austria. History repeating itself I knew nothing about Austria and the only German word I knew was das Autooooo. The only difference was that this time I was 16 years old and making friends on monkey bars wasn’t really an option.

After 1,5 wonderful years in Vienna, we moved back to Finland again. Every summer after that, I would go to Italy for work and when high school ended, I decided to stay there and study. As all didn’t go quite as I’d planned, I returned to Finland after a year. Then moved to Poland for three years. Then back to Finland for two years. Then to Italy for half a year. Then back to Finland for half a year. Then back to Italy for a year. Then back to Finland for two years. Then to Mozambique for five months. Then back to Finland for a year. And after all this, here I suddenly am, cycling alone through South America.

I share this very vague overview of my life to show you what I mean by having practiced the art of leaving from a very young age. After all these experiences, one could think that I’ve gotten so used to leaving that it shouldn’t even make a difference to me anymore. Yet, it still does. Why? Because although I don’t have trouble leaving when I have to, I get very easily attached to people and utterly hate the thought of parting from them (no matter how much I tell them and myself and otherwise). And parting from people is exactly what I have to do when cycling, over…and over…and over…and over again.

Mind games to help you leave

Although leaving is difficult, there are many methods I have learned to apply to it in order to make things more bearable. Or in fact, enjoyable. I know it sounds contradictory, but even difficult things can surely be enjoyable, can’t they? I’m no expert on the art of letting go in general, but leaving from one place to another is something I’ve definitely become quite familiar with over the years. And, as I already mentioned, I’m constantly polishing this skill as I cycle. So, to anyone having a hard time leaving a certain place or a certain situation, here’s a set of my personal mind games involved. (Disclaimer: I’m only speaking about leaving out of free will.)

1. Know when to leave

This is a constant personal battle for myself, but the most important thing about leaving is knowing when to leave. You can always stay that little while longer and conform, but deep within you know exactly when it is that you’ve had enough – whether it’s a party, a relationship, a job, a place. So don’t ignore that small voice inside of you. The very moment you start getting itchy feet is when you should mentally begin preparing yourself for the leap into the unknown. Because if you don’t, you’ll only start feeling frustrated and anxious, and that anxiety will quickly start spreading around you like pest and influence not only yourself, but also those around you.

2. Leaving towards something

It’s easy to think about leaving as leaving something behind. You let go of something you know, something you appreciate, something you love. For a while it seems like whatever you do, everything you once knew will soon be behind you. Because it will. But if you flip that thought around, every time you leave, you’ll actually be leaving towards something. This can be more difficult to visualize because whatever it is you’re going towards is still unknown to you. But the point is, there’s always something ahead of you. And that something can rock your world if you just give it a chance and go for it.

3. Cope with longing

To most of us, leaving is a synonym for longing. It’s completely normal to miss what you give up, because there’s nothing there to replace it yet. Not that everything in life can and should be replaced, but sometimes good things don’t come to you unless you leave some space for them. This is when exes run into each other’s arms again, when you consider yourself an idiot for saying ‘no’ to a job you were offered, when all of a sudden a weekend trip alone seems like a huge mistake. But take a breath and remember that it’s all going to pass. All you need to do is cope with the unpleasant feeling of longing for a while and before you know it, something else will come along.

Why am I writing this?

I guess this post stems from the fact that I’ve been thinking about leaving a lot lately. Yet, almost a month has passed and I’m still in Asunción. Why? Because just as there’s the art of leaving, there’s also the art of staying. The art of enjoying the present, without all the time wanting to go somewhere where you’re not. The art of realizing when you feel good and when you consciously want to linger on that feeling. I will be leaving Asunción soonish, but for the time being I’m enjoying what I came here for: meeting locals and seeing a place through their eyes.

Written by Sissi Korhonen
Exploring, interpreting and understanding cultures through local languages and people. An advocate for intercultural communication as a basis for diversity acceptance and human equality.