The Sojourner’s Dilemma

Posted on / by Alex Berger

I love Copenhagen. It is, quite possibly, my favorite capital city in the world.  Yet, recently, I found myself falling out of love with the city. A combination of factors – winter, a cold, the stress of the job search, and a daily commute that ate up three hours of my schedule started to weigh on me. I found that sense of doubt creeping into my psyche, combined with the seeds of bitterness.  It wasn’t until I had a day to walk the city – something I hadn’t done in more than three months – that I had an epiphany and sense of renewed love for Copenhagen.

Springtime in Copenhagen

What I’ve taken to calling the Sojourner’s Dilemma is something no doubt familiar to anyone who has done a long-term study abroad, lived abroad as a sojourner, or progressed to the full-expat stage. It is that inevitable stage in the experience where your love and zeal for a place starts to slip away.  In some cases losing that magic is a very real thing tied to changes in your needs as an individual.  But, more often than not, I believe it stems from a loss of connection with the aspects of the city and daily/experience which were the source of that magic to begin with.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in a city for 6 months or 10 years, it’s when we lose touch with the daily richness that the balance begins to shift from a place of inspiration that puts an added bit of zip into our steps towards a weighty chain that drags us down.

Christiansborg Palace

If you find yourself facing the Sojourner’s Dilemma – feeling that zest and zeal for a city or country flagging – then it is time to pause, re-visit your daily schedule, and return to spending time doing the things you have historically found rewarding.  For me, with Copenhagen, it has been as simple as breaking out of my daily grind and its commute.  Re-entering the city center for something more than just a quick errand. It was about walking the streets, during the day, and enjoying the life-blood of the city. The bikers flooding past, the hustle and bustle of people in the streets, the city alive with buskers, the smell of street vendors and hot dog stands.  It felt, almost with each forward step, that the sense of joy that comes from living here was re-infusing itself. As it did, I realized it wasn’t the first time it had happened. Often, when I’ve gotten swamped by exams or found myself confined mostly to my own flat and the three blocks around my house, I’ve started to feel that disconnection settle in.  It was only this time, as the shift was so decided – perhaps because I had let it slip further than I ever have in the past – that I was able to articulate the impact of the Sojourner’s Dilemma.

Life in Copenhagen

Experiencing the Sojourner’s Dilemma is not limited to a set location.  I’ve observed it countless times in friends and fellow travelers.  I’ve seen many long-term expats that have built a life in a city, then moved to the suburbs to raise a family, who rush to and from work and the gym, caught up in a tidy routine.  It can happen with countries we love as well. For me, there was a period in Italy where the Sojourner’s Dilemma struck. Italy lost its magic, its spirit, and its spice. All seemed overwhelmed by a combination of “I’ve already done it” and “Ugh, the this and that are too obnoxious to deal with”.

The Pirate Ship - Tivoli Gardens - Copenhagen

Sometimes we get lucky and get dragged out of these lulls. Other times it is important that we be cogent that they exist, that we look at our own behavior, and that we take action to solve the challenges we find ourselves facing.

Copenhagen in Fall - Lakes and Canals

As I write this it is winter. In Copenhagen the weather is prone to cloudy gloom and the days are – at most – 8 hours long. Often much of that is consumed in a hazy twilight leaving no more than 2-3 hours of real sunlight per day. It’s particularly easy this time of the year to let the Sojourner’s Dilemma settle over you…and yet, it is also a time of the year that – precisely because of the darkness – is awash in special events, vibrant music, bright light, warm candles and an atmosphere that can be, when given the chance, intoxicating.

Take a breath. Smile. Reflect. Then get out there and re-connect with your city.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.