Today, I am excited to share a very inspiring and insightful interview with you. It all started with ALIVE in Berlin, a conference and gathering for global change-makers in Germany’s capital. ALIVE was the reason I got to meet the wonderful, sparkling and radiant Henrika Tonder from Finland.
Always Happy Travels is all about travel, inspiring quests and the joy of being alive, so what would be a better fit than interviewing Henrika about her adventurous life and her experiences as an expat?
Vive la France? 18 years of expat life
After finishing high school in Finland, Henrika knew that she needed to travel and have a different experience. As an adventure seeker and explorer, she has always been led by a strong sense of adventure and wanderlust, and thus the decision to set off was an easy one.
Henrika ended up in France – mainly because of her admiration for the French language. That she didn’t even speak it at that time was just a minor issue that would be sorted out along the way.
“I started working on a cruise boat for American tourists on the Rhone River. It was such a characteristic French life: the Provence, wine, Camargue horses – kind of like living my dream, living an adventure.”
However, Henrika kept struggling with the language and working as a waitress didn’t work out for long due to her lack of language skills. She was facing a challenging decision: Going back home to Finland or becoming the cleaning lady of the ship.
“Going home was not an option, so I started to clean. And to be honest, that was still an adventure! I was still meeting new people, learning and immersing in the French culture.” But she also adds, “The French were not the most welcoming, open-minded and international people. It was quite a surprise to me how much segregation I was feeling just because I didn’t speak the language. They were simply considering me as a stupid person. I honestly had never met such an amount of meanness before. At that time I decided that whatever it takes, no one was ever going to make fun of me anymore and I knew that I was going to master this language.”
In the coming years, Henrika stayed in France and started studying International Business. She spent her days at school, and her nights copying her friend’s notes until three or four in the morning because she could not catch up with the teachers during the classes. For two whole years!
“I finally mastered the language and after a couple of years no one could even hear an accent anymore. I put so much effort and energy in it, and that made me master myself, the language and the culture. But it also had a price: I paid with my health.”
Henrika tells me that she is an “I’m gonna do this no matter what it takes” type of person. A person with enormous willpower. And learning about her early years in France, I can really feel this willpower.
How being an expat changed Henrika’s perception of life
“Today I see it like this: It is all about energy, awareness and consciousness. I now live my life totally out of that space of awareness. In the same time, I don’t regret anything that happened because I see my life as my own amazing creation.”
After her studies, Henrika’s next career step was becoming an international buyer which enabled her to travel intensively, especially through Asia: “These travels gave me a break, new space and horizons.”
She had the privilege to work with local agents in local villages and thus get in touch with how life really is like in those countries. Learning different stories and opening up to new ways of life sparked more and more questions within Henrika:
How do people create their lives?
What are their limitations?
What is the same and what is different?
After a couple of years, Henrika became a mother and had to stop her extensive travelling. “I really struggled with the inability to not travel anymore. But that also gave me a chance to take a look inside of myself.”
What is different and what is the same?
Henrika tells me that part of her survival strategy during her early years in France was to read people’s energy and develop a really sharp energetic awareness since she didn’t speak the language.
“We all are aware of energies. When it’s important for you to be something, you give it the energy and you also take everything with it.” For Henrika, that was being a part of the French culture and thus she gave the pursuit of belonging her full energy and attention.
“I’ve always been passionate about what is different and what is the same”, Henrika reveals. “My mind just goes into that automatically. Always being in exploration, taking adventures and questioning everything that is around me truly fascinates me.”
She also believes that it’s all about having the willingness to become the other to find more of you. “I’ve always enjoyed to be with people from different cultures and countries. To find a new piece of that same culture within myself. By doing that, it has opened up an inner bundle so that I started to become aware of different roles and be more of myself as well. That allows me to play with all the different roles I have: being a mother, or immersing in the Indian culture when I’m there – whatever the situation requires, I can be everything and still be me.”
That said, I realise that travelling the world and meeting people from different countries is just another level of that very same theory Henrika just told me about:
What if we allow ourselves to be everything?
To judge nothing and receive everything?
Awareness over judgments
Once you are aware you can choose everything. And everything is possible. You can integrate playfulness into your life, just like a little kid: Am I going to be a business woman today? A stay-at-home mum? Or a radiant goddess?
It is your choice.
Henrika puts it like this: “I do not consider myself French OR Finnish anymore, I consider myself an AND. I used to feel like being half and half all the time, but being an AND is so much fuller and more enriching. Now, after coming back to Finland, I study what’s the same and what is different all the time, and I get more and more aware of these differences and similarities. I define myself as an infinite being that has a body, not a being that is Finnish or French.”
I ask Henrika how it is like for her to be back in Finland after having led an expat life for 18 years: “Today, I always think ‘Oh, that’s interesting!’ when I don’t know about a certain cultural reality or learn something new. Being aware and saying that phrase gives me a lot of information on how a whole society functions. I really enjoy this part of my life right now because everything becomes so clear. Everything is and isn’t at the same time – which brings me to a space of true choice. This reality is a play! I’m able to play because I’m not buying into any of the roles that used to limit me, I just play with them.
I create my life the way it’s fun and joyful for ME – not like anyone else says. I’m just doing what works for me. And when I started doing that, everything began to flow with ease. It’s so different to function from willpower and hard work. For me it has been a process of mastering myself during my expat years that then has given me a new perspective. A perspective that works for me.”
Shut off your auto-pilot and your judgments
Talking to Henrika makes me aware of all the times we use the auto-pilot to guide us through life.
What if we take action and start living our lives according to what WE think is right instead?
What if we get rid of all these distracting implants that prevent us from choosing what we want to choose?
“I’ve always been obsessed with freedom. Thinking about what’s different and what is the same now makes me realize that everything is just choice”, says Henrika and her voice lights up. “And also, if there’s one thing to change on this earth it is to get out of judgment. I am intolerant to judgments. So going to France was an interesting choice because there, I was surrounded and overwhelmed by judgments. Eventually, I broke out of the system because judgment just doesn’t work for me.”
A note to (future) expats and wandering souls
‘So, what wisdom can you pass along to other expats?’ is what I really want to know from Henrika. And her answer truly inspires me:
“Be aware, live fully and play. We are meant to be happy and healthy. Choose whatever is good for you – even if everybody is against that. If you think you need to go somewhere, there’s probably something in it for you. Trust your intuition and knowing of what’s right for you because YOU are the creator of your life and only you know what’s true for you.”
Such powerful words, and such an important truth. Because most of the time, many of us are completely unaware that we can create whatever we want to have, be or do.
“I see this life as an adventure. Explore, be curious, and ask questions. Don’t buy into this thing called reality. Instead, trust your own knowing. Create your own life and what’s possible for you. Be willing to step up and be the difference you truly are. That is being a leader. By doing so, you will be creating a whole new reality for every one of us. If you know something is possible, if you know that’s light and right for you, just go for it. Just do it. That will have a bigger impact on people that you’ll ever imagine. You will then be in your energy and you will have a huge impact and will just keep on growing.”
Thank you Henrika for this amazing and inspiring interview! And if you, my dear reader, want to learn more about this amazing woman, check out her website and be inspired.
Now go out and create the world YOU want to live in!
Always happy travels!