Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus Podcast. Breathwork Academy Creator, Artur Paulins, first left Latvia to study in Denmark knowing zero Danish. He later moved on to London with no connections or contacts. And then after a good 10 years abroad, a gut-feeling told him it was time to move home. We chat in this episode about his repatriation process, feeling like a stranger in the country he grew up in and how, in the process of returning home, Artur had a realisation about his next path.
Now, before we get into your expat and repatriation experience Artur, I really wanted to ask you about Breathwork because I see you share it a lot on your social media channels. Obviously, it’s what you work in for a living and as an asthmatic, it always fills me with a little bit of fear to see people, especially in their togs, in the snow, like getting into ice baths and things like that. So can you tell me a little bit about this Breathwork? I don’t wanna say it’s a trend, but it is really popular right now in wellness circles.
Artur: Absolutely. It has grown massively since the first time I was exposed to it and I decided to teach it. I didn’t really predict that’s gonna get anywhere nearly as recognized as it is now. Over the years, of course you have heard about the benefits of meditation and having some sort of practice that takes care of your mind. Now, these days it’s totally self-explanatory that you should be doing some exercise, some physical exercise to keep healthy, but I firmly believe in a few years, the same will be said about our minds and about mental health. And with the rise in research and meditation and the benefits of those kinds of contemplative practices, it is easy to see how people want to start practising something like this.
But I find that traditional meditation sometimes can be challenging for our busy minds that are always racing. What Breathwork helps with is regulating our nervous system. So first, calming down our fired nervous system. So then we can sit still, and then we can access that calm space of mind that meditation aims at accessing. It’s just a little bit easier to do that first with breath.
Carlie: So it’s almost like a meditation primer?
Carlie: And should I be scared if I wanna try something like, you know, winter swimming or ice baths, when you have conditions like asthma, is this something you say to people, oh, this one’s not for you?
Artur: No, not really. I mean, the Breathwork and cold therapy, or cold exposure, are not the same things. But I find that obviously it’s been popular in conjunction. And breathing is, or working with your breath, is almost a way to train your awareness, your ability to stay present your ability to overcome the response of the body, like stress, like stress response of the body. And cold-
Carlie: Which is exactly what happens. You get stressed when you plunge into cold water. Yeah.
Artur: Exactly. And that’s exactly the same stress response you would get from having some sort of situation in your day to day life that triggers the same physiological response. And with cold water, you are consciously choosing to recreate that scenario. So, to recreate that scenario with cold water, you’re managing that stress response with your breath. And that’s almost like a way to train yourself and become more resilient when stress inevitably hits in your day to day life.
Carlie: I like that idea of building up my resilience to stressful situations. But we’re gonna speak today about your expat journey and the fact that you’ve recently decided to return to where you’re originally from, which is Latvia. So first, can you tell me when and why you moved abroad?
Artur: First I moved abroad when I was about 20. I just finished high school in Lavia and I decided to move to Denmark, to study at a university in Denmark and continue my education there. So I spent about four years studying in Denmark, also spent a bit of time working. But once I was done with my school there, I actually was looking for places to move to go somewhere else.
Cause I, yeah, just wanted to explore different areas different of the world, and London at the time seemed like the most obvious option. It was close by, it was still in Europe at the time. And yeah, it wasn’t too far, so it was pretty easy to move there. And with my limited budget, I knew that in the worst-case scenario, if it all goes badly, I could just hitchhike back to Lavia. That was my escape plan.
Carlie: I love that because I’m from Australia, and my mom said to me when I first moved abroad, just remember if anything goes wrong, you can get on a plane and be home in 24 hours. And obviously, you can’t hitchhike from Europe to Australia. Well, not very easily. So I love that mental image of you just like, you know, thumbing out on the highway to find a way back to Lavia.
And when I did move to London, you know, it’s a bit of a Rite of passage for Australians to spend a couple of years abroad, but I know people from Baltic countries have different motivations to immigrate and sometimes it’s not necessarily just for a short period of time. So can you tell me a bit more about your motivation? Did you see it as something you would do in your life and not necessarily come back?
Artur: Yeah. At the time I didn’t really have a particular plan. And obviously, coming from Eastern Europe, a lot of people are leaving the countries to find better-paying jobs, better opportunities and just better quality of life compared to a lot of countries that are post-Soviet countries. And a lot of people are looking for a way out, in some ways, right? And so it was really difficult to predict how life will turn out but it was very different moving from the country I came from. Cause, to be honest, the word expat didn’t apply to me. I was an immigrant. That was the right description. And I was reminded of that quite a lot early on, especially in Denmark and then in London. But then I managed to find my ways and adapt and be more, I guess, comfortable with being there, being here in London.
Carlie: Did it ever feel like home? Or did Denmark ever really feel like home?
Artur: London does feel like home. I really enjoy London with all the crazy things that are happening in London and the fast pace of living and never stopping. It feels like such an amazing place where everyone is from somewhere else. When you meet people, you always ask, where are you from originally?
Artur: And that’s such a normal thing. So I think London is amazing, it does feel like home. It feels so familiar, so comfortable. Yeah, very, very familiar.
Carlie: And it’s a big cultural melting pot, which is awesome.
Carlie: Artur, what made me really wanna speak to you is that you wrote in your newsletter a few months ago, that it was a gut feeling telling you it was time to move home. Do you recall any particular moment that gut feeling kicked in?
Artur: I guess I can remember a period of time. Cause in early 2021, I decided to leave London because everything was in lockdown, and I thought I might pay lower rent and have a better view in Greece. So I moved to Greece for three months.
Artur: So that was a good shout. And so I was spending first January to March in Greece and then went to Mexico for two months. And then I went to Latvia for another month at the beginning of 2021. So I was away from London for six months, basically.
And first, while I was living in Greece, I realized how much I enjoyed being surrounded by nature and stillness and quiet. And it was really amazing. But I also realized that, even though at the time I was connected with another Jui Jitsu gym in Greece and I could still train and I could still connect with locals, I still was missing friends, I still was missing community. And at that time I started contemplating the potential of where would I like to live and what are the important things for me at that time.
And so I spent a couple of months in Greece already thinking about it, then I went to Mexico, which was really far off from Europe, and I was still considering it. But when I moved, when I went for a month to live in Latvia, so just to spend a month before returning to London, I actually really felt like I wanted to go there and see it in a new way, in a way that perhaps I didn’t allow myself to see it.
Cause when I moved, when I left, I was like, I’m just leaving. I’m not coming back. And I was just really wanting to see the place in a new way, perhaps meeting new people, finding like-minded people. And I did. And at that time I did and I realized I actually would like to see how it is to live back here. And I still returned to London in July, August, September, October, but then my plan was to return to Latvia without a return ticket, just go there and see how it is. And I went to Latvia in November, December basically, and I spent two months there.
Carlie: And what sort of epiphanies did you have when you were there? No, first of all, I wanna know what’s the logistics involved in deciding you’re gonna take a one-way ticket somewhere? Because I imagine that’s very much packing up any trace of your life in London, you know, cutting ties with whatever home base you had in London and, you know, condensing your life into boxes or suitcases.
Artur: Actually, it wasn’t that hard for me personally, cause for years I’ve been cultivating quite a minimalist approach to my possessions.
Carlie: I was gonna say, I got the impression you might be a bit of a nomad anyway.
Artur: Yeah. So I’ve already spent six months travelling with a backpack and a couple of boxes of books in storage in London. So basically, when I returned and I decided to move to Latvia, all I needed to do was take care of gifting my books to friends that I thought were worth gifting and send a couple of memorable things to my parents’ home in Lavia. And that was pretty easy to do. So I was kind of already moving in that direction throughout the years, already having very minimal possessions.
But then over the course of the pandemic, when I was kind of travelling more and more, I actually thought that having a light footprint would be an advantage in such uncertain times. So I kind of was moving in that direction anyway.
Carlie: And when you had left Latvia a good decade earlier, had you really suspended your life there? So when you came back, did you kind of have to reactivate accounts and reregister in places or was it like slipping on an old shoe, I guess?
Artur: It was interesting. It was worrying for me to return back cause I literally knew just five people, five friends or a very limited amount of friends. Cause when I moved originally, I realized at the time as I was integrating in Denmark and then I was integrating into London, I realized for me to fully be in the place I am living in present, I need to integrate and I cannot hold on as much to my previous culture or just hang out with Latvians, right? And I kind of made that conscious decision to just move forward and look forward instead of holding on to something behind me.
And that was great. That allowed me to really experience the culture, every place I went, every place I lived, but also I kind of became a stranger in Latvia. Even speaking Latvian became odd for me cause I was spending most of my time speaking English and I also speak Russian quite fluently. I kind of grew up bilingual in Latvia, speaking Russian. Cause a lot of kids in school and in the playground were speaking Russian. So I kinda learned Russian.
So Russian, I pretty much forgot. I could barely speak Russian. So it was interesting to kind of relearn it, remember it and get comfortable with the culture, the environment. So it was something too, but it quickly came back.
Carlie: What surprised you about moving back to Latvia? You mentioned the language adjustment. Was there anything else that really made you feel good back home or possibly a bit more uncomfortable than you recalled being before?
Artur: It was actually surprising how quickly I felt at home. Yeah, I know it’s kind of funny to say, but having spent so many years away, it feels like I’m a foreigner in the country I live in and also at home. I’m a stranger. But it was interesting to notice that quickly enough, I kind of adjusted and it started to feel like home much, much quicker than expected.
I thought it was gonna be much more of a lengthy and difficult process to get used to the culture, get used to the ways, but it was quite quick. And what also pleasantly surprised me, there were many more people that I met who were quite like-minded, who travelled to different countries, who lived in different places and returned to Latvia. So I could quickly connect with people who have lived abroad.
Carlie: Repatriate community. Yeah.
Carlie: That understand that feeling.
Carlie: I think it’s one of the, I mean, I have a life here in France, but it’s one of the reasons why I’m not so motivated to go back to Australia because I feel like if I go home to my passport country, then my adventure, I suppose, is kind of over in a way. Did you kind of have that FOMO feeling of moving back to Latvia? Like London or Denmark will move on without you? And is that okay? You know?
Artur: I definitely had that feeling cause it was a difficult thing to do, leave everything. Also, the biggest part of my business and the people I work with are in London and the UK. So it was kind of scary and like, I wasn’t sure if I’m gonna fit in or if I’m gonna find like-minded people to spend time with and enjoy my time with, right? Cause London is beautiful in that sense, cause you can meet amazing humans from all over the world and in that sense, it’s really cool.
Carlie: Yeah. And you really cultivate a community as well?
Artur: Yes, absolutely. And so, what I was reminding myself when I was going to Latvia, was that it is not a final decision, even if I would get a house and a mortgage, I could get rid of it and just travel lightly. Cause I already proved to myself that I can live with a suitcase and nothing else.
Carlie: I’m a classic hoarder, I have to say. I’m a maximalist. And so that just alone impresses me so much.
Artur: Yeah, it’s practice. It’s a practice thing
Carlie: Has to be.
Artur: Yeah.But I basically reminded myself that it’s, you know, even I can change my mind anytime and nothing is final. And even if I would spend another 20 years in Latvia, I could always move somewhere else. And the world is one big place, an open place.
Carlie: And so it has been a few months now since you made the one-way ticket moved back, what has been going on since then? And where is your head at now?
Artur: It’s actually really interesting, the process I went on, and it was a really great thing that I did. Cause I went with a one-way ticket there, and after spending two months there I realized I wanted to travel again. And suddenly Latvia was this place that I was… I realised my attitude for the countries I lived in, for the places I travelled, was that I can live absolutely anywhere on the planet. But Latvia is kind of a difficult place to live or return to. And after having spent two months in Latvia, integrating it, I realized, hey, actually I can live anywhere and in Latvia.
And suddenly I felt even more free to travel in a way that I didn’t have resistance to being back in my home country. And so I decided in January to change the scenery a bit and I went to Mallorca for a couple of weeks, cause Latvia was pretty cold and freezing.
Carlie: I can imagine.
Artur: Yes. But now I’m back in London. I’m back working here and I’ll be here for a while. And right now I’m kind of back in my nomadic ways. And yeah, so going back to Latvia was a really good process to reconsider. But I’m really sure that now I’ll be splitting my time between countries.
Carlie: So where does Latvia fit into that equation for you? You’re going to live a nomadic life, but would you say that Latvia will be a home base?
Artur: I think my home base will be split between London and Latvia. Cause my parents are still in Latvia, my family’s there. And I definitely want to create a space, create potentially a retreat centre or a place I could bring people to, and invest my time and energy in building something that could become a real home base in Latvia. So that’s the plan. But I still enjoy the action and excitement of living in London.
Carlie: And I guess you’d have to be realistic about business opportunities as well. Like I imagine London’s probably more of a prime in-market for the type of wellness work that you do, compared to somewhere like Latvia.
Artur: Totally. And also I oftentimes travel for treats to different countries, and that’s also part of the job. So yeah, with having returned to Latvia, I realized that actually, that would be a really nice place for me to have a retreat for myself. So once in a while, not necessarily just once a year, like I used to go and visit my family and leave, but actually go there maybe three or four times a year and have a place where I can have time for myself and then be more focused and dedicated to working in London. And yeah, so finding a bit more balance between those.
Carlie: Arthur just finally, I’d like to know, based on your repatriation experience, what advice you would offer to others, particularly from Baltic countries where there has been a bit of a trend since COVID and Brexit for various reasons of people returning, what advice would you have for people thinking of a similar repatriation?
Artur: Keeping an open mind because nothing is forever. Like even big decisions can be changed. Your mind can change any time. And my advice would be not to hold on too tightly and not to put too much pressure on yourself. Cause you can always change your mind, move, figure things out. Nothing is final.
Carlie: Well, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us today on the Expat Focus podcast.
Artur: Thank you for having me.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you want to hear more stories of moving home after time abroad, scroll back through the Expat Focus archive for my interview with global community leader Naomi Hattaway. She’s the author of the infamous “I am a triangle” article. If you like what we do, let us know on social media, we are @ExpatFocus. And you can even leave us a review, however you like to listen to the show. I’ll catch you next time!