Since being back in the USA for a little over three months now (after having lived in Germany for the last four years), there have been many awesome aspects to returning home/to ones own culture, as well as challenging/not so great aspects to the return as well. In a few recent blog entries, I have outlined some personal experiences with regard to my retuning stateside.
However this entry will be a bit less on the personally detailed stuff and instead will be more general positives and negatives that both I have experienced and assume many other expats also go through in their moving back home. (And if an expat yourself and considering moving back "home," here are some of what you might anticipate).
Ill start with the more challenging/negative aspects.
1. Missing friends you've now left overseas deeply. I think of several of them daily. Yearn to see them in person. Hug them. To actually sit across from them and see their face as we are talking. Walk next to them on the sidewalk. Go to their apartment and curl up with a tea on their couch as we chat the night away. Walk the city together, take photos and have fun in person.
This is tough. Skype sessions have taken on new weight. Each time I see them over the screen, longing to reach through it and hug them to me.
However, while living in Europe, I experienced similar feelings for my friends back here in the US. So either way, I have realized, it comes with the territory.
When you live in another state or country for a long time, long enough to build a life there, whichever one you end up choosing to put down some roots and stay for a while? You will be missing people from the other. Or, if you decide on going back home, there will not be people you've formed relationships in your new home whom you will be ever missing.
The bitter sweetness of having lived long term in more than one place. Though really, what an awesome problem to have :-).
2. Cost of living. Frankfurt isn't necessarily a cheap European city, but still, cost of living was less there, big time. When I go to the grocery store here and I pick up, say, a bag of buckwheat flour ($5), some coconut milk ($5), salmon ($8-10), quinoa ($7 ish) and the total comes to like $30!?!? My stomach clenches just a bit every time. That same haul in Frankfurt would have cost maybe $15-18. When stopping by a CVS here to buy face wipes for after the gym, they cost $5, minimum. The cheapest on offering. Back in Frankfurt, face wipes could be nabbed for $1. The list goes on. Things, little daily needs (and wants), are just so much more expensive. This is disheartening, jarring and stressful. Its been hard to adjust to.
3. Travel accessibility. SO much better when living in Europe. When I was in Germany, I could hop on over to say, Portugal, for $130 round trip. I might spend $150 for the week to stay in a pretty nice room on Airbnb. And then maybe $200 spending for said week.
Basically for $500 or less, you can spend a week in another country. A WEEK! I nabbed a round trip ticket to Paris for $100 last summer, to spend 3 days there. A few summers ago, I hopped on over to Florence, Italy for a week. The ticket was $130.
All of the below adventures? They were just a hop, skip, and a jump away from me in Germany ;-)
I miss this immensely. The sense of possibility and magic Europe seems to hold within its hands.
4. Vacation time. The vacation time allotted annually here to US citizens sucks. Its dismal. To many Americans who haven't spent time abroad, I worry about sounding like a spoiled brat. However, in speaking as someone who has experienced the other side of the coin first hand, it really is a big deal. The amount of time we get here off annually is some of the lowest across the world. We are at the bottom of the vacation time spectrum. And studies have shown time and time and time again that people who have more vacation time are significantly happier and healthier (and being on vacation meaning that when on vacation, you are actually on vacation. Work phone shut off, not checking work emails, literally not doing anything related to work at all. That's what a vacation is ;-). A vast majority of Americans don't seem able to do this) .
Don't get me wrong, as well as being far more productive and happier at work, I don't think people necessarily need a plethora of weeks of vacation every year. Sure, that's awesome but it isn't necessarily a necessary amount. What is? I would say 4 weeks annually, at minimum, is a reasonable amount. That's one week off every three months. Enough to recharge, actually enjoy your life outside of your job, go on an adventure of some kind, and come back rested, excited and rejuvenated.
This is one thing I despise about the US, and the major one that I am not sure how it may affect my choice in remaining here over the long term.
5. To piggyback on #4, you will likely become incredibly jealous anytime your now-overseas friends tell you they are going on vacation, or hopping on the train for a weekend away in the next country over.
Oh, how that used to be you, and how deliciously awesome it was.
6. Realizing that really, you aren't fully sure what "home" is anymore. That maybe it can be more than one place. You may have a handful of places that feel like home. That home can even be a person, or persons. And that ultimately, maybe home is more of a feeling than a place.
7. Re-entry to your old home can affect your emotional and physical health in strange, unexpected ways. For me, some nights I sleep awesome and others, am up 2, 3, 4 times a night and cannot fall asleep until like 2am, despite eyes aching in exhaustion. I have experienced random, brief moments of a racing heart, with no apparent or obvious reason. Passing quickly, but still it happens. Some days I feel awesome, energetic, great. Others, I feel so exhausted that if I were to lie on the sidewalk, would likely fall asleep right there, even though I may have slept just fine the night before. I feel excited and happy being back, reveling in the neat surprises that have come my way. Sometimes I also feel anxious and uneasy, still looking for the right work, waiting with bated breathe for everything to work itself out fully (as I know, it always does :-)).
I imagine others moving back may have differing emotional/physical changes (I shared mine to offer a few potential examples- though I imagine everyone's experience will be different), but are likely to have them nonetheless.
And now for the awesome aspects:
1. Actually being able to spend time with your family more than once a year.
2. Being able to be present for life events that you were absent at prior. Celebrations, holidays, birthdays, births, weddings, the list goes on. Instead of just hearing about it later on, or seeing photos via Facebook, now you can actually attend. Be a part of them once again. Laugh along with everyone during the funny moments instead of just being told via third person. Being there with them, experiencing it together and making a shared memory instead of just one you will hear of.
3. An upside of American culture? Convenience. Stores are open on Sundays. Being able to buy several things, groceries, toiletries, all under the same roof. The seemingly endless options for any possible item you might need to buy (yogurts? Don't worry, there are 47 different brands and types to choose from ;-). Pesto? No need to be concerned whether or not they'll have it. They will. Probably 9 different varieties).
4. When grocery shopping, people actually bagging your groceries for you. This sounds trivial. Its not. Back in Germany, when your groceries are being checked through, rapid fire, and then having to try shoving them all in bags well before you pay so that the next persons things don't get mixed with yours and they aren't sighing and staring, disgruntled in your direction as you have to finish bagging while their groceries are now being rung through? The worst. Totally ruins the experience of grocery shopping, ending on a anxiety inducing, hurried, tense note.
Here in American? None of that crap. They bag your things for you. And it is awesome.
5. No language barrier. This make things SO much easier in a smattering of ways. When making a new friend, not having to worry about their understanding you (or, you being able to understand them) as fully as you might otherwise. When/if approaching or being approach by someone of the opposite gender or a romantic interest, not having to worry if they speak your language or not. Cultural references, sarcasm, certain jokes, things that no longer get lost in translation. Being able to read all signs with ease. No glass ceiling in terms of job possibilities because of language barrier.
Granted, I sometimes find myself actually missing reading menus in German, attempting ordering in German, hearing different German phrases, listening to other people talk and being able to generally understand and roughly translate the German in my head. All of this was lots of fun :-). But, it also makes life a lot easier living where your own language is the main one.
6. Free tap water at any restaurant. My god, was this my biggest pet peeve ever. Most restaurants, not just in Germany but throughout Europe, make you pay for water in restaurants. This blew my mind and irked me to no end. Its water. Water and bathrooms, two basic human needs that should be free and easily accessible when needed. I am so glad to be away from that silliness. Now, I can have all the free tap water I like, and its amazing. Hallelujah!!!
7. You will be a totally different person now in your return, from the person you are when you left. And this is generally going to be an awesome thing, for wherever you go next in life. Enriching relationships, serving to influence values and future life choices. Hopefully instilling in you sensed of adventure. The list goes on.
Much of my core personality is the same, but much within has changed and grown in the last four years of being away. Greater inner strength and confidence in speaking up for myself with others- this I worked hard on and put into use throughout of my time abroad. Feeling generally braver, more willing to jump (specifically I am referring to life goals, places I might want to go, things I wish to achieve, etc) for something I want even when it scares me or is stressful. I am happier. More mature and thoughtful. Feelings of self contentment and joy have come over me that were not nearly as pronounced prior to my departure.
I like to think these are some of the changes and growths that have taken place during my time overseas. And I imagine those who have lived in another country/culture for several years have experienced their own levels of growth, change and shifts inside themselves too.
8. You learn that courage is overrated ;-). People will frequently tell you, "oh man, you are so brave for what you did." That's a small part of it, but mostly its just deciding to do something you want, feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. In doing something so huge, uprooting yourself, selling all of your things, saying heart wrenching goodbyes, and going to a place where you know no one and do not speak the language, you learn that courage isn't just something you have. Its also a choice. Anyone can make that same choice. We all, each of us, have that within. Its just a matter of deciding and then acting.
Tips for adjusting once you have moved back home/to your old culture.
1. Focus on what you've gained. Not what you lost or gave up. In every single life choice or change, there will be things you gain and things you give up/lost. Its par for the course in going through life stages ;-). Therefore, you choose on which one you focus. There can always be truth found in both. You will have lost some, as well as gained. Which will you focus on?
2. Take time and make priority to reconnect with old friends. Now that you're back home, there must be people with whom you've remained in touch while you were away. Spend time with these people again, now that you're able to. You might be surprised at how some of them will grow to be close friends once again, now that you can actually see each other more than once a year.
3. Find things you can enjoy, little things, that will make you feel "at home." Meaning, give you feelings of comfort and remembrance from where you just moved away from. This could be a favorite type of tea you used to drink abroad (find it on Amazon and order some). Maybe a ritual you used to revel in (having every Sunday afternoon to go sit in a café and write the day away. Take one or two Sundays each month to do this again on occasion). It might be talking on Skype with the close friends you made while abroad, which you want to maintain relationships with. Whatever those things are, find them and do them. They will help out a lot in readjusting and feeling comfort within your new life.
(PS. What is home? And how do you know when you've found it? Is home only a place, or can it be something else too? This article discusses that in depth).
4. Plan some excitement and fun things to look forward to in your new life. It could be a weekend trip away with friends. A long afternoon spent doing something fun and reconnecting with an old friend with whom you have remained close over distance (but now, you can actually hang out again in person with regularly- how cool is that!?). Try a new workout class. Pick up a gripping book or sign up for a local class to meet some new people (something that interests you. Maybe photography, cooking, writing, you name it).
5. Go visit the places you used to love (prior to moving away). Had a favorite restaurant you still think about? A cozy café you loved frequenting prior to moving away? Go back and revisit these places. It will feel cozy and exciting to be back and be able to do this again.
6. Don't feel as though in talking about your previous life experiences/chapter spent living abroad, and in feeling sad reminiscing, that it necessarily means you made the wrong decision. You can miss something and have cherished it, but not want it back. You can let something go and experience moments of sadness about that, all while knowing it was the right decision. Too often, people think that if something makes them sad, it means they shouldn't have done it. This can be true, but just as often, it isn't.
If you find happiness, joy, excitement, feelings of possibility and anticipation, in where you are now in moving forward, those are all strong indicators that you are on the right path. Having momentary moments of nostalgia upon reflection of a past loss is not synonymous with having made the wrong decision, or of being an indicator that you should go backwards. Feeling occasional sadness or nostalgia for things we have lost, given up, or ways things "used to be" is normal and a part of human life. It also does not mean we shouldn't have made the choice we did. Trust your intuition. We let things go for a reason. Trust that reasoning. If you keep staring at the previous pages, you cant possibly notice all the wonder and beauty available and offered in the coming ones.
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