What To Expect When Moving Back Home After Living Abroad.

And how such an experience is always worth it.

image by Adolfo Felix from Unsplash.com

Moving back to one’s home country after more than a year (or several) spent living abroad is bound to be filled with conflicting, intense, and complicated emotions. Many of which will be positive, and some of which will feel challenging or even negative.

In experiencing this personally after moving back to the US following living in Europe for four years, I did a significant amount of research on the topic. Thus, this article is a combination of research, as well as, the recollection of my own experience returning home after being away.

Here is what I concluded to be some of the emotional hurdles and experiences of this significant life change.

The initial rush, thrill, and honeymoon stage.

Nostalgia and excitement abound, this was such fun. That initial return home side. Being back in a city and place you once knew like the back of your hand, after having been away for years. With eager anticipation, setting forth and revisiting all the places you loved. Rekindling and reigniting old relationships.

For a handful of weeks, this will be a whirlwind of wonder, exhilaration and likely, awesomeness. Everyone will be fawning over and thrilled to spend time with you again. It’s like one huge party, extending over several weeks.

Then, likely to come will be feeling (sometimes) misunderstood, along with some disillusionment.

There will come times of finding yourself lamenting “when I lived in (insert name of the place from which you just came), it was different in this way.” Or, “man, do I miss _____ from when I lived in ____.”

You will experience moments of yearning to recount and revisit memories and moments of the life and place from which you just came, as well as, are likely to find yourself aching to talk about the experiences from that period of your life. It now feeling as though a world away.

However, constant references to the life you just left are likely to grow old, and fast, to the people in your life who remained back home. With no connection or reference point to your stories, they will not be able to truly relate or connect with these references. Yet smiling, they will try to listen and be supportive while likely with time, growing a tad bored. Many of them, not really knowing how to respond other than smiling and nodding.

This may lead to experiencing feelings of…

Isolation.

As though no one can understand fully or really connect to what you are sharing with them, or to the experience and life you just lived and left. (Because in truth, they can’t).

This can lead to feeling, at times, like something of a loner. As though you don’t quite fit in. A ship adrift at sea. A bit of an outsider. As though you aren’t able to truly connect with your loved ones about this momentous aspect of your life and personhood.

Then, the comparisons may set in.

Thoughts of “well, back when I lived in (__such and such previous place___), it was like this.” Comparing from where you just came (favorably) against to where you have just returned.

This can result in, at times, feeling disappointed or disillusioned with the home you have now come back to. In returning home after having lived a life elsewhere, you will be with new eyes and a different perception of your home. This can lead to waxing nostalgic about the life you just left. Maybe even wondering, at moments, did I make a grave mistake in leaving?

Important note: experiencing these emotions does not automatically mean that to where you have just returned is worse, or that you made a mistake in going home. Think about it. We do this as humans all the time, lamenting the past. Not having realized how awesome something was, how much we loved an experience or someone, until following going through a major change and reflecting on what used to be. Often times, it isn’t until after the fact that we see clearly the value of what we experienced prior.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the past was actually better. It might have been, yes. But experiencing these emotions doesn’t automatically mean it was.

This will be something worthy of careful examination over a reasonable period of time, to determine whether it’s just the commonplace nostalgia and mourning that comes with any change and goodbye, or, if maybe the new life you’d experienced and created is, in fact, where you now truly belong.

Missing the people you love from where you just left.

Anyone who has lived in two different places for significant chunks of time knows this is a given.

If you choose to remain in place A, you will find yourself missing people from place B. If you decide to move back to place B, there will now be people in place A whom you will long for and miss.

It’s an unavoidable fact of living for a long time in more than one place, and actually, if you look close, it’s a pretty beautiful “problem” to have. People scattered in several places whom you love deeply.

What an incredible, slightly bittersweet, though ultimately awesome thing.

A sense of disorienting time warp may settle over you.

Finding many of the people and places you left a few years prior, at least on the surface, seeming largely the same. While simultaneously, feeling as though you just lived a whole other life, an entirely different story in the meantime.

An experience after which you are totally changed and utterly altered in so many ways. So how is it that everything else seems so untouched and much the same, while you have so shifted and grown? This will be a strange, slightly disheartening at times, occasionally frustrating, and a sometimes startling sensation.

And it can lead to…

A sense of feeling as though one has regressed.

As though in moving back home, having halted and shifted backward a bit. After living in another country, which tends to result in a momentous amount of inner change and emotional growth, returning home and finding so much seemingly unchanged (at least on the surface) can make one feel as though back peddling a bit.

This is of course, not necessarily the reality. In fact, it likely isn’t. It may feel that way though.

Moving back after having lived abroad requires additional emotional stretching, internal emotional challenge, and much bravery. Going through such a major upheaval as this, taking a huge leap and starting all over once again. That is a big thing. Do not discount or minimize that.

Thus, even though it may feel so, you aren’t going backward. It’s merely another chapter in your story.

And while on the surface it may feel like regression simply by means of “going back”, it isn’t. Because you are returning with new eyes, as a different version of you, more likely than not to result in an entirely surprising and unexpected experience in coming home.

Culture shock.

Returning home after living abroad for several years will result in seeing your home through new eyes.

Some of what you will be observing anew will be positive, will feel wonderful, comforting, and full of romance.

However, some aspects to your culture (which may have gone previously unnoticed) may now stand out glaringly, and not always in the best way.

Certain things, whether dietary habits, cultural norms, mannerisms, traditions, morals, and values, will seem different to you, following a return from living within an entirely different culture and place.

And, ones that, though before didn’t seem problematic, may seem off-putting, strange, or even upsetting (with having this new comparison of the other place in which you lived). This can be difficult to re-adapt and adjust to.

Know this: in almost every culture or place, there will be positive aspects to it as well as negative. It doesn’t mean one place is better or worse than the other. Though occasionally it does. But more often, it doesn’t. It just means they are different. Each offers varying positives and drawbacks.

Lastly, you are likely to feel much joy, relief, and thrill at returning home, reconnecting with the people you love who are still there, and revisiting your original stomping grounds once more.

So, how to deal with all these challenging emotions?

First, know that they will pass.

It may take anywhere from five months to a year. Or, in some people’s cases, you might be pleasantly surprised and not experience many challenging emotions at all. Everyone experiences life shifts differently. However, even when the tough parts have passed (for the most part), just by nature of having built a life elsewhere, some of these feelings will never go away fully. Continuing to pop up sporadically throughout the years.

This is ok and normal. It doesn’t necessarily mean that to where you’ve moved back isn’t where you should be. If you are otherwise happy and feel mostly settled into your home once again (this can take up to a year, so be patient), experiencing these feelings from time to time is normal.

Know that you will have flashes of missing the life you lived elsewhere. Possibly even intense ones. There will be aspects of the other culture in which you lived that you’ll find yourself preferring, even lamenting, as compared with where you have returned.

There will be people in the country you’ve just left whom you are likely to miss for a long time. Possibly even forever.

As a result of having built a world in a different country, there will be moments throughout your life of feeling disconnected and misunderstood by others (as many people have never done something like this themselves).

All of this is ok.

It’s part of what comes with the territory of having done what you did. The awesome, life-changing, bad-ass thing of having ventured elsewhere to explore and live.

Knowing this will make the emotions easier to work through when they come up. Being aware that, just because you experience these emotions does not necessarily mean that to where you’ve returned isn’t where you should be.

Do not ignore the wonder and awe that is available, in abundance, both from where you just left, as well as in the new life to which you have just arrived. This is one of the most awesome experiences one can have in life, having ventured, explored, and lived in another culture and country.

Know how lucky and brave you are for having done it.

You now have a treasure of a life chapter that few other people do.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author. www.brookeenglish.com

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