Coming home after spending a long time abroad is a strange process. In some ways it can feel good to be back with friends, family, and everything familiar; but other times it can feel like all your happiness was slowly drained out on the flight back.
These are the seven stages of repatriation. The time spent at each stage and intensity of feelings will vary, but this is what it’s like to come home.
It’s time to leave the place you’ve most recently called home. It’s not your home home. It’s not the country of your passport. It’s home in your heart, but for some reason, maybe visa issues or lack of funds, you can’t call it home anymore.
So you book a ticket and get on a plane and stare out the window not ready to say goodbye.
You couldn’t really be leaving your friends, your flat, your favorite food, the city of your dreams with no return ticket, could you? No way. It was not possible.
Soon enough, though, you’re surrounded by American flags and handing your passport to a border patrol officer and you can’t deny it any longer. You are back.
Once it becomes apparent that the lengthy flight you just disembarked wasn’t actually a dream everything you missed about your home country, and all the new things on offer, become so so SO exciting.
Oh wow! Taco Bell serves breakfast now!
My favorite beer is everywhere!
I can call my friends when I’m awake because we are no longer separated by a 13 hour time difference!
There are PRETZEL M&Ms?!
My mom can cook me dinner!
Clothes at Target are SO cheap!
This US dollar to US dollar exchange rate is AWESOME!
Things start to get real when the haze of excitement burns off. Your old normal now seems strange. You forget to leave a tip. You have a hard time making small talk with the cashier because you just spent two years in a country where you couldn’t communicate. You don’t know which way to look when you cross the street. You forgot how big a small soda is.
Then there’s confusion about current events and pop culture. Maybe you don’t know that Ashton Kutcher just had a baby with Mila Kunis because you think he’s still with Demi Moore or that Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel are two separate people. Then there’s that time when a song comes on you exclaim how much you just love this new song and everyone exclaims that this song is nearly a year old and so over.
Reverse culture shock is real.
There then comes a time when you think, “Oh, I’ve got this.” You get a job and see your friends for the first time in years and everything seems to fall right into place. The grocery store seems like a magical place because you can find avocados and cheese and when you go to the mall no one laughs you at of the store saying “too big, too big”. Everything seems so easy and you wonder why you ever left.
Once the novelty of a regular life starts to wear off, memories of your old home start to creep again. Why aren’t you in Paris for the weekend right now with your friends? BECAUSE NO ONE WOULD SPONSOR YOUR VISA, THAT’S WHY. And you’re angry because it seems so stupid and like there’s such an easy solution. But that solution is just out of reach and instead of Paris you’re stuck driving to Indianapolis for the weekend.
Did you know an Instagram of a sandwich could make your cry? Now you do. Because it was your favorite sandwich being eaten in the park where you used to picnic every weekend by your best friend. As the anger subsides, sadness takes it place. It’s an all consuming pity party of one thinking about everything you’re missing.
7. Acceptance…or escape
Repatriation can end in two ways: you either accept your new life back home or you don’t. For some being surrounded by the familiar soon becomes comforting. Maybe you find a job you like, an apartment to decorate, and someone to date and you settle down and stay.
Others run away as fast as they can. You realize that you’ll never be happy with the life you had before. The place you once called home has stayed the same, but you’ve changed. The people you once called friends seem like distant strangers and sometimes it’s even hard to find a connection with family.
The world beckons.
Life at home is easy.
Like abroad is exciting. It’s challenging. It’s life changing.
You’re leaving again. Repatriation be damned.