There's No Place Like Home?

People often ask me whether or not I think I will ever live in the U.S. again.

It's not an easy question to answer because as I tell people, in all these years I've lived here, it's just never really come up. There has only been one situation when I pondered moving home. It was the week that the Hub and I broke up, before we were married, after only eight months of dating. I was so angry at him that I was planning to leave the country, like, immediately. I blamed the entire country for our temporary troubles.

In all seriousness, I tell people that it would feel strange to me if I never lived in the U.S. again, and I think I would welcome the opportunity to move to the States for a few years -- to give the Hub a chance to experience life there, and for me to see what it would be like to go back again. However, I always feel like I would need the safety net of thinking I was coming back to the U.K., because at the moment, this is really home to me.

Also, there's the fear of repatriation. You see, I have known many expats over the years who have gone through the repatriation process -- in both directions. Everyone knows about how difficult it is to move away, but no one really anticipates how hard it is to move back. When I tell people about this phenomenon, they are always surprised. But why? they ask.

So I'll tell you why. I've recently talked to a lot of expats about this and thought I'd share what they have to say.

The expectation factor. When you go abroad, you expect it to be hard, but going home, you don't. It's home, after all, the place that felt familiar and you knew so well. How could it possibly be harder than moving to a foreign country? As one of my friends who moved from London to California after five years said to me: "I just wish I had known how hard this was going to be." No one likes to be blindsided.

Everything's different. You've changed. Home has changed. Once you take the plunge and become an expat, there's no taking it back. You'll never be a person anymore with one national identity. Personally, I think this is a very good thing. It makes you more empathetic, and more ego-detached as well. What is nationality anyway? Aren't we all just human beings? Sometimes you're confused about when to serve the cheese course, but I think these sacrifices are worth it. Still, it means when you return home you feel a cultural separation from your former identity that you never thought possible.

Your friends have moved on. When you visit home as an expat your friends are always super happy to see you. They make room in their busy schedules, they come into Manhattan from the suburbs, they cross London when they never would otherwise. But it will never be the same when you are actually living in the same city again. I've had glimpses of this when I stayed in New York over Christmas for lengthy periods of time and friends go back to their "normal lives". It was almost an imperceptible shift, but it was a little like, "oh, you're still here?" They weren't used to having me around for so long and were just back into their normal routines. I've done it to expats too when they repatriated -- I forgot they were even back. You have to re-establish your friendship again, including the routine of when you actually see people.

No one gives a sh*t. I have a friend who moved back to New York, and she perfectly described it this way. It's so true. When you're an expat, no matter for how long, you do get treated specially. I forget I have an accent, but I just bought a piano and the guy threw in the stool for free because I was a "New Yorker". Dude, I'm not a New Yorker. I live in Streatham. I just did the side-return. Still, people are curious, interested. My friend said when she went back home after many years of living here, no one cared. You have had a life-changing experience and no one gives a sh*t. They want you to move on.

So there you go. That's the result of my research. Please let me know if you've repatriated and if you agree with me, or if I got it wrong. The thing is, if you're repatriating or you're going to, you have your reasons. As hard as repatriating might be, I still feel the pangs of jealousy when my friends talk about seeing their parents for lunch over the weekend, or when I think about the fact that the toddler members of my family think that I live in a computer screen. Still, I live by Bill Bryson's eloquent summary of life as an expat: some things are better, some things are worse.

Photo credit: Close to Home twinkle toes: 10 of 365 via photopin (license)

No comments

Back to Top