I feel like most people who travel have mixed feelings about “returning home”, or at least back to some sort of normalcy compared to the exciting adventures offered while away. There’s the I’m so excited to see my family and friends and sleep in my own bed!, the I never want to leave this place; how will I survive?!, and I don’t even know how to go back to normal life…, as well as many others I’m sure I missed. These were some feelings I experienced after moving back to the U.S. after five months in Spain. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who feels this way.
But how are you practically supposed to readjust to a life that used to be familiar but now seems foreign? The foreign has become your familiar, and the world just feels upside-down. A foreign coin falls out of the washer, the people in the street actually speak your native language (this still freaks me out sometimes), and going to the grocery store is a lot more expensive than you remembered. Me? I didn’t want to adjust. Readjusting means going back to how things were before, and I didn’t want that. Travel changes you. The people you met, the places you went, the ways your perspective and priorities changed… Reverting back to my former self wasn’t really an option.
So how does one cope? Most people will expect you to come back the same person, with maybe a few more fun stories to share. You’re caught between two worlds at this point. But the thing is, you’re not alone. There are plenty of other people who have also had life-changing experiences abroad and have readjusted to “normal” life well. For me, the biggest thing was staying in touch with the friends I’d made. I came back to the states a month before two of my best friends from abroad, so there was a weird gap of time before we could relate about being “home”. But a part of me appreciated hearing about what was happening back in my second home. Oh, there are strikes on the metro? How is the weather? Have you been to our favorite café recently? Okay, the weather question shows my Midwestern roots a bit, but it’s true: simple little updates can help you wean yourself off of the place you grew to call home. I don’t like having to leave “cold turkey” (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but you get what I mean.) If I could fly back to Madrid every weekend for a month after being home, that would be great. Little by little I’d be able to say goodbye instead of doing it all at once. Unfortunately, a 10-hour plane ride each way and about $1,200 round-trip ticket prevent that from being possible. So instead, take my advice: keep in touch with others who are still there, or who are also going back to their home countries. You can share in the struggle of speaking your native language all the time, learning how to keep your phone in your back pocket again, and readjusting to all the other random little things you never noticed before, but are now oh so different than what you’re used to. Keeping in touch also ensures that the friendships you formed stay strong, no matter how many hours or time zones are between you at the moment.
…it’s okay to be okay where you are.
Some days are easier than others. But you can work what you’ve learned into your everyday life. Being immersed in a different culture gives you a perspective unique to those around you. I enjoy challenging stereotypes that come up by saying things like “Oh, I lived with someone from ____, and you know, not everyone thinks that.” Of course, being tactful is necessary. Nobody likes a know-it-all. But just because the traveling is over for now, doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate things you’ve learned into your everyday life. (My boss also complimented me on my not being afraid to jump right in to a new job, ask questions, and introduce myself to people I don’t know. I can definitely say that my time abroad helped me there! It’s so much easier to do things like that when you’re speaking to people who will respond in the same language.) So there ya go. Your career can benefit too!
…keep in touch with those who are still there
And finally: realize that it’s okay to be okay where you are. This is something I’ve been working on. I got home just over 5 weeks ago, and one of my greatest fears was readjusting too well. My logic was that if I settle back in to a 40-hour a week job, have the same routine every day, and accept that I’m okay not living abroad, I’ll never go back. That terrified me. As much of a challenge as living overseas was, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. And I didn’t want my moving back to mean that that was the end of my challenging adventures. But, it’s okay to be okay. You can go home and like it. It’s okay! You can feel like you have two different homes, or three, or four! Nobody is making you choose. But appreciating where you are, no matter if it’s exciting or not, will allow you to better connect with the people around you. They are the ones who want to hear your stories and understand what you’re feeling, but that’s hard if you’re visibly and constantly discontent. Being comfortable where you’ve moved back to is okay. It doesn’t mean you’ll never travel again. It doesn’t mean you didn’t like where you were! It just means that you realize you can continue to grow here too, and you’re willing to give it a shot.
What are your thoughts? Have you gone through this readjustment process? How did you do it?