Coming home after spending some time abroad feels like heaven, right? Going back to your old life, a routine you’re more used to, old friends, your own culture, family, it all seems so right. Except…when none of it feels right!
Ok, I know how controversial this can be, so let me give you a little bit of my backstory on this.
I’ve always wanted to live abroad, as I said in my My first big trip post, so I could improve my English skills and have some international experience. When I finally had the chance to move to the US for a work and study program, I figured I would spend my year in America and would eventually go back home by the end of the program.
The first two months of my adaptation in the States were not that easy.
I arrived in Chicago in November. On my very first day, I had a call from a neighbor to welcome me in the city, saying she was from the same country as me and that she was also in the same exchange program and that she wanted to meet up. Guys, she drove me to a Best Buy store on my first day in the city, just so I could buy a new computer. How sweet was she? No wonder she’s still one of my best friends to this day! It was so nice of her to do this. I really felt welcomed and she was a huge help in my first weeks.
Even though I had just made this new friend, I was still in a new country, facing both culture and language challenges. I remember seeing the first snow of the season right in my first days in Chicago. And I was seeing snow for the first time in my life. And it was literally in my first week, I didn’t even have any snow boots or proper outwear yet.
Anyways… The following month I’d be celebrating one of my first Christmas away from my family. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t complaining. It was just different.
A lot was happening in such a short time. Adjusting to a new routine, enrolling in a language school, experiencing a lot of new things, seeing/doing/listening things for the first time, opening a bank account. It is mentally exhausting.
To summarize it: I arrived in November and had lots of things to do and set up. By the end of December till the first weeks of January when I was all settled and had everything done, I was a little bit on the low, sometimes I’d be homesick too. But making friends and letting myself opened to new opportunities and really just enjoying the moment and appreciating life in the beautiful city of Chicago really helped.
I was going out all the time, meeting new friends and hanging out with the friends I had already made. I would go to bars and cafes alone if none of my friends could go with me. By this time I was fully enjoying my time in Chicago and I didn’t want to take any minute for granted.
So in February, I was fully adjusted and genuinely happy. The happiest I’d been since I had set foot in America. I was loving life more than ever actually.
I remember saying to my friend “Life is funny, isn’t it crazy that last month (January) I kinda hated being here and now I absolutely LOVE every little part of my life? I don’t EVER want to leave. I want to stay here forever!”
On my last week in America, I went on a solo trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then I met some friends in Vegas. I might still have some photos of that trip on my Instagram. Those last days are as fresh in my memory as the first ones when I arrived in Chicago for the first time. It was fun and we were having a good time. But deep down inside I knew I didn’t want to leave. The one phrase I cannot forget is when my friend told me this on the phone “Don’t go, Celle, you don’t belong there. You belong here.” I knew it was the truth but I didn’t want to believe it. I had to think that I’d be ok back home, so I wouldn’t regret my decision to leave.
And I actually left the US simply because I was in a J-1 visa, as an Au Pair (international live-in nanny program) and I didn’t have money to apply for a student visa, for example. And to makes things worse, I also had a terrible on-and-off relationship back home, that I wanted (WHY ???) to give it a chance. So in my head, everything would go back to “normal” or to what it was before.
Side note: I do know why I wanted to leave America. There was this guy in Chicago that I really really really liked but things didn’t end up well between the two of us. He was also moving out of state, so I really lost hope. Being there without being able to see him, wouldn’t make sense and I would go crazy if I’d stay.
THE REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK
Going back home felt wrong from the minute I hopped on the connecting flight. But I just thought I was a little overwhelmed by the idea of traveling or something. Then when it was time to get on the international flight, I was getting more and more anxious. I realized I wasn’t happy with the fact I was going back. But to keep my sanity, I tried to avoid thinking about it.
As the plane was preparing to land, I was questioning the whole thing and could stop it. As we were approaching the airport, I looked outside and while seeing my country out there I thought to myself: “what am I doing? Why am I here?”
The on-and-off bf picked me up at the airport. To hug someone as an obligation felt disgustingly wrong. I don’t want to get into too many details on this, so to make a long story short, we ended the relationship within a couple months.
I faced so many challenges upon my return home. My reentry experience was full of very complex. I had changed so much from my experience abroad that when I came back I had found everyone around me doing the same old things, having the same thoughts, talking about the same things, working the same jobs, complaining about the usual things. It’s like as if I didn’t have anything in common with family and friends anymore. It was hard to enjoy a conversation. Especially when 10 out of 5 things I’d say started like “ In the US”, “back in the States”, etc. I felt out of place. And I could tell my friends were not interested in every little detail about my life in America.
I swear I tried at the beginning. As far and for as long as I could. But going to the mall or getting in public transit, watching local TV, would drive me nuts. Not only did I miss listening and speaking English, but I also couldn’t stand listening to the local language. It would give me terrible headaches and I’d feel tired and a little in panic too, since to me they were all talking too fast and speaking so loud, I would even give up shopping or whatever it is what I was doing, to leave the store just so I could be somewhere quiet and give my mind some rest.
Of course, after a while, we all get used to a new routine. The reverse culture shock has phases. I’ve been through the worse ones I guess. But now, nearly eight years after coming home, I can’t avoid the truth: I still feel there’s some lack of belongingness up to today. Unfortunately, my friend was right then and still is: I don’t belong here. I was so immersed in the American culture that I was and still am having difficulties adjusting to my own country. This sort of reverse homesickness has been secretly in me for the past 8 years. I don’t ever talk about it, so people won’t think I’m crazy. Except for the friends I’ve made while in the States, I don’t tell people how I feel. People who didn’t have this experience don’t understand it. First, they say it will pass. Then they say we just miss the life we had. Then they say we’re getting annoying. Lastly, they believe it’s become an obsession.
I wish I knew people who are still going through this after years, like me. Just so I could talk about it more freely and openly and maybe it would help us both. Follow me on Twitter and let’s talk more about this.
I hardly watch local tv shows. If I’m watching something, it has to be in English. If I Google something, it’s in English. YouTubers, bloggers news channels, and magazines I follow are either from the US or Canada. I’ve set up my phone, TV, tablet, and computer to the English language. And it’s not just the language I miss. I miss the lifestyle, the culture, the cleaning products, the people, the infrastructure, the overall system where things work, simplifying a cleaning routine, being able to buy clothes, sneakers, a car – without breaking the bank. I really miss EVERYTHING.
It wasn’t until this year I found out there is such a thing as reverse culture shock. I was looking up online to see why I was feeling out of place in my own country. Why home was not feeling like home anymore. Now I know what this is. And without even knowing, I’ve been doing some of the tips experts say we must do in order to feel better. I keep in touch with American friends, I travel often and all of that. But after my vacations in Canada, I realized I actually identify with the general North American culture. I was happy to know I wasn’t (that) obsessed over the US. It was good to know that I was normal. That I just love that country (now 2, the US and Canada) so much, only because my time abroad has significantly influenced my identity, who I am.
I do not regret going abroad at all. I would do it again if I could. It’s just sad that I couldn’t handle the return home more smoothly. But still, it is a unique experience that has broadened my horizons and the way I see life. I am more open to new ideas and I respect different cultures more.
I try to see the good in everything. So despite having this issue, I was still able to find endless possibilities while back home.
If a friend or someone you care is acting strange or anxious about their (past) time overseas, I hope this post helps you understand they better.
Don’t let me be the only strange here, LOL. Have you also feel, at some point, that home wasn’t home anymore?