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The Ugly Truth About Moving Home After Life Abroad

*This was originally published September 16, 2016. After taking it down, I’m republishing on my year anniversary of moving home*

Anxiety. Anxiety and tears. Lots of anxiety and silent tears. Lots of anxiety because everything is upside down and silent tears so your mother doesn’t hear you in the next room because yes— you live with your mother again. That was my response to moving home after 3 years abroad.

I moved abroad in 2013. It was my first time abroad, my first time leaving the nest as a full-fledged adult. I say full-fledged because let’s be real, during college most of us are only pseudo-adults who still answer to our parents on some level and know they are a financial cushion for our reckless behavior. So here I was, post-college, buying my own produce at Trader Joe’s, piercing body parts with no regard for my mother’s scowls and now I was moving abroad to Spain, as an adult!

It was nerve-racking. The first three months I was a miserable sour puss who found fault in everything and was overly cynical about every. minute. detail.
Seeded grapes? Guffaw. Siesta? Inconvenient for my banking needs. Paella? My grandmother’s arroz con habichuelas was better.
At some point I became less cynical, enjoyed my time, traveled Europe and moved back home in December of 2014 feeling full. Not just of the extra pounds I was toting around, but also full of experiences, full of hope, full of promise. I was full and ready to transition back into American living. I knew I would go abroad again and what I failed to realize was this pending departure rendered my “transition” home null and void. It wasn’t a transition at all. It was more of a homecoming purgatory. I mean, I was home, but mentally I was already one foot out the door. I got a temp job and four months later I was off again. This time to Korea.

After 16 tumultuous months in Korea, an experience that tested my ability to reason, cope, and relate to other humans, as well as my personal space guidelines and my tolerance of spicy foods, I was home… again. I landed in America full, full of energy. I had a plan and not a single worry on my mind.

“I’ve done this before.” I told myself “I know how it goes. It’ll be a piece of cake!”.
And it was.
For the first day.

By Day 2 the concept of my “new” life had set it. Everything was strange. It was my home, but it was foreign. Everything was expensive. Money was literally jumping out of my wallet— HOW?! And through all of this strangeness I had virtually no one to talk to.

The realization of just how few friends I had hit me. In my nearly 3-year absence life had moved on. My best friend had new friends who fulfilled her and completed her. My associates had met new associates. They had no need for my snarky retorts or sarcasm, that void had long been filled by other loud mouths. The friends who understood my sometimes-emotional ridiculousness had now found mates and were busy dedicating their empathetic time to the ones they loved. This was adulthood. It keeps going without you.
I wasn’t ready for that.

My “new” life kept throwing me curve balls. I wished people would stop looking at me when I bowed. I wished there was soju, since cocktails cost so much money!  I wished food wasn’t so damn expensive. Who needs to eat?! I wished my hard earned money would stay in my wallet. I went for an interview but there was a pending holiday. That meant 5 days without even a glimmer of a possibility of a prospect of employment. I’m bad at being unemployed. I’m bad at being stressed and unemployed. So what does one do with all that spare time?! Cry. That’s what I did, in abundance.

I didn’t want to burden my family with my unique brand of crazy that found the lack of soju and 5 days of unemployment unbearable, so I cried quietly.
Silent tears.

Add on the fact that after 3-years of paying every bill on my own, living alone and answering to no one, I was home in the proverbial nest again.
Lots of silent tears.

With an already full plate of emotions, my “new” life kept dishing out blows. That plan I spoke of, the one that had me seeing nothing but sunny skies when I landed in America. Well, it was falling apart. The financial and emotional costs of executing it were not adding up and I had to toss my plan in the wastebasket and start again. Yes, I had to start my “new” life again… just days after starting it again.
More anxiety and more silent tears.

Life came at me fast. It was quite humbling. It left me numb and hopeless.
It took me a bucket of tears, a good nights rest and some rum cake before I was able to breathe again. It was the first calm breath I had taken in days and with this breathe came a bit of clarity.
I was crazy. This was life.
Sure! I had a tumultuous week, but what in the world did I expect to happen?!

I conferenced with friends who had gone through this transition before me and it turns out I wasn’t alone. We were all crazy together! Anxiety and silent tears apparently are the best kept expat secret. Everyone I had spoke to experienced similar feelings in their first days home. Many of them had also watched their plans crumble because they were a dollar too short or a minute too late.

My calm breathing didn’t last long however, it quickly turned to anger. For every long-winded, self-reflective blog post I’ve read from travelers and expats, I missed the part where they discussed this. Their tales of readjustment all seemed to hinge on reverse culture shock, which is absolutely real and shocking as hell. But readjusting involves so much more than the variations in personal space and social norms. Where was the warning from bloggers that I would feel like a shell of a person for damn near a week? Or more?! Where was the “CAUTION: Repatriating to your mom’s house will cause you to question all of your life decisions” warning?! I’ve found these parts of coming home much more traumatic and immensely more relevant than the fact that my tofu last a month in America versus a mere few days abroad—thanks preservatives!

So I write this post to fill the void and shed light on the matter. Perhaps your adjustment will be smooth. In fact, I hope it is. Perhaps there will be no anxiety and not a single silent tear will be shed. But if you aren’t that lucky, it’s okay! It’s normal. You’re not alone. There are tons of us— though we mostly lurk in the shadows because acknowledging you’re a wreck isn’t socially acceptable. It sucks, but in a day, or a week, or a month… or several, you will be able to breathe again. You will, at some point, accept that life has moved on without you and, at some point, you too will be able to move on. Though slow at first, a plan will come together, possibly by accident. The popular consensus seems to be unknowingly falling into some life path and waking up one day to find yourself readjusted and rebalanced without even noticing it was happening.

And if all else fails, you may find, as I did, that ordering the greasiest, most calorie filled meal at Burger King helps quell some of your inner turmoil. At least for the moment.