It’s rare for me to read quotes online and think to myself, “actually, that completely describes how I feel”, but if there were to be one quote that applies to me, it would be this:
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”- author M
(N.B. Don’t get me wrong, the post that follows isn’t a “I hate living in England” diatribe by the way, I don’t. This is more of a cathartic processing of how weird it can feel to repatriate, not only to make sense of it for me, but in the hope that it helps others in the same situation, or those that are about to embark on the “going home” journey themselves…It should also help give a picture of the reality behind living as an expat, it’s not all lunches and holidays as some people imagine it to be!)
For the past few days I have found myself replaying the more negative aspects of our time abroad in my kopfkino (head cinema – possibly my favourite German expression)… Dreading the morning encounter with the most miserable (and possibly racist) postman in the world in Denmark for example. Important appointments that were only half understood (and that I still mull over from time to time) as I struggled to decipher one language or another. Crashing my car in both countries (and having to deal with the aftermath!). Landlords who would turn up unannounced for odd reasons (let’s not talk about having to live with their questionable decor that I longed to do something about. I am overdosing on interior design in my own house now!)! Desperately missing out on family get togethers – I remember crying whilst putting crosses on the bottom of the sprouts one Christmas morning because we weren’t with loved ones… Then there were the extra expat parent dilemmas such as when the children found out the truth about Father Christmas far too early thanks to international classmates (we got around that one by telling them he only visited those who truly believed)! And perhaps top of my list – having a baby in a hospital that didn’t do gas and air (common for Germany, you have been warned!), and having to cope in a foreign hospital away from family and friends when things didn’t quite go according to plan.
It’s very typical that I do this “trying to wrench off the rose-tinted glasses about expat life” around the time of the anniversaries of our return. Exactly two years ago this week we became “English” again. Or at least that was the plan. We would just fit seamlessly back in to our own country, the kids would feel completely settled as soon as their feet touched the ground (they were back in their “home country” after all!), and we would all be happy to be back in the land we know the best (well at least Mr R and I do. I have to remind people that the children have lived outside of the UK for longer than they have lived in it!). Except like most great plans in life, it doesn’t always work out like that.
Thankfully our journey has become easier with the acquisition of our very own house (finally! You can often find me covered in paint or mud now weather dependant), and moving back to a part of the country that we actually know (and have strong connections with after all this time) has helped after a somewhat bumpy landing in a part of the country that felt completely alien. But even now a big part of me doesn’t feel very “English” anymore, and part of me wonders if I ever will.
Future repatriates should be prepared for what can often be a harder move than any international one. Welcome back to “normality” (whatever that is!) where the only people who truly get how you might feel are those that have done it themselves (don’t be afraid to join expat groups in your own country by the way, it’s a great way of meeting like-minded people). Be prepared for disagreements with family and friends who don’t understand why you don’t feel 100% settled, and can’t accept that you will probably move on again for work reasons. The “why would you want to do that again now you are home?” question becomes an all too familiar one. But can you expect people to truly understand if they haven’t ever been in a similar situation themselves? It’s common for them to take your lack of enthusiasm personally perceiving it as a slight against their lives and choices, when in all honesty it’s just a bit of an internal struggle as you patiently wait for your noggin to rewire and adjust to thinking in a whole new old way again!
Be prepared to feel slightly deflated a lot of the time as everything seems “normal again”, but on the plus side, you no longer have to try to work things out (in a different language) in a country where things are done in a completely different way, and where a lot of the time you weren’t totally privy to a lot things happening around you. Being able to suddenly understand everything can feel like you are at the loudest concert by the way, and there will be times when you wish you couldn’t speak the language believe me.
It’s normal to feel like you don’t belong “at home” for the first few months (even a year or two in!) I absolutely promise you that. It’s also normal to eventually find a new normal – an acceptable state of alignment (as someone who has been through repatriation cleverly described it on my Instagram feed recently), and it’s also completely normal (thankfully) to look upon areas of your own country in a whole new light – which can actually be really positive. When we recently went to Bath for example, for the first time I noticed how immensely beautiful it was, whereas in the countless times I had visited before, it was just “Bath”… I have a newfound appreciation for the English Countryside too (although I wish we had a few more mountains!), and rediscovering old haunts that look completely different with your English/Not English eyes has been really lovely over the festive period.
Acceptable states of alignment do typically happen though sooner or later, and we are all beginning to adjust. Whilst we think (know. Sorry Mum!) the probability of us going abroad again is high, it’s important to accept that life is just different again, and to look on this experience as we would any “new country” – that definitely helps. Whilst it also feels like “my country” has changed quite a lot in the time we were away, and I need to remember that I have too.
And as for that new favourite saying of mine at the top? It’s completely true. All that discombobulation (love that word!) really “is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place”…