Watching Kat as she's been packing up and moving home, has brought back a slew of memories for me. When Kat asked if I would share a bit of my experience as an expat and then returning home, it was the perfect excuse to organize some of the thoughts buzzing around in my head.
A little background: I spent 2 years living and working in Rio de Janeiro, followed by 2 years in New Delhi. I was then able to eased my way home with a 10 month stop in Kentucky before making it all the way home to Salt Lake City late last year - but my stop at home is temporary. I know I'm headed abroad again - I just don't know when or where yet. It's a very good thing I actually enjoy a bit of ambiguity in my life!
My move home brought a wide range of emotions: joy at being closer to my family and loved ones, a sense of relief that I didn’t have to worry about language or cultural differences, melancholy at leaving behind new friends, and sadness at missing out on the daily adventures of life abroad. But more than anything my move home taught me just how much living abroad had changed me.
Some are little changes. When I read the news instead of looking at US news first, I now look at global news. Before I left I was living in Seattle where I tended to dress in dark monotone colors, after my time in Brazil and especially India I find myself gravitating to brightly colored clothing and I haven’t bought anything made of fleece in years. My views on immigration have softened, having been the person who went into another country to take a job and who struggled (and failed) to learn a new language; I’m much more sympathetic to what immigrants go through. I also now have a network of friends around the world – which means the odds of finding a couch to sleep on when I travel is much greater.
Some changes are bigger and truly life changing. I’ve always been fiercely independent and hated asking for help. I quickly learned that I needed help to survive in these countries, and I learned to ask for and receive help graciously. The biggest change is my self confidence. If I can move to a foreign country, where I don’t speak the language, in a new job for a new company on my own, with two weeks’ notice and not only survive, but thrive, I know I can do anything. The power of that life lesson will never leave me.
My time back at home has also taught me a few things. Life didn't stop for my friends and family while I was gone - they've grown and changed too - which means I've had to reset a few expectations. The level of customer service in the US really can't be touched. But most importantly, I've learned that my expanded capacity for daily challenges and growth opportunities must be fed. I find that if I don't deliberately set goals to keep me moving forward I struggle emotionally.
After time abroad, you adapt to living a life full of small daily challenges: picking something to eat off a menu you can't read, figuring out how to get hooked up to the internet, finding someone to cut your hair who speaks your language. To suddenly have a life without those challenges left me feeling a bit lost. The best solution I've found is to keep striving to learn new things and to find adventures that challenge me at home.
I'm sure Kat will love being home again, and she'll find many new adventures as she adapts back into life in Portland. For those of you dreaming of life abroad - I say go for it. Nothing in my life has been as challenging or rewarding as experiencing life in another culture.
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