There are many milestones in an expat’s life. Finding your favorite coffee shop or bar that you visit weekly. Having your first basic exchange in the local language. Making your first good friend. Saying goodbye to a friend who is moving on.
And going back home for the first time.
Visiting home can be both exciting and daunting. Kristin is about to do it for first time after being away for over two years, and I’ve also gone as long as two years without getting back to my hometown.
Kristin’s heading back to Anna Maria in December after 2 years away.
If you’re also about to go home after an extended period abroad, here’s what you should probably expect:
Interest in your life abroad will be minimal.
You might be fantasizing about your return, envisioning yourself as the life of the party – everyone will want to know every detail of your adventures. If this is what you’re hoping for, you should start readjusting your expectations now. Most expats are surprised, or even a bit hurt, when their friends and families show very little interest in where they live or where they’ve traveled to.
It doesn’t mean they don’t care about you – but if they haven’t been overseas themselves, they just don’t understand enough about your lifestyle to really ask that many questions. When you live abroad, you are always surrounded by fellow travelers who have similar interests and experiences at home. That’s not going to be the case at home.
You won’t relate to their stories the way you used to.
While you won’t spend much time talking about your life, you’ll probably hear a ton about their lives.
Your friends will be gossiping about people you’ve never met or barely remember. Your family will complain about a local shop shutting down. People will overreact to things you think aren’t that big of a deal – a mild traffic jam or a wrong order at a restaurant. You’ll find that their stories or ways of thinking now make you feel disconnected, like you don’t really belong there anymore.
You might find yourself daydreaming about other things
Everything will be the same.
One fear expats might have is that they’ll find their hometown has completely changed when they return. After all, we’re always told that “you can’t go home again.”
But in reality, I’ve found that home actually feels like it’s frozen in time. Small, insignificant changes will have occurred, but the things that matter stay the same. It won’t seem like years have passed. You’ll fall into a familiar, comforting, even boring routine very quickly. Your friends and family will still love you and be happy to spend lots of time with you. That will never change.
You’ll see just how much you’ve changed.
What changes during your time abroad isn’t home – it’s you. Your personality will stay the same, but your worldview and ways of thinking will be challenged and reshaped by different life experiences. Most travelers don’t realize these changes have taken place until they go home again.
You’ll realize you don’t worry as much about things that used to really stress you out. Rush hour will be a breeze after getting stuck in the congested roads of Bangkok. You’ll have more patience with cashiers, waiters, and other customer service workers simply because you speak the same language fluently and can communicate clearly. You’ll be more thankful for what you have, rather than complaining about any financial pressures, after seeing how intense poverty can be around the world.
You might realize that your hometown isn’t that interesting.
This one depends on where you’re from. Kristin’s from an island off the coast of Florida, but when I went home to my boring town in the UK I was hit with the realization that there just wasn’t much going on, and the rest of the world offers so much more.
There’s a lot more interesting places out there.
Get ready for prices you aren’t used to anymore.
Compared to a lot of other countries, the U.K. and USA are just over-the-top expensive. If you’re used to prices in Southeast Asia, South America, or somewhere else with low costs of living, the prices back home might be hard to readjust to when you return.
Doing chores again will be a struggle.
Because it’s so affordable, we have a cleaning service in Thailand. We can also eat out every night for barely any money, so we never cook. As lazy as it makes us sound, suddenly having to clean and cook for ourselves again is a rude awakening. It’s definitely a part of our old lives that we don’t miss.
You don’t actually miss some things as much as you think.
Maybe you have a favorite food that you can’t really find anywhere but home. Maybe you miss an old hobby that is difficult to keep up abroad. Some expats are disappointed to realize that they’ve wrongly idealized these little things when they weren’t available, but at least going without them won’t be such a big deal anymore.
The reality is that nothing really changes when you return home. Your hometown is not going anywhere, and your family and true friends will always be there for you when you return. Your visit probably won’t be perfect, but what is? You will still have what matters – time with the people you love most. So enjoy it for what it is, and then get back into the world for your next adventure.
Enjoy your travels! You’re missing nothing back home.
Expats – how long has it been since you’ve been home? If you’ve already been home for the first time, what was it like?