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Expat Life: Rediscovering “Home”

Well, we are back from our long-awaited trip to the USA.  This was the first time in almost three and a half years that we were able to return!

I was so curious before we left about how it would feel to be back “home.”  I wrote down some of the questions I had here.IMG_2654Well… Going home felt great.  I don’t think any of us felt out of place at any time, and it was mostly just comforting to be there and with family and friends.  We had fun, ate well, and spent a lot of time with dear people.

I think we enjoyed it even more than I had expected to.  We arrived in Michigan first, and Amelia told me right away (in the airport’s baggage claim area) that she felt right at home there.  How endearing.  I assured her that it would get even better!  Our family in Michigan really enjoyed watching us rediscover the USA.

Here are some of the things that made an impression on us:

  • Holy moly, everyone was SO friendly!  We couldn’t get over how nice, chatty, and pleasant everyone was.  It felt like we were in some kind of parody about friendly Midwesterners.  It was funny to walk into a shop and have someone not only greet us, but ask a few questions: Hi there! Thanks for coming in.  How are you tonight?  What have you folks been up to?  And then at checkout, there was lots of friendly talk, like we were old friends with the cashier we’d never seen in our lives.  This felt weird and also kind of tickled all of us.  People mill around over there with pleasant looks on their faces– how delightful!
  • Easy driving.  All the roads were so wide, the freeways so easy and efficient, the street signs so big and clear to see.  Jeff loved driving, even in Los Angeles.  I found the L.A. freeways incredibly nostalgic– I have worked in so many places there, and spent hours every day, driving and listening to the radio.  I usually only get in the car on the weekends now, and it was kind of hard to believe that was my normal lifestyle before.
  • Restaurants and service.  There were so many good places to choose from, and almost all of the food we had was great.  Equally important, the waitstaff were so nice– like they were genuinely glad we were there, and really wanted us to have a great time. (Imagine that!)  The first time we went out with my brothers to a brewery, I was totally delighted to discover that someone had replaced my empty water glass with a full one, without me even asking or noticing.  I know this sounds basic to many, but I found it to be amazing and wonderful.
  • The beauty.  I know it’s incredibly beautiful and idyllic here in England, and I think I had forgotten how lovely so many landscapes in the USA are, also.  In Michigan, there were lots of forests and it was all covered in snow– really pretty!  I wish we had been able to see more, and also get a sense of what it looks like there in the summertime.  I was very surprised to discover how gorgeous my home town of Whittier is.  So many beautiful and diverse historic homes, and I love the desert plants.  This is the beauty of returning to a place you used to live– you get to see it with fresh eyes.  We happened to be in Los Angeles during a week of very clear, beautiful weather, and we loved the mountains and the ocean, and all of the beautiful neighborhoods we drove through.  I love the art deco style you find so often in L.A., and there is so much wonderful architecture there.  I think my exclamations about this surprised my California relatives a little.  While there were plenty of unattractive freeway stretches, those faded into the background for me, and I mainly noticed all of the pretty stuff.

One thing that we also noticed is that it’s a lot noisier in the USA.  People talk louder, play music louder, honk their horns more, etc.  This was sometimes irritating at restaurants when we had to shout a little in order to hear each other, but not a big deal in general.

I think that overall, the feature that stood out to us for life in America was comfort.  We enjoyed this.

IMG_2622A few of the creature comforts we loved were:

  • Shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I loved all of the wonderful goodies we could get there, and wished that I had more time to examine every new offering.  I filled a small suitcase full of snacks and teas for us to enjoy here, and that felt amazing.  And I wish I could have brought back more!  We rarely buy snacks here, because we don’t eat much processed food, and our grocery budget is tight.  So if we want a treat, we have to make it ourselves.
  • Bacon.  Please don’t judge me for loving bacon so much.  The first morning in the USA, my brother cooked up some of Trader Joe’s Applewood Smoked Bacon, and when I tried it I wanted to cry.  I had forgotten that bacon could taste so amazing.  Yes, we eat bacon here, and my butcher’s bacon is the best around– but it does not even come close to the bacon I so often took for granted when we lived in The States.  We ate a lot of it in the first few days there.  A. Lot.
  • Iced Tea.  They just don’t do iced tea here in England, but it’s one of my favorite things.  When it’s hot out, it’s just so pleasurable to get a big, icy tea to sip through a straw.  While we were in California, I made a point of getting an iced tea almost every day.  Yes, I can make it at home, but it’s just not the same as getting one from a shop– plus I love getting to choose from various flavors at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
    File under “reverse culture shock”:  The first time I had an iced tea, I asked Jeff to order me a large one. When he came out of the cafe, he set down an enormous cup in front of me.  I had completely forgotten about beverage sizes in the USA, and I was kind of mortified!  Then, I drank the whole thing.
  • Chipotle.  We loved having the option of getting fast food that we felt good about.  We also really love those flavors.  It felt good to eat lunch there a couple of times.
  • Food, food, food.  We loved eating, and we did a lot of it.   I especially enjoyed authentic ethnic food, something we have sorely missed.  Surprisingly, I actually came home a few pounds lighter!  Was it the iced tea?
  • Shopping at World Market.  I was happy to be able to do a little Christmas shopping for Jeff and Amelia there.  In my American life, I had spent hours roaming the aisles and looking at all the fun and colorful stuff.  While I noticed that I just had very little desire to shop in general (we just don’t do it here much at all) I did like finding some inexpensive, cool things there, and also picked up some kitchen staples that had worn out– like cute hot pads and silicon spatulas.
  • Being in familiar surroundings.  That felt amazing.  We visited favorite restaurants, old haunts, and loved being in Uptown Whittier, where I have spent most of my life (aside from 10 years in the Philippines and over 4 years in Europe.)  Nearly every street held a memory or was where someone we know had lived.  I loved pointing out to Amelia the house I was born in, and where I lived after that during my childhood, her papa’s old home from the days we were dating, the home she lived in for her first year, and on and on.  We stayed at my aunt’s house, and being there was incredibly comforting.  They have lived in that house for as long as I can remember, and I spent a lot of time there as a child and in my teen years when we visited.  So it’s really the closest thing I have to being at home since all the other places I’ve lived are now inhabited by other families.
  • California’s climate.  We were so lucky to be in Southern California for some beautiful, warm weather.  That warm, dry air makes me feel good in my bones.  I realized that all the places I’ve loved visiting most, like Turkey and Tenerife had that climate, and that is what made those places feel so good to me.  So waking up to warm air and blue skies made me feel both like I was on an amazing vacation and totally at home, at the same time.  So wonderful.  (And it also reminded me how wonderful it is that we’ll be moving to a similar climate in Spain, in just a couple of months!!)
  • Being with family.  I know this one is probably obvious, but it definitely needs to be said.  We loved being with our families, and were able to see all parents, most relatives and all but one sibling on both sides.  It was so important for Amelia to be able to get reacquainted with her cousins, grandparents and other relatives.  We rarely get to show up at a place where people know us well, and this was, again, incredibly comforting and renewing.

Here are some photographic highlights from our trip…
IMG_2528More than half of my siblings, together in one place, is always a big deal!  Here I am with 3/5ths of my brothers, and below it’s all of us with our spouses.
IMG_2539Two of my brothers are neighbors, with quite a bit of land.  It was fun to check out their homesteads and meet the cute cattle.IMG_2430

Since it was cold and snowy in Michigan, we mostly stayed in and ate, drank, and talked.  Total bliss.
IMG_2450All three of these brothers brew beer, cider and wine.  So we had a lot of tasting to do.  I was sad not to be able to bring our cider and elderberry wine to the party, but there was already plenty anyhow!
IMG_2488And it was great to see our kids together.  Hurray for cousins!IMG_2546In California, we saw SO many family members, and it was great!  Here’s Amelia with her Grandaddy and Lola, who usually live in the Philippines:
IMG_2799Another brother, and my sister.IMG_2722   We did a lot of driving to favorite places– the Getty, Santa Monica, Griffith Observatory, etc. IMG_2778This shot was top priority on Amelia’s tourist checklist.IMG_2747 IMG_2646IMG_2690You may be wondering at this point how it felt for us to leave, and come back to England…

We were ready.  We were looking forward to sleeping in our own beds, and getting back to our routines.  Los Angeles was a great place to visit, but Jeff and I didn’t feel like we necessarily wanted to live there again.  It feels dreary here in Suffolk right now, and we miss all of the smiling American faces– but knowing that we are moving to Spain in 10 weeks (!!) helps a LOT!

And we are already looking forward to the next visit back to the USA.  This space of time was much too long, and we won’t do that again, if we can help it.  I’d love to head back next year, or at least within two years’ time.  Ideally, we will go back every year as we continue to live overseas.

I’ll admit it: we enjoyed being in the USA way more than we had expected to!  But we still like being expats and are raring for more adventures here in Europe.  And that feels good, too.

I’m curious to hear from other expats about your first visit back to the US after living overseas– what was it like for you?

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9 Responses to Expat Life: Rediscovering “Home”

  1. Stephanie December 9, 2014 at 4:27 am #

    One thing that really stands out in my memory of our first visit back to the U.S. after moving to England was being in Target in the toothpaste aisle and feeling totally overwhelmed with all the choices!

  2. Kayla @winterstead December 9, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Thank you for sharing! I loved the post and have to admit I was smiling through most of it! My husband and I often wonder about how we will feel when we live in other countries in the future. It was weird enough to leave home in an RV and know that I couldn’t just drive 30 mins to see my mom. Family is important and it is so nice to have family that supports your dreams and lifestyle choices! Great post!

  3. teachertraveler1 December 9, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    So glad you had a great time! I’m also from Southern California and find it a nice place to go home to. The funniest thing for me is the longer I’m away, the less special certain things are for me. My favorite US foods are no longer my favorite foods. In fact, some of them I can’t stomach anymore. My lifestyle is so different in Europe and I’m used to walking or cycling anywhere instead of getting in a car. It feels very claustrophobic now if I’m home for longer than a week.
    I miss my family and being there for friends who are going through tough times. But other than that, it’s a bit difficult to imagine going back permanently.

  4. Susan December 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm #

    Were you guys ever able to squeeze in Disneyland? Or did time slip away too quickly?

  5. Heather Cushing December 9, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    It’s funny, my husband and I always comment about how great the bacon is in the UK. Maybe we just picked a good brand and have kept buying the same one. We used to live a few blocks from your brother in Washington state.

  6. Sheri December 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm #

    Great post! I’m also a transplant out of CA. to the Northern shores of Washington State. I’ve only been back a few times since 1982, always so glad to return to the green. Your list might be a good start of a new business in England, The Smoking Pig?

  7. Riza Jongeneelen December 30, 2014 at 5:14 am #

    Your mom’s Filipino?

  8. Donna January 3, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    I just read this post and found it so interesting! I identify with so many things you talk about. I grew up in Whittier and lived in England for 3 years in the late 80s. I completely get what you say about the wide roads and the friendliness of the people here, but what I really found interesting is your fondness for Chipotle, World Market and BACON! Our entire family loves Chipotle, I love to shop at World Market and the American bacon is the best. I need to try the Trader Joe’s bacon that you mention.

    Glad that you had such a nice visit!

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