Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Going Home

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It has been over three year years since we have been in the USA.  But this week we are going home.  Going home.  What does that really mean now?IMG_9859 Is it still home?  I know that it isn’t home anymore for my eight year old daughter, who has been in England since she was five, and moved to Germany when she was four.  Is Los Angeles still home for me?  I haven’t lived there for over seven years, and I spent 10 years of my youth in the Philippines.  I think it is home for Jeff and me, but in a different way than it used to be.

I expect that Los Angeles will feel strange and familiar at the same time. Comfortable, and also not quite the right fit.

Recently, I was talking to a fellow expat about going home.  She has lived here for a long time, and goes back to the US every year or two, I think.  She said it’s always a shock.  That it can be overwhelming, and that compared to England, it’s very overstimulating.  I can see that.  I’m dreading the billboards already.

I wonder what it will feel like for Amelia.  I think she has memories of living in the USA (all of those memories are in Oregon) but it’s pretty vague for her.  She is longing to see where she was born– this feels very important to her.  She is also going to Disneyland, which feels pretty important, too!

The thing that I am looking forward to the most is spending Thanksgiving with family.  I have written about this before– how Thanksgiving is the hardest part of being an expat for me.  We have spent our holidays on our own for four years now, and I have learned that it’s too many years in a row to not go home and spend them with family.  Going forward, I hope we can go back every one or two years.

Time with people we love both in the Midwest and Southern California is the main attraction for us in the next two weeks.  But there are some other things that I am super excited about, too.  I often wonder what the “home comforts” lists are for other expats– here’s mine.

  • Shopping at Trader Joe’s.  That will make me feel like I’m really at home.  I am going to squeeze as many of these treats and these sponges as I can into my suitcase.  I know it’s random, but it’s what I like.
  • Eating out.  There are no words that could do justice to the intense longing I have for great food.  Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.  I want to eat and eat and eat and eat.  And I’m afraid the list of restaurants I want to visit is just way too long (and our bank balance too small) to be able to fulfill those fantasies, but we’ll gratefully take all that we can get.  I have a special connection to restaurants, and end up missing them like you might miss your own grandma’s kitchen.
  • Eating in.  It struck me the other day that I just don’t even know anyone here who gets really excited about food.  Good food is one of those things that you have to share and talk about.  I guess that’s one reason why I write this blog.  But that is still lonely.  I have always been around people and in places where good food was a regular topic of conversation, and where the food around me was really stimulating.  I can’t wait to share meals with family and friends.
  • Visiting special places.  We look forward to reliving meaningful experiences from a previous chapter in our lives.  For Jeff, it’s going to be taking Amelia to the park by his Grandma’s house.  For me, it’s visiting spots in Uptown Whittier and going to 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica (a weekly spot for me in my pre-married years.)  I look forward to visiting a couple of favorite museums.  But most of all, just being in a place that feels so familiar, that we know so well, that we have years and years of memories stored up in.
  • The ease of shopping– I know it may sound shallow, materialistic, or whatever… But I am really looking forward to going to Target, World Market, and Marshalls.  The prices!  The pretty things!  The predictability of finding what I’m looking for! In nicer stores, it’s the feeling that the people who work there want to help you.  It’s a comfort thing.  On my list: 100% cotton sheets, spanx, silicon spatulas, and some new makeup.
  • Social norms. I look forward to eye contact with strangers, smiles, and a certain social ease.  There’s something really wonderful about knowing what the social norms are, and slipping easily into those patterns.  I wonder if it will feel strange at first, or if I will come off as cold, after years of learning to avert my eyes and give people more than a reasonable amount of space on the sidewalk.

I wonder how we will feel about living overseas, once we’ve had the chance to be “at home” for a couple of weeks.  Will these comforts and the times with our families change things for us?  How hard or easy will it be to leave, when the time comes?  There is so much to think about, and then to wait and find out about.
IMG_9867For now, we are just incredibly thankful to be going home.

I’d love to hear your experiences of going home from my fellow expats!  What was on your home comforts list?

To explore a little more of this, you might like to watch this video: Why We’re Expats, & How Long We’ll Keep up this Nomadic Lifestyle.

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16 Responses to Expat Life: Let’s Talk About Going Home

  1. Gretchen November 18, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    I love this post…. It will be so so sweet to see you all! SOON! =)

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 9:12 am #

      Can’t wait, Gretchen!!

  2. Ed Shackelford November 18, 2014 at 9:57 pm #

    Since you can look forward to a transition to a warmer culture (and climate) in February, maybe it won’t be so hard when you go back.

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 9:12 am #

      Yes, that makes it SO much easier for us– we are thrilled about our upcoming adventure.

  3. Barbara Seelye November 18, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    I love your thoughts!! It will be SO great to see you all!!

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      We can’t wait to see you, Grandma!!

  4. Bethany November 18, 2014 at 11:58 pm #

    After 3 1/2 years overseas, we came home for your wedding. Remember? I have this trait/flaw where I feel like whatever the circumstances are right now is just how it will always be. Which is strange because I’m also a fighter and I fight to change those circumstances, but whatever. This means that when it’s winter, I can’t even imagine what spring and summer will be like. It will always be winter… forever! And when we were in the Philippines, I truly could not imagine what life would be like back in the U.S. Even though I had spent 10 years that I could remember in the U.S., I still couldn’t picture it. It seemed soooo foreign. So it was a huge relief to get back and realize that everything was so familiar again. It felt like being transported back to a different reality. I always feel that way when I visit places I have lived before. Sort of shocked by how familiar and comfortable it all feels. I wonder if you will feel the same. Of course, there are always the things that stand out to you after you have been away, but they always seem minor to me compared to the shock of what feels familiar.

    We are super excited to get to spend time together again, finally! Looking forward to eating out and eating in. Amanda has a couple great meals planned and I hope I can keep up. 😉

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      Oh, that’s so interesting, Bethany! Travel always feels like teleportation to me. It seems like a miracle that I can move from one world to another, so easily. Although I’m not quite the same when it comes to feeling that current circumstances are permanent, I cannot imagine our future life in Spain. It’s too hard. I have hopes, but I honestly have no clue what the reality will be like. So, I just don’t even think about it. I will find out when I get there.

      And we cannot wait to eat with you, either!!

  5. Karen November 19, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    I can’t wait to chat about these things with you when you get back! As you know I just got back from a week at home and I have to say it was a wonderful experience. I had a very intense connection with my Mom and Dad and family, we laughed so much and every meal together was special. Living far away from them makes me appreciate them so much more and not take any minute together for granted. I realized though, that my happiness here in the UK has nothing to do with how close or far away from them that I live, but how well I organize my life here and what I choose to make of it here. If I need that connection with them I know where to find their kitchen table and will always have enough money saved for a ticket there when I need it. In the meantime they are proud of me and my family for embarking on the adventure of living in a new culture and make the effort to visit. I am very lucky to have the best of both worlds and I hope you realize the same!

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Karen,

      Yes! I love having both places (many places) as home. We definitely should have made a trip happen much sooner for ourselves, but that will be different going forward. So glad you had a sweet time with your family. And yes, life really is what you make it. Always. 🙂

  6. Joanna November 19, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    It will be interesting to know how you find it. I must admit to not being particularly fond of going back to the UK, for me it means tearing around a country on roads that are far too busy – we live out in the sticks in rural Latvia where three cars in a row is either rush hour or a funeral. I do miss fish and chips though.

    • ariana November 19, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Yes! The country roads here were quite a thrill (heart attack) when we first arrived. I am happy to hear that you love your new home country so much.

  7. Dana November 19, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Arianna,

    The experience has changed for us through the years and just when I think I have the feelings associated with all of it figured out, I get a new one. So…I try to listen to my heart as much as I can concerning visits and when and where they need to happen. We have certainly evolved to the point that the only reason to return is for family. And just as others have mentioned, we do all feel a bit of reverse culture shock, which is indeed a strange feeling to have about home. Several years ago we joined Richard’s family for a week at their beach house in Northern VA; before arriving at the house, we made a pit stop (in their Suburban, mind you) at a Walmart in an affluent neighborhood…a Walmart where everyone else arriving for a week at the beach stopped. I had to leave — too much stuff, too many people, too many choices. I still have very strong memories of this experience! lol I think I had a panic attack in Walmart! Before moving to Italy in 2001, I was perfectly okay with that big store experience.

    I used to stock up on lots of things, but after so many years our desires and tastes have changed, making that unnecessary for the most part. Can I tell you that I bring olive oil in my suitcase when we travel to the States? And not for a gift…for us to use in one kitchen or another! It’s just easier & we find it difficult to find really good (good = I’ve met the producer.) oil in the places we visit in America.

    Take care! Can’t wait to read about your visit. I’m feeling just a tad jealous that I’m not hoping on a plane next week, too.
    d

  8. dailydealsjc1 November 19, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Oh, it will be nice to go home!! My husband and I are transplants to Iowa from california. We love it here, but it does feel a world away (tho not as far as you are!). We visited this year and went to the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica with friends. We used to go there while dating, then after dating with friends. Good memories and I love that you used to go there too. I love the street performers there on the weekend. 🙂 But, I abstain from the water now that I realize its nastiness!! :’P

  9. sara0611 November 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    Good luck with the transition! Several years ago we were expats in Australia and the move home (to Detroit from Melbourne) was definitely a culture shock. You nailed it when you said you were dreading seeing the billboards – the US felt like such an overstimulation in terms of the constant consumptive vibe and the crazy assault on your senses all the time from advertising. It was tough to go from being defined more by who you are (AU) back to being defined more by what you do and what you have (US). But we made the leap and after a few months, Detroit was ‘home’ once again.

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