Burano, Italy, 2010
In addition to posting some favorite images as I move from Italy to the US, I’m also posting some letters from friends. These friends are former ex-pats, who have lived abroad and moved home. I’ve asked them to write a “letter” to me, telling me about their experience returning home to give me an idea of what I’m headed for. I thought you might also like to hear the experience of returning ex-pats. Who knows, it just might help you relate if you ever have family or friends returning from living abroad.
This first letter is from Amy Peyton, a friend in Oregon. I first met her a few years ago through a mutual friend, as she returned from her most recent experience living abroad. I look forward to seeing her again, very soon!
Home: The World (but fairly happy for the time being in
) Forest Grove, Oregon
Expat-dom: 4 years in Japan, 1 year in Romania, 1 year in France, 6 months each in Korea/Australia, 4 months in South Africa
Country Count: 44 (Top 3:
Croatia, Slovenia, ) Japan
Hey KatJ. I’m not a blogger, but I’m a fairly talented rambler, so here goes.
Ugh, coming home. Coming home from overseas bites. It reminds me of the “Sludge Test” in high school when the H.S. chemistry teacher would give you this black, oily, hairy blob and then (through a series of tests you’ve studied all term), you would come up with all 17 ingredients (motor oil, bubble bath, sand, etc.) . “Reverse culture shock” has all these hidden emotions that eventually burble up to the surface….
When I’ve come home from long sojourns overseas, I feel ___. No, it’s not frustration. It’s not hatred (although I have felt that a fair bit in the past). It’s not exactly shame (but I have felt that, too). It’s like someone made you swallow a bubble and that bubble is pumped up inside of you, right up under your skin. And the littlest things just make you want to explode sometimes from the inside out: consumerism, materialism, indulgence, grandiosity (the SIZES of everything), superficiality, political ignorance, geographical stupidity (
Australia versus , among others), etc. etc. When you mix all of this with homesickness, wistfulness, and desire to be “anywhere but here,” it’s pretty heady stuff. At least it was for me. Austria
One breakdown I had in particular was when I returned to the States from
. My friend dropped me off at Safeway to grab some shampoo while he waited outside in the car. After 20 or so minutes, I emerged, with nothing in hand, except tears and (probably) snot from a fairly colossal meltdown in the shampoo aisle. SO many kinds, sizes, flavors, colors…do I have oily hair?Normal?Dry?Blended?Colored treated?Curly?Straight?Flyaway?Small bottle?Big bottle?With attached conditioning pack?Without attached conditioning pack?Hairmasque?Dandruffcontrol? In my neighborhood store in Japan , there were maybe 6-7 choices, none of which I could read anyway, so who cared? In Fukuoka, Japan , I bought whatever was *there*. So, in this situation, the balloon was pumped up and all it took was a choice between PertorSuaveorHeadandShouldersorAussieorTresSemmeorPaulMitchellorInsfusiumorPantene orNexxusorVidalSassoonorWhiteRainorSt.IvesorVo5 to set it off. Romania
It’s also a challenge to be one of the only people you know who travel. People asked me all the time: “So how was it? Did you have fun?” And my mouth would slightly hang open, and I would be thinking: “Ummm, yeah. I was in the middle of
where nobody had apparently gotten the news that Mandela had been elected and the townships still had curfews and black taxis/white taxis. *Yeah, I had fun*.” It chokes you up when this magnanimous experience you’ve just had is whittled down to a couple of polite sentences to a disinterested few. Your family and true friends will save you—the ones that really want to know how you drank tuica and played Uno with school principals and how the Japanese customs officials bowed and excused themselves out of the room when they discovered your trove of feminine products. (Ha!!) When you return home from overseas, those who really know and love you will envelope you like a blanketJ. South Africa
And this especially includes Patrick and Brandon—what a gift to be able to give each other “reverse culture shock” therapy at a moment’s notice. I did 99% of my traveling/living overseas by myself, so maybe these words are streaked with a bit more spit and fire than most people, who knows.
I did manage to find solace…. I talked with other expats, joined language conversation groups, and made new friends with people who had the same obsessions. I planned my next overseas trip almost as soon as the plane skidded along the tarmac. When I got homesick for
Japan, I went to Uwajimaya and ate Udon, when I was homesick for , I sang to my Romanian rock CDs and made ciorba while making care packages for those I left behind. I kept busy with work. I had purpose and a whole list of plans. Romania
So, there are my two cents. Just get together with lots of friends and lean on your familyJ.
I’ll be thinking of you,