I remember how I felt when I settled into my seat on the non-stop from Vancouver, BC to Beijing – utterly exhausted but at the same time totally exhilarated. My husband and I toasted each other with a glass of complimentary champagne – we were on to a new chapter. We were headed for our third overseas assignment, back to Asia for the second time. Our two dogs were safe in their crates in the cargo section of the plane and we were headed for a new adventure. We landed on my 40th birthday.
Living in Beijing was a remarkable experience. We were there during the SARS epidemic and the ramp up to the upcoming Olympics. The people, the lifestyle, the cultural differences and the language were my teachers for the two+ years we were there. We settled in, made friends, travelled and became comfortable… then opportunity rang. A call came to return home. It was time to return, to repatriate back to sleepy Spokane, WA.
I was sad. I didn’t want to leave. Life was fun, exciting and interesting. We had met wonderful friends from all over the world. It was sad to repatriate again. Leaving a life where every day was an adventure and returning to a sleepy town just didn’t seem appealing. I loved living the life where I felt special and each day held some new exciting experience for me. Travel to exotic places was at our fingertips, fabulous shopping at our doorstep and incredible foods on our table. What were we returning to? Back to what? Back to the same old place – the place we thought we were leaving forever.
When I was away, I had forgotten the great comfort of returning home. It was like slipping on that old pair of worn in shoes – the comfortable ones from the back of the closet – the pair I had not worn for a while. I knew my way around. I could understand the conversations around me. I could read the newspaper. I could be understood. There was so much that I took for granted. After returning from living overseas, once again, I gained a new appreciation for these simple things that make home comfortable. It’s easy to overlook these daily pleasures. Maybe life wasn’t as exciting and the smells, foods, people and culture were the same as they had been for my lifetime – but our old friends were closer, our families and things were familiar. Enjoy the familiar – its nice.
There are some lesser things to repatriating, too. It’s not easy for everyone. The shock of returning home doesn’t seem to hit until after the boxes are unpacked. A few months down the road you realize that life isn’t quite as exciting and special as it seemed when living the expat life. New friends don’t come as easily as they do in the expat circle. No one really cares or wants to hear about the adventures you had. They don’t really want to see photos nor hear your stories. It’s not that they don’t care about you – but they really can’t relate to your experiences. Your perspective is worldlier and you long for World news. You’ve been to places and experienced things that most people never have the opportunity to do in a lifetime. It’s hard to grasp that seeing the world and actually living in a different country really changes you – immensely and forever.
My advice – enjoy where you are now in life. Live in the moment and bloom where you are planted. Find the excitement and joy of what we take for granted each day. You will hold the memories of a special time in your life and carry them in your heart forever. The beautiful photographs and treasures you came home with will be the reminders of that enchanting chapter in your life.
I wish I had sage wisdom and a step by step guide to repatriation. For you, Kat, it will be easier because you are stepping back into your work. For your husband and your son, it may be different. For me, I loved China so much that I started an import business in order to keep my ties to a place I loved. I kept up my language classes so I would not forget what I had learned. To this day, I continue to keep in touch with my China friends. I have found ways to keep a tie to a place that I love for as long as I need. You will find that over time you will move forward and settle in comfortably, no matter where you are in the world. Where you have been will always hold a special place in your heart.
I always look at my life in terms of chapters in a book. Each one unfolds itself as I move through my life’s journey. For me, the end of one chapter and the start of another are exciting and joyful. They build upon each other and the story gets richer and deeper. I am always anxious to read on and find out what’s next. I hope you and your family feel this way too.
I wish you the best with settling in to your newest and most exciting chapter yet.