What’s it like to visit home for the first time after you’ve emigrated? The key word is VISIT. There are so many posts about what is it like when you return from travelling but what is it like when you know you are only stopping by for a visit rather than just returning to normal life? I’ll tell you.
I’ve read loads of expat posts that say that returning home for a visit when you still aren’t really settled in your new country and are still feeling homesick is possibly the worst thing you could do. It was something I was dying for, I needed to get home and when I was surprised with last minute flights I was over the moon. But the posts were right. Right at the start of the trip, my anxiety returned, hitting me in a big way. I had only just arrived and yet I was already dreading having to go back to America in over a weeks time. Why?
I miss my family so much. I speak to them every day via messages and FaceTime when I’m in the States but it’s just not the same as being able to hold a face to face conversation with them, to hang out with them, to spend time with them. Even just relaxing in the evening when we are all kinda doing our own thing, it’s a silence that isn’t awkward, it’s just a comfort knowing you are surrounded by love.
I really miss talking to people that sound like me. I wrote the post Expat Life: Cursed as Soon as I Open my Mouth! about how my voice makes me stand out like a sore thumb. I’ve been saying for a while that I wish I could find another British expat in Dubuque, Iowa or somewhere near by, just so I have something in common with someone. I really noticed it on the flight from Chicago…the cabin crew lady was the first English person I had spoken to in 5 months, it shocked me when she started talking.
I miss the familiar surroundings. It’s great knowing where I am again. Which is ironic as I love travelling for exactly the opposite reason but when it comes to a home base, it should at least be familiar. A place where you don’t have to constantly be thinking ‘right, where am I?’. I lived in the same town in England for 27 years, I know all the surrounding roads blindfolded, I could drive them in my sleep. If I want to get to a certain shop in town, I know exactly how to get there, I don’t need to rely on google or other people’s directions.
Things haven’t changed. Which is true to a certain extent. It feels like you have never been away, it’s like my American life doesn’t even exist and everyone kinda treats you as if you’ve been there all along. But on my next visit things would have changed. My childhood bedroom (that was actually mine for 27 years) is being re-decorated. Silly I know, but I find this ridiculously hard to deal with. It’s almost like the one little thing that was mine in England is being cut away. It was a space in the house that was mine, something that was familiar and now it’s going to look nothing like how I’d had it set up for years. Almost like all evidence of my English life is being removed. Other than people, I have nothing in England that’s physically mine anymore (other than a couple of storage boxes). Life goes on even when you aren’t there anymore. When you’re homesick you want nothing more than to return to normality and now there’s no chance of that ever happening, it’s gone, which makes you feel even more lost and alone.
It’s hard to not compare your 2 lives. Wanting your old one back but then wishing it could be merged with parts of your new life. For example, I want my English life, but with Iowa’s lack of traffic and my American job where the boss is an absolute gem (it makes a change to have a Manager that genuinely loves and care about all the staff).
There are probably people out there saying well if you really want to live in England so much, just go home. But it’s really not that simple. I’m not one of these Expat Nomads that just country hops whenever they get sick of it. Obviously I wouldn’t be locked out of the UK, but being part of a multi-national couple, if I go home, my husband has no visa rights in the UK and trying to get him a visa now I’ve left is next to impossible. I’m hoping it gets easier with time, but at the moment it’s really tough feeling like you don’t really belong anywhere.