Confessions of an Expat: The Challenge of Coming Home

Confessions of an Expat: The Challenge of Coming Home

Confessions of an Expat: The Challenge of Coming Home
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Confessions of an Expat: The Challenge of Coming Home

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I can’t quite pinpoint the moment the house I grew up in ceased to be “home” anymore. When I went away to college my grandmother would correct me when I said I was going “home” for the holidays. But that was still too early for me, I wasn’t ready to hear it yet then. Through all my travels after college, I always thought of my flight back to the US as my return “home”, I just couldn’t shake the feeling. Finally, after becoming an expat, selling all my belongings and moving to Thailand, although I still say that I’m coming home for the holidays when I refer to the US, I really don’t mean it anymore.

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“My family home taught me what to seek out in the world, and now that I have found what I am looking for, home is simply wherever I am.”

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Home is what feels comfortable, what you know best and home is the place that challenges, pushes and encourages you along your way. While the four walls of my parents home no longer feel like home to me, they have been replaced with equally important elements. Now, the view through my camera lens, the contents of my backpack and the feeling of freshly cleaned socks make me feel at home. The feeling of home is always changing, but so am I, and I have come to accept that. My family home taught me what to seek out in the world, and now that I have found what I am looking for, home is simply wherever I am.

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Being caught off guard by your own culture is always an insightful experience, no matter how trivial some elements are. After spending extended amounts of time outside of US boarders, I’m always firstly surprised by how silly the US dollar looks. The colorful Euro, beautiful Thai Baht or the One Hundred Trillion dollar bill from Zimbabwe are all unique in their own way, but I grew up with the dollar and it is always funny to me when it begins to look strange.

Culture shock takes many forms, and for many, the feelings of returning home are simply indescribable. The first few times I returned home from meaningful adventures abroad, I feel into what I could only assume was depression, a feeling which until then was quite foreign to me. I would sit alone on the couch, in silence, simply replaying the memories and experiences of my journeys in my head. I would ache to return to the road, to do anything else but be back in my familiar surroundings.

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Confessions of an Expat: The Challenge of Coming HomeEach time I step off the plane back in the US, its not the typical things that throw me into reverse culture shock. I’m not in a mad rush to run to In-n-Out for a burger, or sprint to the pub for a pint of my favorite beer. I’m not rushing to flip on the tube and catch up on reality TV or enjoy the luxuries of western life, like using a washing machine or a microwave. What hits me first, and what sticks the longest, is the silence. The silence of the people around me, the strangers on the street, the silence of the community, the city, the country. I never notice the constant humming of other countries, the sound of community, interaction and connectedness, because it always feels normal, real, like life should feel. Maybe it is all lost to me in the excitement of being in a new place, but one thing is certain upon returning to America, the silence is eery.

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The scariest part of the silence of the US is that it is nothing new, it is not something that developed since I left, it is not created in my absence. The silence is a core element of our society, and something that we all become numb to. It terrifies me that it becomes the norm, the regular and the expected. After a few weeks, the silence disappears, and life is just normal again. All the life breathed into my senses before I returned is rubbed away, forgotten, muted in the back of my mind. Replaced by the mild, the minute, the mundane.

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The silence used to terrify me, but now it motivates me. The silence isn’t bad, it simply isn’t for me. It reminds me of what is out there, what makes me happy and the feeling I am always chasing yet never hope to catch. By those who travel often, the feeling of knowing what is out there is often described as somewhat of a curse, a disease an addiction. Now that I know what is out there, I am incapable of not exploring it, no matter the challenges or obstacles that lay in the way. Because at the end of the day, struggling to chase the dream will always be better than succeeding at comfortably living in the silence.

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jeffjohnsheadshotJeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all.

A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh.

Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at hello@latitudethirtyfour.com and they’ll respond super fast!


11 COMMENTS

  1. Great post, so true. I haven’t had a long trip for a few years. But I would go away for a month at a time, loving life on the road, and would suddenly get hit by depression on the way home. Especially in the weeks following returning you would replay everything you missed. Then, with time, you get used to how it is here and suddenly you change accordingly and you become like everyone else. I don’t know what’s worse.
    Frank (bbqboy)
    Frank recently posted…Highlights of Kwazulu-Natal Province, South AfricaMy Profile

  2. Lauren and I constantly have similar conversations about life in the US. Every time we go back “home” we are reminded of why we left and wonder if we ever really need to come back. The silence is an interesting way to put it. Other than insanely large cities, they are all for the most part quite. People plugged into their headphones, computers, tablets, and everything else. All the while ignoring those around them. It saddens me deeply.
    Kenin Bassart recently posted…#FriFotos – #Chill – Chillin’ in fun placesMy Profile

    • Thanks! It took me a really hard time to come to terms with the fact that the home I grew up in wasn’t there anymore. But as I type this, I am sitting in my parents new home and you know what… it feels like home, having never even been here before.

  3. Home is an interesting concept. I felt like I lost my “home” when my parents moved interstate and I stopped having that connection to where I grew up (I had already moved away). That was years ago, but it still feels strange to not be rooted anywhere like that anymore. Now that I have my own kids though, home is really just wherever the four of us are. It really doesnt matter where that is. I guess in part because they are so young, we have to keep a constant routine and it doesn’t feel like things change that dramatically for me, even in the middle of a big road trip in a foreign land like we are at present.
    Sharon @ Wheres Sharon recently posted…Things to do in New Orleans in a few daysMy Profile

  4. Ah, home, that most elusive of concepts. I understand the silence you mention, although in my mind I call it stagnation – and that’s what I struggle with, the stillness of thought, where true learning gets beaten down by flashing lights and stultifying routine. Thought-provoking post, gracias! Good luck, Jeff!
    Lunaguava recently posted…Love, Gone SwimmingMy Profile

  5. Ahh, In N Out. NOM. I guess my equivalent of coming home to NZ was meat pies :)

    Without sounding like a total pleb, I’ve greatly enjoyed coming back to all that’s familiar. I understand that’s not enough for those with wanderlust coursing through their veins, but adjusting to home even after six months has been, surprisingly, not too hard for us. But damn, I miss Italian and Mexican food. (A few more thoughts here: http://nzmuse.com/2014/01/like-settle-travelling-world/)
    NZ Muse recently posted…Drafting up a 2014 budgetMy Profile

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