A very popular topic on many expat blogs. If you haven’t read any of those before you can start with some of the below!
In case you’re not celebrating Christmas and would like to read something not Christmas-related I thought I’d upload a couple of my thoughts on coming back home and how it changed since I first left to the UK.
I’m originally from Poland and have never lived abroad until about 1,5 year ago. I traveled a bit, but never for more than 2-3 weeks. Last July I moved to London. It was and still is an interesting experience. The biggest surprise for me I think was that despite of a bit of preparing for my arrival here in terms of the culture, adaptation etc I still found the whole thing a bit overwhelming at one point. I’m now at a stage where I think I passed the depression and started to actually adapt to the new culture. Culture shock is more than you think, it’s not just knowing the dos and don’ts and learning about what to do. It’s connected to your values, to your habits, to your general worldview and is not really very straightforward thing to deal with.
However a silent killer, reverse culture shock, might be even worse! I read all those articles on other blogs, of people who have repatriated already and experienced the difficulties of coming back home for good, but I couldn’t quite get it. I know why now – I just wasn’t abroad for long enough and my home country still felt ‘normal’ at the time. When I read these articles now, I start to see how some of their experiences might refer to mine and to be honest it scares me a little bit that it happens so quickly. So what do I mean?
When I was coming back home during my first, let’s say, year of my expat life, it actually felt like coming back h o m e. Everything felt familiar, I knew where to go, what to do, came back to old behavioural habits. Last time I was home (not that long ago, about 3 months ago), I noticed something different though.
I started using some of my adapted behaviours while being in Poland. For example chit chat. It’s such a British thing to chit chat with a cashier in a shop or with some random people in the lift (or elevator, should I say for the American audience :)). I started doing it in Poland though and the reaction I got from other people was the look expressing ‘who’s that freak?!’. Worse: I felt disappointed that people don’t want to smile or talk to me. How weird is that? What’s even more, I still do have problems with chit chat in the UK sometimes. S o w e i r d! Not fully there yet, but already having troubles in Poland. If that’s what it’s like now after a year then what’s gonna happen in a couple of years? It freaked me out a little bit.
I think I got a bit spoiled here as well. Need something from the shop? No problem. Want to eat out? Anytime, anywhere, endless choices. Want to see something new? Go ahead!
I came back home one time and wanted to go out for dinner on a Sunday. My city is not that small, about 350k people and there are quite a few nice restaurants there. The problem was – either they close at 5pm or they are not at all open on Sundays… Not all of them, but at least some. So it’s not like you think of a restaurant and you simply go there. You need to really check their opening times and if there are spaces. That’s not only the case with restaurants though. If you want to go in any other places than a shopping centre you’d better check first! In London I found it so cool that you can usually just figure out what type of food you want and you’ve got everything at hand, open all days, don’t need to worry about the holidays most of the time.
Of course, I know I might exaggerate a little bit as there are plenty of places in London where you need to book months in advance, but there is a bigger choice in general which just struck me only after trying to input my London lifestyle to my home town. Don’t try to do that as it will just enlarge the gap that is already there between your expat and home country experiences.
I think the thing that is the hardest with any kind of move where you visit just a few times in a year, is that things change and you don’t keep up. It’s hard to know about each bus route change or any new buildings or shops around. I always liked to know these things though as they made me feel more at home. When I’m there only 2-3 times a year now it just feels more and more distant. And it simply doesn’t feel good. You call it home, and it still very much is with all the dearest people around you, but it doesn’t feel quite the same anymore. That I think is relevant to any move that you might make. Either to another city within your country, or even more if you move to another country.
What are the small things that make you feel like you’re in the transition stage? What difficulties do you experience when visiting home? Have you repatriated already? How was your experience?