Here’s What No One Tells You About Living Abroad

Twenty20 / bubblegumwhore
Twenty20 / bubblegumwhore

Everyone knows that you will miss your holidays with your family, you will miss having all the people you grew up with just a drive away, you will miss your favorite childhood foods and dumb movie references. Yes, you’ll live abroad and all of those things will nag at you until you find yourself at three in the morning, drunkenly considering the purchase of a snack food you miss dearly that’s being sold at a 500% markup.

You’ll create mini-versions of your holidays with a few of your friends who celebrated them, too, and drink wine from re-appropriated jam jars and talk about all of the things you miss so much about home. (And you’ll not be able to find a decent turkey for less than your first born child.) All of these things are true, and you’ll be warned of them.

But what no one will properly explain – what won’t be featured in any brochure or “my perfect life abroad” blog – is how much harder it is once you get home.

Once an entire life you lived for a year, five years, ten years, is suddenly no more material than a particularly vivid dream you once had. And you’ll see the same level of polite, feigned interest on your friends’ faces when you try to explain how incredible this one meal was, or how much your friend back in that country had this one terrible party trick that always put you in a good mood. They won’t understand the music you listened to or the jokes you heard, often in a very literal way. You’ll try to translate, and none of it will come through.

You’ll realize that this time in your life will always be looked at as an interlude, as a phase in the same way it was when you insisted on having “scene hair” in middle school. You’ll get used to the idea of being defined by your outsider status when you live abroad, then get used to a whole part of your life being entirely invisible, something you might bring up at a party if someone gets to a fourth or fifth question in polite conversation.

But it’s not something anyone particularly wants to hear about, and that’s understandable. But you’ll long to tell them about your friends, about the food, about the little apartment you lived in (and maybe shared with several insane roommates).

And you won’t be sure to what extent any of that is appropriate, or how much you can cling to the holidays and rituals and lifestyle in the way you sometimes did with your childhood ones. Perhaps several years in a country made a particular day very meaningful, but is it pretentious or silly to continue celebrating it? When does an adoptive home become family, and when does it remain just an extended holiday?

You’ll spend so much on flights, so many nights on Skype, so much expensive oxygen being breathed onto the little fire of what you had there. You will want with everything in your body to go back, and wonder on a totally irrational level why you can’t just drive over there, because it all feels so close and real. Suddenly, all of your free money (and much of your free time) will be devoted to recreating that, and to wondering when you might move back again.

When you lived abroad, somehow home – no matter how distant it was – never felt like it was fading into the rearview mirror. It never felt like it was something that could be taken from you, or to disappear into nonexistence.

But every day your time away will feel like something that only happened in your mind, something that will always be a nostalgia that no one shares, that will be as isolating as it is wonderful to think about. And while you may on rare occasions, like weddings or very special trips, be able to unite your two worlds and see the important people together from all parts of your life, there will be dozens of “oh, you would totally love this person” for every introduction. Nearly everyone from that time will feel more like a figment of your imagination to everyone else.

Everyone will tell you that moving will be hard, and it will. But no one will tell you that it’s moving home, to a place that no longer contains everything that word is supposed to mean, will be harder. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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