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Split between two worlds

Split between two worlds

by Tiffany Jansen

We met. We fell in love. We got married. I moved in with him… to his home in the Netherlands.

For months before the wedding, I was so excited. Nervous, but excited. I had met at least one other woman who had done what I was about to do and she was well-adjusted and happy. Naturally the same would happen for me, right?

The day of the wedding, it hit me. It was huge what I was about to do. My mother and I sat on the edge of my bed and cried together. We agreed that I would give it 2-3 years and then I would move back to the US with my husband. After all, this was my home. I couldn’t stay away forever.

When I got to the Netherlands, however, I fell in love. I met remarkable women in the same or a very similar position to that which I was in and made some really excellent friends. My husband’s family and friends took me in and really made me feel at home. It came as a surprise to everyone – myself included – how quickly I adjusted and came to love my adopted country.

“No way am I going back,” I’d tell everyone (except my mother, of course).“I like it too much here.”

I became overly critical of America and the Netherlands could do no wrong in my eyes. I didn’t understand the other expat women I spoke to who used the word “home” to refer to both the Netherlands and their countries of origin.

As far as I was concerned, “home” was the place I was living. Where my husband and dog were and where we wanted to start a family of our own. When you move out of your parents’ house, you don’t continue to refer to it as “home” for the rest of your adult life. Why should it be any different in this case?

My first 6 months in the Netherlands, I had no desire to go back to the US. But I sucked it up and went twice by myself. Each time I started feeling depressed a few days before my departure and sobbing uncontrollably the night before my flight. As well as at the airport. My time in the US was fun and it was wonderful seeing everyone, but I still could not wait to go back “home.”

Summer of 2009 – the third of my trips to the US – my husband and I both went back. He fit right in with friends and family. It was like I had never left and my husband had always been a part of my American life. Things fell back into routine and I had the time of my life. At two weeks, it was my longest return trip up to that point.

At the airport the day we left, instead of rolling my eyes when my mom’s started tearing up as I normally did, my eyes started to swell with tears. Thank goodness for sunglasses!
Luck must have been on my side because my voice was steady and chipper as I said “Don’t worry Mom. It’ll just be a few months and then you and Daddy will be visiting us.”

My dad, an airline pilot, coincidentally had to leave for work that day. So we all took the flight to New York where my husband and I would catch the flight to Amsterdam and my father would continue on to Atlanta.

We had lunch together before my dad left to board his plane. Rather, the guys had lunch. I was too busy trying to keep the golfball-sized lump out of my throat. When my father left, I broke down.

It felt so right there with everyone in the place where I grew up. I felt home. There was this undeniable feeling that if we stayed, I could easily blend back into life there. We could make a life there together.

We landed in the Netherlands and things went back to normal. And I went back into denial. I slipped back into my expat life and pushed the other life to the back of my brain and heart. But I never forgot that feeling I had at the airport that day. Guilt. Loss.

The next trip to the US with my husband was fun, but when it came time to go back “home” I was ready for it. Fantastic, I thought. Just that short spurt of uncertainty and I’m back in the Honeymoon Phase. I don’t understand these women who get homesick all the time and talk about having two homes. I’ve got one and it’s here.

Months went by. I was happy. But then came the inevitable. Another US trip. Solo. This time was even worse. I made myself so sick over having to go back. It wasn’t just the usual depression I experienced before every other trip. A week before my flight I started crying myself to sleep. Many times I thought of just calling my parents and canceling the whole thing. After all, they come here so often for visits. I saw no need for me to have to go to the US.

In the weeks leading up to my departure, I insisted on refering to everything as “my last.” My last week. My last weekend. My last night. My last breakfast. I cried the whole way to the airport and even had some tears to spare for on the plane.

In anticipation of my trip, I had overbooked myself in the hopes that busy-ness would make the time fly. It did. I saw old friends, partook in old activities, went back to old habits, sampled all the foods I had missed, spent time with family, saw my brother’s new home and met his new dog. Jokes flew and memories were relived. And time flew.

The night before I left, I waited up until 1 o’clock in the morning. I picked up the phone and dialed my “home” number from my “home” phone. My husband picked up, just coming out of a deep sleep at 7am Netherlands time. My body was so racked with sobs that, for a long time, I couldn’t speak.

“I don’t want to leave,”I finally sobbed, “but I don’t want to stay.”

And then I understood. Such a large part of you remains in the country where you come from. Your entire past is there. The past that made you the person that you are now. But you also belong in the country you’ve gone to. You’ve sprouted roots there and it’s become a part of you. It’s changed you, shaped you.

Sometimes I question whether I could go back if I had the chance. What would I have to give up and would I be willing to do so? Would I still really fit in if I moved back?

It’s this odd feeling of being split. Between two worlds, two sets of friends, two families… two homes. Because you’re stuck in limbo between that home and this home, you’re detached from both homes in a way. It’s hard and (as I’m finding out) it fluctuates constantly between getting better and getting worse.

But when I really think about it, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Tiffany is an American who moved to the Netherlands for love in December 2008. She lives in Utrecht with her husband and their dog. In addition to chronicling her adventures on her blog Clogs and Tulips: An American in Holland (http://clogsandtulips.blogspot.com/), she also works as a freelance writer and runs her own company, Little Broadway.



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