Let me be frank: repatriation is harder than you think. I’m learning firsthand that when it comes to repatriating, there are many hurdles to be faced: some are expected, others not. We’re busy building a new life in what is assumed to be a familiar place in which it’s easy to navigate supposedly known social, political and cultural climates.
Yet one of the most difficult aspects is dealing with the thought that our days of living in another country and culture may well be over. To some this may be welcome news, as we embrace the knowledge that we finally can put down roots, establish friendships and become part of our newfound community, all without the ticking clock of an expiration date lurking in the back of our mind.Yet for others, we hear the siren call of wanderlust and long for the day when we might find ourselves headed back out into the world on a fresh foreign adventure, eager for another round of cross-cultural exploration.
Even though I’m actually enjoying repatriation more than I might have expected, I count myself squarely in the latter camp.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be closer to family who miss and need us. I’m thrilled with the home we’re making in our new neighborhood. I appreciate the mix of old friends and new, rekindling some dormant friendships while developing new ones as well. I love the opportunity to be closer to our son as he finishes university and gets ready to head out into the world; I cherish every moment with our daughter as she finishes high school before continuing her education at what she hopes will be the school of her choosing. I’m thriving in the challenge of carving out a new career with a decidedly global focus.
I value it all. Really, I do. It’s just that I can’t help wondering when – down the line, of course, no time soon – my husband and I might look at each other and decide ‘yes, this is an opportunity we can’t pass up, let’s go!’
So it was through a marvelous mix of serendipity, coincidence, good timing and hard work that we were able to arrange for an extended stay abroad for much of this past summer. It included some travel and was a combination of vacation, work, my adult Third Culture Kid husband’s international high school reunion and our TCK teen’s foreign educational opportunity.
And at its core were many weeks spent living in Rome, in an apartment around the corner from his alma mater (and site of her arts & humanity program).
And you know what? I reveled in it, every splendid moment.
From stumbling over my long dormant college Italian to tracking down items in the drugstore to getting lost many times over. From buying daily groceries and deciphering how to use the washing machine to hanging out the clothes to dry on the small balcony like the neighbors in the apartments above, below and beside us. I stopped automatically saying ‘please,’ ‘thank you’ and greetings in Dutch and got better at counting, asking questions and reading the menu in Italian. I loved having to search out places to buy bus tickets and learning which stores were open on weekends and how to weigh produce in the local grocery store. I didn’t mind getting on the wrong tram when headed downtown to the city’s heart to meet my husband at the Pantheon, and prided myself on figuring out how to get back to our neighborhood when the usual buses were rerouted due to construction and again for a political demonstration.
But mostly I ate – and cooked − marvelous simple fare, and drank good, cheap wine and soaked up the language, the ambience and the light. My eyes and ears feasted ravenously on sights and sounds so different from my everyday existence. Like the proverbial squirrel gathering nuts for the long, cold winter, I’ve stored up memories and stories and experiences to last me until the next time I find myself living in another culture.
Because I will. You can bet on it.
A writer and American 'expatriwait' recently repatriated from the Netherlands with her adult Third Culture Kid husband and children, Linda pens articles on expat/repat life, blogs at Adventures in Expat Land, and plots the next foray overseas. She is also author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime Publishing) which is available on Amazon.
You may also follow Linda’s adventures on Twitter @in_expatland.
Read Linda's other Expat Focus articles here.