Going back after a year abroad


August 7, 2022

This post is one of those types of posts where I have a sort of revelation or reflection and kind of just pour my brain out onto the page. So get buckled in for a ride here.

If you know anything about my blog, you’ll know I moved to DC for college this past year. It’s basically what all of my content has been about lately – I don’t shut up about it, but it’s a big part of my life! I saw my family a good amount during the year and got to go home for some holidays, but this summer was my first time fully going back to see my full extended family and spending a long period of time back home. It was an experience that just made me reflect a lot on my life and how I’ve grown and what I want for the future so I thought I’d share.

For some background, this summer I’ve been doing an internship in DC, but I was able to go home for a few weeks to visit my family and work remotely while I was there. I was working on American hours, so it was a struggle, but definitely not as bad as my freshmen year of virtual college with a 9-hour time difference! I guess I just expected to work and then spend my free time with my family. I’m the kind of idealistic person who dreams about all the stuff they’re going to get done while they’re on holiday and all of the experiences they are going to have and then gets disappointed when time flies by and don’t experience them before leaving. I would say that this first real trip back home since moving was the epitome of all that. I had so many expectations of things I would do and experiences I would have but as cliche, as it sounds, I’m a different person now and completely dropping my life when I’m back home to try and fit into the old life I had there just doesn’t work. I guess I’m experiencing the struggles of being an expat the second time around now, except this time I’m mostly on my own and last time I was with my family.

One thing about living abroad but with family back home is that you’re kind of split between two worlds. You have your own life and routine and eventually, just evolve to become a different person away from home and it’s hard to reconcile that with the person you were when you left your original home. You kind of have to keep your new life on the back burner when back home, or at least that’s how it felt for me. Working American hours while back home and still wanting to keep in touch with friends meant that I was doing things at crazy hours but still trying to wake up early to do fun things with my family. It was like trying to juggle 2 lives simultaneously and getting extremely exhausted in the process. I think for me it was the idea that life never stops, and getting the luxury of going back to my hometown means that I’m trying to spend time with everyone and do all of my favorite things there, but that I’m still keeping everything in my new life running in the background. I have no idea if I even explained that idea clearly, but hopefully, it made sense!

Another thing that I also experienced for the first time when I went back home was what I’d call “expat guilt.” I’ve heard other expats mention a feeling like this before but I hadn’t fully appreciated it until now. I would define expat guilt as the feeling of going back home where loved ones (who are doing it out of a genuinely good place) make you feel guilty for moving away or trying to convince you to move back home. I think I felt this more this time back home because I’ve pretty much decided now that I want to stay in America after college, which I guess is not what a lot of my extended family had expected. The guilt I got from people because I only came back for a few weeks and was so busy, because I chose to go to school in a different country, and now because I want to live in that country after college was overwhelming at some points. It’s hard to say because these comments genuinely come from a good and loving place! But for me, when constantly bombarded by these comments, I feel really guilty which is something I’m trying to reconcile with!

I think the reason that this kind of guilt exists is that there’s often a gap in understanding between people back home and the person who moves away. My extended family will ask a couple of questions about my life when I come back home, “what’s it like living with a roommate?” and “are you enjoying America?” but that’s really the extent of their understanding of my life here. They don’t really understand what I do here or why I love it so much, which makes it hard to bridge that understanding gap and avoid expat guilt. Perhaps other expat families are better at this than my extended family, who knows…

Thinking about this understanding gap also made me reflect on some of my future decisions. When I went home this summer I was pretty much decided that I wanted to make a shot at living in America after graduation, and now I actually have a job offer to do that (which is why I was MIA the past few weeks working towards that!). When I was back home I was thinking about the fact that once I leave college I won’t have these big holidays, winter break, summer break, spring break, and I’ll just have a small amount of leave in the year. Do I really want to spend that valuable time going back home and strengthening those connections and visiting family or spending my time visiting the places I want to see while I’m young? Part of me feels like I’ll have to use the time to go back home, but with all of the reasons I mentioned above, it just isn’t the same anymore! I feel like in a way I’m being pulled backwards by this decision because of course, I’m not going to leave my extended family behind, but it also makes it hard for me to have a life out here if I keep spending all my time going back. And also should it be up to me to use my free time to strengthen the relationship when they could just as easily come out here to visit me? This adds in a whole other dimension of confusing thoughts and guilt. If anyone has any experience or thoughts in this area I am all ears!

This post was a bit of a mess, but all of these ideas are things that have just been floating around my head recently that I wanted to get out on this page. I have a great immediate family who supports me with all of these decisions, but it’s hard when you take the extended family into account everyone back home and all of those extra opinions and considerations. Hopefully, this post didn’t sound too whiny, I just mean for it to be a soundboard for my thoughts at the moment! I’m interested in hearing if anyone has experience in this, let me know in the comments!

See you next week,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *