Reflections on visiting home for the first time after moving abroad

First, I must apologize for the lapse in posting. After arriving to Madrid from the US, I was hit with a heavy case of jet lag that left me disoriented and always looking for the next moment when I could sleep. Then I contracted some sort of stomach bug which was obviously super enjoyable on top of the jet lag. Anyway, I’m back and bursting with rants and raves so let’s get into it shall we?

Well, well, well. I don’t think anyone can accurately describe a general feeling of what it’s like to return home after moving abroad but here goes. Everyone’s experience is different, but since this is my blog I’m going to talk about what happened to me in the hopes that some of you may be able to identify. To give a recap, I went back to the United States for three weeks. I spent one week in the wonderfully quaint, never changing town of Welsh, Louisiana where I ate as much as my body could stand, hung out with my grandparents and chased this little man, my darling cousin Lyndon Jr.

That face. I can't.

That face. I can’t.

Then I hit the road with my mother and drove (for three days) from Louisiana back to Washington, DC where I supremely failed at surprising my friends and a variety of other shit went down. Here are five surprising and not so surprising things that happen when you visit home for the first time after moving abroad.



1) Your friends aren’t fighting to hang out with you

So call me optimistic but I totally thought that best friends, acquaintances, the guy at the coffee shop and strangers that I sometimes waved at on the street would all be super excited over the fact that I was coming home. Truth be told, I knew not to get my hopes up over seeing ALL of my friends but I was a bit surprised over the few that sent the oh so sweet “welcome back!” text and that was it. Granted, I did see a lot of my close friends (LOVE Y’ALL) but it was really my own fault to expect people to drop their lives just to hang out with me for the short amount of time that I was in town. ESPECIALLY when I was trying to surprise them. Come on Shayla, you can’t expect people to rearrange their lives for you when they didn’t even know you’d be there! Duh. The most important lesson I learned with this is to tell people at least two weeks in advance when you are visiting, and openly express that you want to see them when you are in town. Yes it may feel like you are setting up a first date with your bff but you can’t expect them to read your mind!

2) You feel stuck in the middle because home feels foreign

What’s that? Is someone speaking English? Please try to imagine how overjoyed I felt to once again be in a land where I could overhear and comprehend other people’s conversations! Oddly enough, I still felt like I couldn’t understand what people were saying.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been in Spain for a few months and my lifestyle has changed, but I felt like I no longer had the same priorities or put the same amount of pressure on myself as my friends and family at home.  Meh, blame the European way of life. Even though there were so many things I missed about America while I was living in Madrid, I actually found myself missing Madrid while in America! It’s funny how that works. Everyday annoyances in America like trying to find a parking spot in DC on New Year’s Eve to wanting to say something to a stranger in Spanish had me yearning for Madrid. It’s such a strange feeling to feel suspended between two countries yet neither of them quite feels like home. Hopefully that feeling will change in few weeks…

It's funny cuz it's true

It’s funny cuz it’s true

3) You’re broke

Ok, maybe it’s just me and I didn’t plan well, but I totes forgot that I was going to need some American money when I got home.  At one point I literally had to make $100 stretch for like 8 days. Ridiculous! I was thanking the sweet Lord every day for my credit cards, but I’m paying the price (literally) for using them now. Also! It’s easy to forget the stupid expenses that suck your money DRY when you were at home. What’s the number one offender? GAS. Oh my god. I love my car so much but I would sell it to the highest bidder if it meant I never had to pay for gas again should I ever move home. Every time I went to the pump (which was shockingly often since I drive an SUV) I felt like I was throwing money into the wind. It was equal parts devastating and infuriating. Moral of the story: save and convert some euros to dollars before going home,because unless you live in a city with an awesome metro system like Madrid’s, you will be spending it all on silly things like gas.

tee hee

tee hee

4) Everyone seems like a grown up

*Cue John Mayer’s “No Such Thing”* So. If it hasn’t been made clear on this blog before, I’ve done the whole grown up thing. I graduated college, I moved to New York, I slaved worked in a few 9 to 5…6…7…8pm jobs and while I learned a lot, the whole thing was a bit overrated. One of the reasons I became a freelance writer and decided to move to Spain was because I wanted to explore life beyond the typical path of school, work, marriage, babies, back to work, retirement. Please, please, please don’t think I’m an asshole because I’m not knocking anyone who chooses that path, it’s just simply not for me because I have the mind of a curious child. Anyway, when I was home and around all my grown-up friends and their grown-up apartments, grown-up jobs, grown-up salaries and whatever the fuck else, I started to doubt myself. I literally had one night where I was on the verge of a panic attack while frantically searching graduate schools and job postings in New York City. I had to give myself an emotional slap in the face. In Madrid, I never compare myself to anyone else because any expat that I meet is doing the same thing I’m doing! Back at home, I was the outlier.  I had to take a few deep breaths and meditate on my truth: I chose this path for a reason, more than one actually and there’s nothing wrong with how I choose to live my life and there’s nothing wrong with how the people I love choose to live theirs. That little nugget of wisdom from the universe calmed me immediately and helped me to ENJOY the time with my grown-up friends instead of skipping down the trail of death by comparison.


5. Everything has changed

Three months is a long time. It may not seem like a lot of time but it is. We all know that the one constant thing in life is change and I admittedly have a hard time accepting change. A lot can change in three months. I wasn’t going to talk about this but I like to keep it real on this blog and say that I had to learn the hard way how much relationships and friendships can change in three months. I won’t get into details but I lost what I thought was an important friendship during the time that I was home because so many personality and priority changes occurred during the three months that I was gone between myself and this former friend. I know that friendships can sometimes be the casualties of long-term travel as eloquently versed in my friend Liz Carlson’s blog post here but I have to say that I didn’t see this one coming. It was confusing and hurtful, but the situation caused me to grow and appreciate all of the old friendships haven’t changed, and inspired me to cultivate and nurture the relationships I’m creating in Madrid.  The fact of the matter is, when you leave home for a few months, life goes on and it goes on without you. That baby in that first picture? The last time I saw him, he was a newborn. Kids grow, people die, and relationships grow and die too. I’m grateful to have had the experience of going home because I learned soooo many lessons I wasn’t expecting.

Have you ever moved abroad and then visited home after some time? What was your experience? Did you learn anything? I want to hear about it alllll.

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9 Responses

  1. MC says:

    Great idea for a post. I still have trouble with the returning home and expecting everyone to be so excited to see you they drop everything…and when that never happens I feel crushed and very unimportant. I will also dearly miss the metro system – I hate urban sprawl and the gas it costs me!

    • Shayla says:

      Thank you! This topic had been sitting on my heart for so long I was practically bursting! It is hard to deal with the emotions of not seeing everyone but it makes it really simple to weed out the fair weather friends. Are you leaving a city with a great metro system? Where do you live now?

  2. dina says:

    I definitely relate. Especially to point #4. My friends are all rapidly “growing up” and I’m doing the whole bohemian thing (or so it seems they think). I’ve had people tell me they hope I’ve found “whatever it is I was looking for.” I struggle with caring too much about others’ opinions and wanting to defend my choices constantly against the people I’m comparing myself to. I too did the corporate work thing for several years before coming here, and I’m here because I WANT to be. This is what I want to do. This is not a gap year. Good post!

    • Shayla says:

      “Whatever it is you’re looking for?” How rude. Spoken like a true jealous person, I say! I’ve learned not to get defensive, it justifies their rude comments and when you let the hate slide off your shoulders it just makes them more upset, ha! Keep doing your thing girl! BTW, I hate the term “gap year”. Let’s burn it.

  3. Yesssss thank you for breaking the no-blog-post rule on the fb page! Such bravery haha. Great post, glad you got to go home but sad it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I’m a first year auxiliar in Bilbao and decided that I couldn’t go home for the holidays because I KNEW it would make it a million times harder to go back…..but I never thought I’d be missing Spain while in the U.S., as you’ve alluded to. Do you think you’ll renew for a second year as an auxiliar?

    • Shayla says:

      Haha! Posting on that FB page is the bravest thing I’ve done this year 🙂 I wonder if it has been erased yet lol. Don’t be sad for me, it just made it easier to come back to Madrid! How are you liking Bilbao? I’m dying to visit that city! Yes, I plan to renew because if life throws me a wrench and I can’t come back, I can always give up the position. I’d rather have it there waiting for me for now. You?

  4. Blayne says:

    This post was a wake-up call for me! I’ve been living in Thailand for the last year and a half and am finally making a trip home…I’ve been assuming that people will be lining up to see me and nothing will change (naive, I know). You’ve definitely given me something to think about before I go. Thanks 🙂

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