April 5

Homecoming. Moving back after 2 years abroad.

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Homecoming. Moving back after 2 years abroad.

 

I spent our first two days back in the UK alternating between unpacking, bingeing on dark chocolate, and bursting into tears. 

(Shhhh…I may even have had a glass of single malt Islay whisky around 1pm that second day.)

I took a couple LONG walks in nature, let myself feel all the feels, cried some more, sat under a huge ancient tree for awhile, and then gave myself a stern pep talk.

Re-entry into “real life” after two years abroad was much, much harder than I’d anticipated.

My husband and I just spent two years living in Hong Kong. Then, instead of flying straight back to London, we took 2.5 months and did a crazy overland adventure from Hong Kong to London – all by train!

The theory was that the overland trip would make adjusting to London life easier. And it did. I can’t imagine the shock going directly back from Hong Kong to London and just picking up life where we left off two years ago. The trip made me eager for a home (not hotel), more clothes (instead of living out of a suitcase!) and a kitchen to cook good, healthy food.

But still. I struggled, a lot. I’m still finding my feet here again. I feel like I have to re-create my life here to fit me, now. Not me-of-two-years-ago.

Moving Back vs. Moving Forward

I’m American by birth, so by living in London, I’m already living abroad. I left the USA a decade ago, first moving to Paris (lifetime dream!) and then to London. But even in the States, I’d moved around. Although my “home” was always New Hampshire where I grew up, I worked and lived in San Jose, California, Tampa, Florida, and for a long time in Washington, DC. 

But every time I left a place – I moved onwards, to somewhere else that met the criteria of what I wanted next in life.

Returning from Hong Kong to London is the first time I’ve ever “gone back” to live somewhere — and it turns out, that was the problem.

When we arrived back to our flat in London, it felt like stepping back in time two years ago:

  • Every box I opened was filled with belongings that fit my life, two years ago.
  • All my clothes were from Amanda, two years ago.
  • Even walking around our neighborhood was revisiting all the places I used to hang out, when I was that person, with that life.

And on, and on, and on.

Those two years in Hong Kong were hugely transformational for me. I felt great in my skin, LOVED the hot weather, and made fantastic creative + entrepreneurial friends. Sure, there were some things I missed about London (friends, proximity to Europe, and our spacious flat!), but overall I felt better in Hong Kong. (Can I say again how much I thrive on the ocean and hot weather??)

So suddenly coming back to “Old Amanda’s Life” was really depressing. 

Where is “Home”, Really?

The other issue that has come up is this idea of “Home”. Where is “home” for me? 

I honestly don’t know.

I kind of refer to wherever I’m living at the moment as “home.” It’s really odd. On our long trip because we felt so displaced, we’d unthinkingly refer to our hotel room as “home” (as in, “Ok so we’ll visit The Great Wall, and then head home for a bit, before going out for dim sum.”) 

So, London definitely feels like “home” but even moreso, because it’s the home I share with my husband, we own our flat, and all of our stuff is there.

But real, everlasting HOME I think is New Hampshire. Even though I haven’t lived there in over 15 years.

I’m increasingly interested in the sense of connection you feel with a place.

There’s the feeling of being “home”. There’s also the sense of being connected to the environment/land where you live (that was missing for me in Hong Kong, and I really noticed it.) And then I wonder if there’s an ancestral connection that we can’t quite put our fingers on … could we feel connected to a place simply because our ancestors lived there for hundreds of years? Could it be passed down in our DNA? Hmmm…

That’s an area I’m exploring at the moment – and it’s a topic for another time… but back to coming home to the UK.

The One Strategy that Has Worked So Far

After my meltdown of the first few days, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to force my life back to feeling good again. It was going to take time.

So I decided to forget about unpacking everything.

Instead, I just setup my home office.

Ok, it’s technically my workplace, but it’s not very ‘office’ feeling – it’s really just my sacred space, only for me. It’s comfy and cozy and all mine. It’s where I like to work all day. But it’s also just my sanctuary.

So I shifted focus to only setting up my office, and making sure that it felt like “New Amanda’s” space… not just re-creating what was here before.

That’s been really key for me, so that I have a fresh space where I can hang out (without seeing the never-ending stacks of boxes yet to unpack) — and most importantly, start working on these new creative projects. (Working on a creative project that I’m really interested in is my happy place!)

So what’s the verdict about coming home?

I’m still too close to this whole situation to have perspective. Ask me in six months for my sage advice to offer to fellow expats returning home.

Right now I know I just need to be gentle. Let myself feel the feelings, but not wallow. Focus on what I AM excited about being here in London. Reconnect with friends and nature. Take salt baths. Eat vegetables. Give myself time. Time, time, time.

Have you gone through a big move or transition? What helped you through?

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  1. My husband and I recently made a move from city life to rural. We left friends and family to start this new adventure. We grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and always dreamed of moving east. When we had our first son, we actually moved west, to Cambridge. After our second son, we became increasingly aware that Cambridge didn’t feel like home. We were done with city life and knew that if we didn’t take a risk and move now, we never would. We always had the dream of having land to roam free and be surrounded by trees and wildlife. We wanted to make this dream a reality and allow our kids to grow up in nature. So we moved east, near Kingston! Every time we take the drive home after visiting family, we truly feel like we are going home now. We are excited to get back to our 14 acres and hear the birds chirp, watch the bunnies hop across our lawn, hear the rooster crow from down the street. The other day we woke up to 3 deer in our backyard. Even though we are far from family, which is the hardest part, we have grown closer as a family and we truly feel Home. I think it’s different for everyone. We have fond memories of all the places we have lived and they led us to this point in our life. Our experiences shape us and change us, but if we never take the risk and jump at the experiences we could have, then we won’t know how that change will effect us. What if it doesn’t work out the way you had planned? That’s possible, but what if it’s better than what you had planned? So far, I am happy with the risk we took and excited about our future here!

  2. I’m half Malaysian, half British. I spent the first 15 years of my life in Malaysia and then moved to London to live with my grandparents, get to know our other culture, go to school and uni, and…well I’m still here, 18 years later. About 8 years ago I started saying ‘I’ll move back to Malaysia, probably in about 5 years.’ I’m still saying that, and I don’t know when/whether I’ll ever do it. I hope so. I love London and my sister is here and my grandparents are still alive, and I’ve always said that as long as they are still around, so will I be. But I’m also tired of London, I’m tired of renting, tired of feeling unsettled, tired of always wanting more (a garden, a guest bedroom, a home office). I’m tired of winter and rain and greyness. I miss the sea, the warmth, the laid-back nature. But then there’s a part of me that is afraid of returning to Malaysia and it not being everything it cracks up to be. I’ve never been an adult there so I’ve never had a job, paid taxes, rented an apartment, etc., so what if I take that gamble and it’s awful? Most of my Malaysian friends can’t wait to LEAVE because the economy and politics are so bad right now. But then that’s true of the UK too, so what’s the difference?! Anyway, clearly no advice but just my musings on ‘home’ is can be both where you are right now, but also where you’re not. And I guess that it doesn’t have to be permanent – I can always leave Malaysia and come back, or go somewhere else.

  3. “Home” seemed to be mostly my grandma’s house. It had this rustic, yet romantic old- fashioned charm that seemed to fit me.
    It was out in the country with fields and woods all around, a huge garden, rose bushes that grew wild and we would forage in special little spots for berries and grapes. Her canning from her garden and her apple and pear trees sat neatly in the basement that looked more like a cellar than the fancy modern basements of today. I had a connection to nature when I was there.
    I lived in the city and going there, I felt free, yet safe.
    My parents’ house was a sense of home too, but now that my mom is gone I realized it was her more than it was the house or where we lived.
    My grandma has passed and her house is gone now too. I’m married and have children of my own. While I don’t have the country life I dream of, I have made it as close to that life as I can where I am.
    We have been here less than 2 years, but so far I have my garden, with my berry bushes and rose bushes, and my canning in the basement. I have one of the dressers from the room I stayed in that I recently stripped and restained. That project gave me time to reminisce.
    In the house and moments with my kids, I incorporate the special gifts from my mom or do things that she did with my kids to keep that sense of “home” alive.
    So I would say 1) take the bits and pieces of your memories that you love and recreate some of it where you are.
    Unfortunately I find the rainy gray days to be depressing compared to warm sunny days of warmer climates so that part might take some time to adjust.
    2) Focus on the things you love about the place where you are.
    3) Focus on just the next step and don’t worry about everything else! maybe the next project or the next thing you want to study or the next book, the next box – just one next step.
    4) Don’t finish unpacking. Just unpack the basic necessities. Keep the rest in boxes for a bit. If you miss something pull it out. If you don’t, then don’t. After awhile, sell or donate the things you no longer need from your old you.
    5. Allow yourself to continue to change and grow, take the bits that you love and enjoy, and move on with the new you. 🙂

  4. Hi Amanda what an amazing experience and opportunities you have had home is love security and connection . Years ago british people thought bricks and mortar was home most never ventured far away from our relatives today all has changed. I believe the word home is different you have many homes all over the world each place you have visited was home for a short period of time but where you are now is your security it will always be there to come back to unless you choose to let go. Enjoy all your future homes as I am sure you will be travelling more.

    so many places to visit and see

  5. Very interesting article and well articulated feelings, Amanda… I have had many similar experiences and can certainly relate. I am American by birth, but have lived many places around the world since I was a child. The first time I went to Japan, though, as a 17-year old, I felt like I had come home. I can’t describe it any other way. All the chaos I saw around me made sense (there isn’t really chaos in Japan, it just looks that way). In retrospect, I have sometimes wondered if I was Japanese in another life. I felt so strangely comfortable there from the moment I arrived, in a world and culture so different from the upstate New York where I grew up, or the South American countries where I lived with my family when my parents were on sabbaticals. It was as if I understood why everything was the way it was. Nothing put me off the way it did for so many other “foreigners” who came to Japan. I based my further education around Japan and the Far East after that, spending as much time as possible over there. Nonetheless, Ithaca (New York), where I mostly grew up, remained my real “home” — but I realized later it was mainly because that was where my parents were located. And when I got married to my soulmate, I remember having a kind of epiphany once, while lying with my head in his lap — that home was with him, wherever we were living together. Long after that, however, living in Europe for many years, I slowly gravitated back to my home in Ithaca, especially when my parents were sick, and also after I had children. In the end, though, with all the sickness and distress in my life, I drifted apart from my soulmate, and when my father passed (four years ago), my home became just within myself. I don’t know where my next home will be anymore, but I’m more confident that I can make it wherever it fits best with what is happening in my life. I very much relate to your feelings of going back, Amanda, as in when you return to a life you made somewhere other than your original home. It sounds to me like you became more comfortable where you were (based in Hong Kong), and it felt more like “home” to you than your home base in London (especially since you were with your partner while you made a home together somewhere else). I am very fond of London, have lived there and now go there often, but I can imagine it being a harsh transition from the Far East, where I feel more at home, as well, for whatever reason. It’s cold in England and the homes are usually not well insulated (in my experience). People are generally very self-contained and it’s hard to read what they are thinking, hard to make connections (although you could say that about Far East Asians, as well, I think). But I think you are dealing with it in the best way possible. Having your own space is so important, I’ve learned through the years (and that’s a bigger challenge in the Far East than in Europe, I think). So that’s one blessing I am constantly grateful for (more personal space here in Europe). I also think Londoners are very tolerant in general of all kinds of other cultures, and I always feel a kind of comfort walking around London. I hope you can get used to being back and appreciate the positives… and maybe plan for where your life will take you next?

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Catherine! <3
      What's saving me at the moment is I've got a big creative project that feels really close to my heart - and I realized I can ONLY do this project in Europe. (Well it'd be a lot more complicated and expensive elsewhere) I need to be here for the next couple of years to bring this into being ... and then, let's see. So it's all good. It'll just take time...

  6. Hi Amanda, I know just how you feel. I also found it very difficult coming ‘back’ to London after 2 years in Poland with husband and 2 small children. London seemed big, noisy, expensive and difficult compared with all the culture, nature and easy ex-pat life I’d enjoyed in Warsaw. I’d changed massively, yet my friends still seemed to be stuck, talking about their children, schools and houses. Our solution – to move on and move out of London to a house in the countryside, thus establishing new routines, making new friends and discovering new places. It worked, but I do also miss many aspects of my former life in London. With hindsight maybe I should have just hung on in there and made more effort to establish a new me in London, with a new job and additional friends. The good news is: time heals.

  7. Welcome home! I’ve been living in Sydney for the last year and half, and like you, love the ocean and the hot weather. I miss a lot about London, though: and when I was back in November, an Australian friend came too. When you live in a place for a while, you can easily take it for granted, but having a tourist with me who wasn’t familiar with London meant that I too behaved like a tourist, it was a great experience and made me appreciate what an amazing place London is. When you go away, you grow, you have new and different experiences and perspectives, and when you come back, it can feel like going back. The truth is that whilst you have been away, London too has also changed a lot with new restaurants, cafes, shops, experiences. There’s so much to do and explore. It’ll never have the beaches and the weather, but it offers so many other things. Have fun exploring and look forward to hearing about your next creative product!

    1. This is SUCH a good point. London does have lots of amazing things – and I just need to focus on those … because wanting it to have hot weather and ocean is a recipe for endless disappointment 😉 Going into the city this weekend to remind myself of what’s there!

  8. Hi Amanda,
    I am English by birth, have lived abroad the Middle East and the US. I dont regard it as homesickness, I look at as though I have found a new “home”, because I carry it all with me wherever I go. You are not going back, you are entering a new phase in you life with new eyes and new perspective. So what if you are staying in a place that is familiar or a country where you know the language. The beauty now is to explore what you missed, what is there to discover and why being where you are now is so exciting.

  9. Hey Amanda,
    I think the Welsh word hiraeth would interest you. It doesn’t have a direct translation in English but refers to a longing, a homesickness. I’ve lived in London for 16 years, and it is my home, but when I go HOME to Wales, it is as though my soul knows where it is, and is at peace 🙂

    1. Thank you for that – I didn’t know that word but it is perfect. <3
      I love that you've got a deep connection to the land in Wales ... are your ancestors from there as well? (as in, has your family lived there for many generations?)

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