Expat Life: Our First Trip Home
After two years and many travels around Europe, we finally visited our friends and family in the United States. About 2 years and 3 months ago we decided Amsterdam would be our new home and had not set immediate plans to go back for a visit. We were looking ahead to our adventures (and struggles) and weren’t ready to get back to U.S. soil for a while. It had nothing to do with the people, and we weren’t escaping life, it was just that we had so much to do and see once we moved.
It Starts Scary
I read a lot about reverse culture shock, and how you don’t fit in with your family and friends anymore. How everything is strange and your culture doesn’t feel right anymore. I was terrified to drive considering I hadn’t driven in 2 years and had barely even been in a car!
Planning to see so many people who we weren’t sure if they cared enough to see us was nerve-wracking. What would people think of us? Would we be pressured to move back right away? Could we make time for everyone?
Then Gets Exciting
In the town we became adults and created our lives, we planned a potluck picnic in a park. I even had help from one of the most influential people in my life, my former boss. After 3 years of working together, she felt more like family than a colleague, and that showed with all she did for me. I was getting excited to see a bunch of friends from “our” town together in one place. I think we missed these people so much because this town and the people in it were part of our everyday life for 7 years!
Friends would write and say how excited they were that we were visiting…and THAT made me excited. Everyone wants to be wanted, right? Yes. Absolutely.
Family was getting excited to see us too. We scheduled out where we would be and when to see as many people as we possibly could. It was so nice to see everyone and I was so happy we were able to visit!
The funny thing is, when we were in “our” town, nothing had really changed. The town is exactly how we left it…aside from a bit of construction. People had changed and families got bigger, but everything felt normal. The weirdest part about going home was that nothing felt weird. We’d eat where we’d normal eat, and go where we’d normally go.
The best way I can describe it is that we were away for a month or two. We didn’t see family every weekend, so heading up to see them felt regular and the timing felt right Grandma’s and mom’s food tasted the same, the dogs remembered me, and I instinctively knew where everything was.
One of the strangest things that happened was that we were headed back to where we were staying and I was at a stop light in the left turn lane. I turned to Sean and said “I don’t know why I’m in the left turn lane, I need to go straight.” He said, “You are driving to our old apartment.” He was right! Autopilot took over and I was headed “home”!
Driving was an incredibly natural feeling, and my only issue was figuring out how to turn on the lights. But even then, once parked, I went to turn them off and I went to turn them off where my old car had its lights. Muscle memory had taken over.
We even easily navigated to the park where we took our first photo as a couple, and took a picture in the same spot about 12 years later. After visiting our alma mater, it seems like the right thing to do! I wish I had the first picture to show you, but I’m afraid that’s not digital and buried somewhere in a box in Virginia!
Finally Seeing the Family
Seeing family is bittersweet. It’s amazing to see everyone, get hugs, and eat the amazing food we remembered. But, when you say goodbye, it’s hard.
Everyone has questions…though sometimes it felt like a quiz or the 20 questions game. Where are you working? What do you do? How do you like Amsterdam? When are you coming back? Obviously, some questions are harder than others. We are lucky enough that all of one side of my family came together for a family lunch just before we flew out again. It was awesome to see everyone in such a great mood and have everyone together under one roof.
Our Social Circle
Our picnic was awesome! We were surrounded by those who choose to be in our lives a long time ago…and they still like us! 🙂 We are so grateful to have friends that took time out of their inevitably busy schedules to spend an afternoon with us. Our friends-family grew while we were gone too! Three kids joined the party that had not been born yet when we left. How cool is that?! As one friend put it, *pointing to her daughter* “You’ve been gone that long!” since her daughter was born a week or so after we left.
As with most parties, it is so hard to be able to spend time with everyone. I left feeling a bit guilty not talking long enough to some people. Since there was two of us, I had just hoped that Sean was able to spend time with those I didn’t get to talk to much. But, I love them all and look forward to seeing them again!
What We Brought Back
A suitcase in a suitcase. That’s the trick to going home and coming back with a bunch of stuff you left behind! Never underestimate the shopping to be done where you know all the stores, the brands, and your size in everything! We hit clothing stores, shoe stores, and even some specialty stores while we were in the U.S. Let’s be real, it’s cheaper there and easier to get in and out when you know what you are looking for.
In addition to a shopping spree, we dug through our stuff that we store at my family’s house. Until we get a place with more space, it has to stay there. But we did leave without a lot of our memories. The one type of things we desperately wanted to bring back were our Christmas ornaments. They are so special to us and we hated not having them for 2 years. Now we’ll feel extra Christmasy this year!
This might surprise you, but we brought back wine. Before you go all crazy on us for bring wine from the U.S. to Europe where wine is relatively cheap, let me explain. In Virginia we have favorite wineries, some we visited every 4-6 months for a tasting and to see what was available for purchase since they are small and don’t sell everywhere. It was a great trip to spend a bit of time away from our town and into the back road of central Virginia. This winery is Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery where they make true to fruit wines and meads. I haven’t seen this stuff in Europe yet! If you know of any, let us know!
So, we brought melon wine, plum wine, and some spiced pumpkin mead. This is good stuff, and traditional wine lovers might not love this idea, but if it’s good, then why not? I don’t care what you call it, but we love it and are so glad we brought some back with us. A cool glass of melon wine on a super hot day in Amsterdam brings me back to a steamy day in the South. Super refreshing and absolutely perfect.
Until Next Time
I don’t know when our next trip to the U.S. will be and that’s okay. The hardest part about vacation days is when to use them for vacation or to go back and visit. Our move to Amsterdam is largely because we want to travel, so that is what we plan on doing. It is what makes us happy.
Life will always be full of adventure, excitement, frustrations, love, and friendship no matter where we go. We are just lucky enough to have people on two continents that love and support us and have our backs at any time. The downside is that at any moment, we are not with people we care about, and that may just be the hardest part of being an expat…living two lives.
Are you an expat, or traveled extensively, to return home and feel different? What’s your story?