Sarah and I met while I was living in Brussels and were instant friends. She is the kind of person that everyone – men and women – falls in love with as soon as they meet her. She’s thoughtful and warm and makes you feel like you’re the only person in the room when she’s talking to you. And I love what she has for you today…
So first, where were you an expat and how long for?
I was in Brussels, Belgium for 3 years.
What was the hardest thing about going “home”?
Leaving people, hands down, was the hardest part. My friends in Brussels became family to me. I knew, as well, that coming back to visit wasn’t going to be cheap or easy. So leaving these friends seemed to cost more and be more definitive.
What the the best thing about going “home”?
Getting to be back with my family was the absolute best part. Seeing my nieces and nephews that I had pretty often grieved not being around: missing pivotal points in their developing lives. I got to actually be a part of the struggles with my mom’s fight with cancer instead of feeling like I was just hearing a story from afar.
Was there anything that really surprised you about your transition back?
Going back to church was horrifying. There were so many things that I had heard from people to expect when I got back. Many of those, I didn’t think I would struggle with, but did. (And, I still struggle with feeling like a stranger here or like I don’t fit in completely.) But the thing that surprised me the most was how difficult church was for me! A place that I had always known how to deal with… I grew up there! I couldn’t stand! Everyone was uber friendly – it felt forced. Everyone asked me how my “trip” was – and expected a few sentences in response (something I could never summarize in a few sentences!). I felt like this place was a bubble from the rest of the world. I had a higher expectation of this place and these people. This seemed to me the place that I should have been most free/able/invited to be myself and open about my struggle with coming back home. I’ll be forever grateful for the advantage of seeing the American Church differently now, however. I hope that is always a challenge to me to be a part of the change in some of those things/issues in my own church community.
What one tip would you give to expats preparing to move back?
Savour those last days before you head home. Don’t get busy and stressed and miss those moments. Think about those walks that are totally normal to you now– from the metro to your flat– from the park where you sit and eat lunch to your office space, etc. take those walks slowly, looking all around you and taking it in fully. Sit with those friends with a drink and talk about the moments and memories you’ve enjoyed together. Map those times of enjoyment out amidst all of the craziness of shifting. You’ll get home and those last days will be treasures.
If you could summarise your expat experience in three words, what would they be?
A new paradigm.
We’re talking about going home after an expat experience today, part of my current blog series: 31 days to embrace expat life. Read the original post about going home here, or click here to see all posts in this series so far. Oh and if you’re wanting to stay up to date on all new posts, you can always subscribe, like me on facebook or follow me on twitter (I’m all about options!)…