I never thought I’d be so deeply dissatisfied after returning home. I thought that transitioning from expat to repat would be difficult but overwhelmingly positive. I was wrong.
Mr. Meena and I were gone from the United States for 13 continuous months. As we neared the end of our time in Germany I was rather desperate to be reacquainted with my family, certain luxuries from home, and my native language (not that I was ever successful at learning German beyond ordering coffee).
Yet, just 100 days after eagerly stepping onto US terra firma, I’m starting to wonder why I was so ready to leave Germany after all.
The first month back home was a whirlwind of change. We made rapid fire decisions and tried to keep up as life accelerated and outpaced us. We missed the quiet Sundays in Germany when the city slept and families focused on spending time together.
After staying in temporary housing provided by Mr. Meena’s company, we upgraded to a two bedroom apartment just minutes from his job. We happily signed a 15 month lease – an exciting landmark for us as we’d never actually signed a lease together despite being married for almost three years. We purchased our first piece of real furniture – a bed – and looked forward to settling into a home that we got to choose for ourselves. I hardly knew what to do with all the space after living in a hotel for the past year.
For a time I got lost in the process of unpacking boxes. I alternated between exclaiming my love for various possessions that I had dearly missed and questioning why we even owned others. One evening, as I was engrossed in a decision about which bar stools would match the floor, I suddenly felt intense frustration that I wasn’t instead planning another trip in Europe.
The novelty of having a place to call our own had worn off unnervingly fast. I suddenly felt suffocated by the way we had planted ourselves in one spot. The thought of staying in one place for several years, as we’d been planning to do, was distressing in a way it never was before.
We wanted our life of travel back. We missed our easy weekend trips into other countries and having so much cultural history at our doorstep. But without our travel allowance and those 30 wonderful German vacation days, traveling didn’t come easy. Nonetheless, we tried our best to fill the past 100 days with as much travel as we could, thinking surely that would alleviate our endless desire for traveling to new places (fellow travelers already know that was a foolish thought).
We took weekend hiking trips, a coaster trip, an anniversary trip, and even a glamping trip. We went with family to see the iconic Christmas Town USA and spent an entire week visiting Mr. Meena’s grandparents in Florida.
Of course, our travels haven’t satisfied our desire to keep traveling; if anything, they’ve only increased our Fernweh. We continue to dream of exploring the Rocky Mountains, relaxing on the beaches of Mexico, and riding new coasters out west. I’ve consistently bombarded Mr. Meena with my interminable desire to move to Sweden someday, hoping the chatter would serve as a release valve for all the pressure that was building up in my system. I waited for the intense desire to just go somewhere to fade.
Over the past 100 days I’ve been inundated by strongly conflicting emotions, which has been an exhausting and confusing experience. When we first came home I was eager to build a home and start a family. In fact, I could hardly think of anything else. Perhaps I was convinced, after feeling so constricted by living in a hotel, that owning a house was the freedom I needed to be happier. As we drove around looking for plots of land I realized I felt differently. The more we looked and planned for a house the less we both wanted one. The idea that seemed freeing at first was looking more like a way to be tied down. It would put locks on our money and time, making it increasingly difficult to travel.
Of course, there are many wonderful things about finally being back home. I’m happy to have air conditioning, a dishwasher, and copious amounts of peanut butter. Most of the time I’m happy to drive again. I finally get to make my own choices about my internet provider and prevent people from barging in while I’m showering.
In some ways it feels like we have been home for a year, as our routines and habits slip back on like well-worn clothing. Other times it feels like we’ve only been here a week or two. Loose items, without a designated spot to call home, still litter our floor space. We talk about how much we miss Bratwurst and Brötchen and driving fast on the Autobahn. Our time in Germany shows up in little ways too, like how Mr. Meena says “sure” and sometimes tries to cut in line at the grocery store.
Three big holidays have already passed since we’ve moved back. They showed up quickly and flew past with record speed as we struggled to keep up. We purchased the last turkey available on the day before Thanksgiving, ran out of gift ideas as Christmas approached, and failed to stay awake to kiss at midnight on New Year’s. There have been weekends where it felt like we barely had time to come up for air between making the rounds to see our family and running too many errands. We have at times felt completely spoiled and completely exasperated to have so much of our family nearby after living so far from them. While we’re glad to have our family, we also miss the free time we had in the absence of family obligations.
We have had some leisure time, however, and have spent a few afternoons relaxing from the weight of our world.
The chance to live in Germany was the gift of our lifetime. It changed our lives profoundly and I’m sure every expat faces similar difficulties upon returning home. But the difficultly of leaving certainly took me by surprise. All the conveniences of America can’t replace the quality of life we enjoyed in Germany. Our lives now seem too expedient, too rushed, too full of work and not enough rest.
As much as we desperately want to continue to travel, we really need to stay put for a while. It’s not easy to slow down and stay home, but we need to focus on clarifying our hopes and aspirations – as Germany has undoubtedly changed them. Being expats was a bewildering stage of life because living abroad changed nearly all our preferences and changed a huge part of who we are. So we need to refine what exactly we want from this stage of our lives.
One of the best ways for us to do that is to get rid of our excess stuff. Not only will this give us more room and space to think, but after moving across the ocean and back with just a small portion of our belongings we’re convinced that we never really needed the rest of it in the first place. It’s also the best way for us to prepare for a life of travel without actually traveling (or making rash decisions).
Embracing minimalism is also important because my chronic illnesses have taken over even more of our lives since returning home, thanks in part to my decision to stop taking a medication that was making me sick. My health issues make it difficult to us to get everything done and we certainly aren’t prepared for a life that’s filled with too much stuff.
So this is our year to discard.
source: becoming minimalist
We’ve done it all in the past 100 days – successfully becoming repats, finding a place to live (for now), and continuing to travel more than we probably should. Coming home was an exhausting journey, but the opportunity to be expats provided greater clarity for us than any other singular event or experience. I hope that it’s something we get to do again.
100 days back home: from #expat to repat. Click To Tweet
Thanks to Meghan from Submerged Oaks for the 100 days back home post inspiration (see her post here).