Friday, November 28, 2014

Guest Post: Becoming An Ex-Expat by Robin Reetz of Second Floor Flat

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'll be featuring a few guest posts here and there written by bloggers I know and whose blogs I love. 

On this blog, I talk a lot about what it's like to be an American expat in London. But what happens when you're an American expat in London who decides to move back to the States? In this guest post, one of my favorite bloggers, Robin Reetz of Second Floor Flat shares her thoughts about her upcoming move home to North Carolina, and what she'll miss the most about her time in London.

In my two and a half years living in London, moving home is something I’ve thought about a lot. A whole lot. If I’m honest, I didn’t take to living abroad as well as I thought I would – an idea that still shocks me to this day. I always thought of myself as someone who would end up settling down for good in Europe. Even the word "expat" had a certain cache to it – made me feel as if I didn’t need anyone, anything, any place and would instead be a black and white portrait of a grown woman who lived in places like France and Spain, moving on a whim, settling into villages, drinking wine, not knowing worry. 

Imagine my surprise upon landing in the UK and struggled. Really struggled.

Now over two years later and I’m a soon to be ex-expat, or “re-pat” as some say, and while I don’t know how to feel, I have had this feeling before.

I moved to New York right out of university, so when I made plans to leave five years almost to the day that I arrived everyone wanted to know about my New York bucket list. What restaurants would I eat at? What museums would I go to? What would I spend my final days in New York doing?

The answer was preparing for a move. For me at least, once I make a decision to leave a place, I’m pretty ready to go.

This time around, it’s not quite so simple – international moves are never easy, but add in another person and it gets more complicated. My husband will come over next year, but in the meantime I’m already having anxieties about his adjustment to living in my home country. 

For those of you who wonder what it would be like if you left, here’s what I’m doing during my final London days: working, packing, then brunching and drinking with friends as much as I can. 

I'll miss London as the great city it is with all it has to offer, but the things I'll miss so much more are the normal things. Our park. Our walks. Our local cafe. It's not everyday that I ride the London Eye, but it is everyday that I love and cherish our neighbourhood. The neighbourhood that my husband and I lived in together as a couple, for the first time, after years of long distance.

One of the most frustrating experiences I've had as an expat is the feeling of having a unique cultural experience – one that the people closest to you can’t relate to. It’s the fact that the people who have known me my whole life won't know how I feel no matter how hard I try to tell them how I feel.

The fact that the man I love also won't, and I won't know how he feels when he arrives in the States.

It’ll all work out fine, and a year or two from now this will be an experience I look on as a time of learning and growth – I can already tell. By then, this will feel like a million years ago, and I might not relate then to who I am now. But I’ll know, and I’ll grow, and I’ll re-adapt as an expat in home, country, and spirit.

Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful words, Robin! I'm sad you're leaving, but glad we finally had the chance to meet. Stay tuned for more guest posts in the future.



  1. I love reading honest posts. The expat experience isn't all sunshine and rainbow-colored unicorns. Things don't always turn out the way you expect, but like Robin said: it'll all work out fine. Acknowledging your concerns and the not-so-good experiences involved in ex/repatriation and growing because of them is a great way to move forward :) Good luck with the move home, Robin! I moved to the UK from NC, too. Have some Carolina bbq for meeee!

    1. So true, Gianni! I think there are a lot of blogs out there that sugar-coat the whole expat experience. It's refreshing to hear an honest voice which takes a fair, measured look at things - something I think Robin is always brilliant at doing!

    2. Hi Maslo! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. How funny that you're a fellow NC-er! What part are you from?

    3. I moved from Charlotte and have family alllll over the state. I'm originally from MD (Baltimore), but since I spent high school and undergrad in NC (and kept returning there to live every couple of years or so) I just tell people I'm from NC, too :)

    4. Awesome! I was born in Clyde, NC, grew up in Atlanta, and have family in Durham which is where I'll be moving. It's (obviously) such a great state!

  2. I loved this post so much. I'm a bit in the opposite situation where I've been away from the States for so long I'm now terrified that if I ever move back I won't understand what its like there anymore. Already I'm pretty sure I don't. So that leaves me in a bit of a constant cultural limbo where you never totally understand your expat home but you also feel so far away from your original home. I really admire that you're able to recognise which is more important for you and make that big leap back. Wishing you safe and easy travels!

    1. I totally hear you. I get reverse culture shock when I go back. What do you think of Robin's comment below about returning to your home country being a bit like getting back on a bike?

  3. Thank you so much, Jess. I completely understand your anxieties about being away for so long, but I think that returning to your home country is kind of like riding a bike, as weird as that sounds. How long have you been in the UK?

    1. Such a good point Robin - I bet it would be like getting on a bike! I've only been in London for a year now but before that, I was in Belgium for 10 years. I left right after college. So maybe part of the challenge is, I've never been a grown up back home! If I truly consider myself a grown up... jury's out on that one sometimes... ;)

    2. I know just what you mean :) If you do ever decide to go back, it'd be so interesting to hear about your experience of becoming an "adult" for "the first time" in the U.S. Would love to hear more about your time in Belgium!


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