Thursday, June 2, 2016

Expat Talk: Just One Week


These are Rainier cherries - and they're my favorite. I love their two-toned hue as much as I love the fact that they're cultivated in Washington state (not to be confused with Washington D.C., which is on the East Coast!) where I'm from and that they're named after Mount Rainier - that beautiful, snow-capped peak that greets me at every turn when I'm back home.

Home.

I've struggled with this word on/off for a decade or so, ever since I moved to the UK. I've decided (in this instant, as I type this) that it's okay and acceptable to have two homes. So, instead of feeling guilty or dumb or weak for not swearing allegiance to one or the other, I've decided that I have two: one in London and the other in Washington.

"You're going home?" a co-worker asked, before I switched my out-of-office on two weeks ago. "For just one week?"

"Just one week," I replied. Even I heard the doubt in my voice: would one week be enough, after having not been back for over a year and a half? Surely, it should have been two? I felt a twinge of remorse and guilt at having indulged in two vacations already this year.

The anxiety crept in: my visit would be emotional. I'd be a wreck. I wouldn't want to leave. I'd fall into a deep, familiar depression as soon as I landed in London.

But guess what?

None of those things happened. Of course, I cried a little when I said goodbye to my family at airport security. I confessed on Snapchat that waiting to leave felt like "waiting for the executioner" (dramatic, much?). I cleaned up my mascara-streaked eyes in the airport bathroom.

But it turned out that one week was just enough. One week allowed me to connect with my parents and my brother in a way I hadn't done for a long while. I cherished their company: I listened to my mom when she talked; I felt joy as I ran next to my dad at the gym; I laughed really, really hard with my brother in the conspiratorial way that only siblings can.

I saw that they were getting on just fine without me being there - and it made me endlessly happy.

And then I cleaned out my room. I took a journal back with me to England - one I had shared with my best friend in high school - but other than that, I put clothes in bags and items in boxes for Goodwill. It was alarming that there was no sign of my adult self in those bags and boxes - as if I continued to return as a ghost, occasionally haunting my room with my presence while my past self lived on in its scrapbooks and photo albums and childish key rings and framed high school awards.

Or maybe it was the other way around.

"You've done a lot in just one week!" my mom exclaimed next to me on our way to the airport. "We've managed to fit in a trip to Snoqualmie, you've shopped for everything you wanted to, eaten everything you've wanted to ..."

And I agreed. Just one week was enough to pull me out of my reverie of living in the past. Just one week allowed me to truly appreciate every moment with my family. Just one week encouraged me to look toward the future, to their visit (hopefully!) to England again this Christmas.

I did not return to London with those pangs of gut-wrenching homesickness I used to feel after longer visits - a sickness that used to hit me like a sailor being knocked side-to-side on a rocking boat. Instead, I felt even-keeled and calm.

I longed for the peace and friendliness of the Pacific Northwest, for my mother's familiar footsteps on the floorboards above my head, for the stairs whose height I'd memorized by feel. But, this time, the longing was of a gentle, nostalgic sort - not hysterical.

And I feel at peace with that.
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36 comments

  1. So glad that you got to see your family even for a short time.

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    1. Thanks, Angie! It was a wonderful visit. xo

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  2. Aw so happy you had such a great time! Expat life is tough, but it really does make you appreciate and make the most of every minute you have with your loved ones when you're reunited.

    C x | Lux Life

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    1. I know you can relate, Catherine! I think that living away from my family has definitely made me appreciate them more - something that I'm not sure would happen if I were close by.

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  3. It's nice to read something from an expat! I'm currently in Birmingham, but I moved from Canada two years ago. I visited over Christmas after a year and a half away, and it was such a nice trip home. It really makes a difference when you see the people you love (for me it was my mom and dad) happy even if you're so far.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to read, Becca! It's always nice to meet another North American expat. :) Where in Canada are you from? I hope you're settling into the expat life well!

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  4. I feel exactly the same - I have my home in London and then I have my home in Scotland. I'm lucky that they're slightly closer than your homes, but they're still vastly different and I miss different things about each when I'm at the other.

    In a way, it's nice to have more than one place that feels like home.

    Glad you had such a great time with your family. It sounds like the perfect week. :)

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    1. Oh, Sorcha - I remember that we both related to this (what I've written about home/homesickness) on a certain level. I definitely think that it applies to anyone whose life seems so drastically different "at home" and "back home", if you get what I mean. Heck, I have these nostalgic feelings when I come back from visiting my mother-in-law in Leicester. London is so crazy. It's so weird and wonderful and upsetting and crazy.

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  5. I SO wish I could feel like you felt after comming back home. For me it is still veeery hard to feel at peace. But thank you for sharing this <3 I am so happy you manage to get to this point, it must have been a tough journey!

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    1. It's been really tough and, to be honest, as I typed that last paragraph, I wondered if I'd still feel the same way in a few days, or a week, or a month. I don't know. It's something I'm open to exploring in discussion on here and with other expats, like you! I know how hard it can be. Sending you hugs xoxo

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  6. When I lived in France and came back to the UK for holidays, I found that one week was OK as you really make sure to spend quality time with friends and family rather than just watching TV together!

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    1. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Suze. I was really, really careful about how I used my time this time. I took every opportunity to spend time with my parents - even if it meant a trip to the grocery store or the gym. It's those little conversations we have in the car or while grabbing a bag of apples that I miss - those everyday conversations that are the important ones.

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  7. I'm really vibing on all of this.... it's nice to also feel great coming back to your other home in London :) I remember how excited I was to get back "home" last summer after weeks back in the States. And that feels freakin' great. Glad you had a lovely time - I like the way you wrote about it!
    (Also, I always assumed you could get Rainier cherries anywhere.... guess I just didn't think about it! ohhh, how delicious they look!)

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  8. I'm there too. Although, to be honest, it was always going to be like that. I wanted to come home to England for 25 years so of course I was going to miss South Africa when I finally did. So now there is home and here is home but we're both so happy when we finally hit London again.

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    1. Wow - Mandy, that's incredible! I can't imagine being away from the US for that long, even though I'm already clocking up the years! I bet they flew by for you. So glad that you're enjoying life in London again.

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  9. Awww so glad you had a great time (and don't worry about being over-dramatic on snaochat, it's exactly what that social media platform is for!!). Love your expat posts, I can always totally relate.

    Polly xx
    Follow Your Sunshine

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  10. I am so happy you got to spend time with your family and savor every moment of that one week. Seems like every second was fun-filled. I'm also looking forward to see the results of your shopping spree ;) As an expat myself, I know how hard it can be to be away for a long time and have limited time to spend with the loved ones back home. And we usually also have to chose between traveling somewhere new or visiting the family because of the limited annual leave days. And I totally agree with your decision - it's absolutely fine to have more than one home(three in my case: Georgia, Florida & Japan). It might be a good topic on it's own, what and how we identify as home :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Nano - and great to know that you can relate too! I love that you have three homes. :) I'd love to see you write about this too at some point! :)

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  11. Even-keeled is the perfect way to feel, right? I totally agree on the more than one place feeling like home. Two places are home for me - London, where I live, and Forres (NE Scotland), where my parents live and I grew up. They are so different (traffic, crowds and shyscrapers vs. mountains, beaches and wild country), but each is part of me and is good for my soul in a different way.

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    1. Love this, Claire. <3 Thanks for sharing.

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  12. Such a lovely post and sounds like you had a really wonderful time. I've spent some time living and travelling in the US but have yet to make it to the North-West, an area that I'd really love to visit. I'm glad you feel balanced and happy X

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    1. Thank you, Lins! I think you'd love the PNW. Come and visit soon! x

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  13. I feel a lot better now when I go to "NY home" to visit, less like I'm leaving everything behind, and more grateful for the time I get with my family. I also clean out my room a bit more every time I go back haha. I do wish more of my family got the opportunities to come visit in England though, my mom and nana are the only one's who have been!

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    1. I'm so glad that you feel that way about going "NY home", Dannielle! It's taken me a long time to get to this point ... and even then, it varies occasionally as to just how much I miss my family and the familiarity of the place I grew up in.

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  14. Aww it's great that you felt like you spent enough time with them and also that you don't feel really homesick :)
    Looking at your Insta, it looks like you did a lot! xx

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    1. Thank you, Maya! Yes, I felt like I was able to fit a lot in as well! xx

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  15. I completely agree with the two homes thing. I'm going "home" this weekend and yet my mum always gets annoyed at me when I call London home lol x

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    1. Aw ... I think it makes my mom sad too when I say the same thing! So, two home it is for us! x

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  16. Definitely totally ok to have two homes! I'm glad you had such a nice visit - it sounds very successful :)

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  17. I think I feel this way too when I go back home. For six months or so in London I'll build it up in my head that I'm hysterically homesick, then I'll visit and feel so calm. I'm still not convinced that I want to stay in London though (even though I've been here 6 years). What about you?

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    1. I'm the same as you, Liz. I've been here for 10 years, but I still don't know if I'll live here "forever"! I think I'll always end up back in the UK, but I see myself living in the US for a bit too. An American sabbatical, perhaps. ;)

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