With nearly three weeks under my belt, being back in the US makes me realize I should have read some kind of survival guide before arriving. I almost feel like moving to Beijing acted as an initiation for visiting The States, being that China’s capital is quickly catching up to its Western counterpart with the amount of English speakers and American nightlife inspirations.
Stepping on American soil and taking in the air invoked countless memories and emotions. Seeing palm trees for the first time as I descended into Sky Harbor reminded me of my visit to Thailand, setting off vacation vibes perfectly. Blue skies and 75F winters for the win.
Hearing a lot of, “I can’t believe you’re here!” and “Are you staying for good?” is natural, but I find myself giving the same well-versed answers to people I used to gleefully converse with or see daily. It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t get easier to tell your once closest family and friends that you will be leaving them again.
When you’re gone for one year, returning home is easy and you find that things haven’t changed that much, and that’s okay. Being gone for two years, you’ll notice that people start to wonder if you plan to come back and “settle down”. But once you’ve hit that three or more years mark, you lose contacts, you forget some of your roots, you become overwhelmed with the people that have stood idle, and you almost forget that the world doesn’t stop turning for anyone, no matter which side you’re on.
In between trying to not get caught in the fact that you have to drive to get anywhere, everything is twice the price of what you’re used to, and that you’re just not as “free”, keep in mind these ideas to maintain a humble structure when coming back:
Avoid Interview Questions
Conversation can become surprisingly dull with people you haven’t seen in years if you immediately jump to the, “What have you been doing?” or “What are your future plans?” chit chat. I’ve found people giving me generic answers that make we want to take another drink and close up shop pretty quickly. Although I’m a firm believer that Tony Soprano was right when he said, “remember when” is the lowest form of conversation, I can’t help but implement it into how I’ve decided to talk with people from back home. It lightens the mood, it let’s people know you haven’t forgotten about cherished memories, and it keeps people from getting the, “Can she only talk about travel now, or what?” mentality.
Stick to a Few Topics About Your New Life
When you’ve been away for over 1300 days, it becomes impossible to not only talk about that one “thing”, as my friends and family call it. You have a new social circle, job, and new places you frequent. It no longer is a “thing you did”, it’s what you do. My friends and family vaguely understand that China is my life, but they don’t understand the level of establishment I have there. I’m no longer a traveler, I’m an expatriate. I am a resident of the country. I live there. I have friends there. I have a dog there! After being in China for so long, there’s nothing worse than a new-comer who constantly compares things to their home country. Don’t be that guy. Choose a few solid topics to talk about unless someone branches off and wants to know more. Live in the now and embrace where you are.
Don’t See Everybody
I really can’t stress this one enough. If you can summarize an entire three years of your life into one sentence that sounds something like, “Oh, I’ve just been working.” or, “You know, the usual.”, then there is probably a reason we haven’t kept in touch. People leave their home for a ton of different reasons. More often than not, they’re just looking for something new. There was most certainly a lot of naysayers before I left America. People who thought I wouldn’t make it, people who thought I would come back home immediately, and people who just believe that America is the best damn country on this earth. Don’t see those people. They were negative towards your ambitions for a reason, and if they didn’t take the time to send you off properly, they likely won’t welcome you back with open arms.
Stick to Your Normal Schedule
If you’re planning on retuning home after being away for years, it’s likely you’re not just going to stop in for a week. After being gone for so long, I knew I owed my family and friends a month and a half of my time, but I’ll probably keep it closer to two weeks on the next visit. You’ll have a lot to see and a lot of catching up to do, but create a routine so you’re ready to take on your life back in whichever country you’re traveling from. If you’re anything like me and you often find yourself getting boozy and overeating while living abroad, just go ahead and bring that to your home country to make yourself more comfortable. Just kidding…kinda.
Keep Practicing The Language
Moving to Beijing just before my visit home had made a noticeable dent in my ability to learn Mandarin using the immersion method due to how many English speakers there are in big cities. I knew by going to the States for this long that I would likely forget bits and pieces of the language I’ve been speaking for the last few years, so I decided to practice my 5-6 year old Mandarin level on my nephews and nieces. Answering their questions about the languages and teaching them basic sentence structure has made me feel like a pro, and I can now incorporate my ESL experience into teaching Chinese.
Have you had an experience with returning back home after being away for a while? Leave your tips and advice in comments below!