"Part of the reason reverse-culture shock happens is because people attempt to go back to a place that no longer exists as a person that no longer exists. You’ve changed since living abroad and what you consider home has probably changed as well." (Quote taken from link below.)
This is on my mind lately as we prepare to move back to Canada. I've lived almost all my adult life overseas, all of my milestone events... marriage, adoptions, work experience, all the trials and joys of adult life have taken place far away from where I come from. Aside from the amazing support of my husband, there have been many times I have coped with large changes and issues on my own without the "normal" support network many people have.
I spent many years coming to terms with Norway, learning the language and culture. I remember how it felt to come here at 24 years old and to adjust to life in a foreign country on top of having to adjust to married life which is a great change in itself. At the same time I enjoyed and wanted my new life, I grieved deeply for a life I had chosen to leave behind which is normal. I certainly experienced culture shock and took my time adjusting. There were many years I felt a deep, unrelenting loneliness at the core of my being but I feel now that this was a good thing. Eventually I learned to make peace with many things and to understand that I am not owed anything, my happiness depends not on the situational but on something deeper.
There was nothing, not my years at boarding school as a teenager, or my year as a nanny in Germany, or the many, many months spent "on the road" backpacking prepared me for the reality of living in another country permanently.
Age probably played a large role in how I reacted to life here at first. I feel as though at 24, I was full of expectations and didn't understand that others were not meant to fulfill these expectations for me. I think at 37 I have a better understanding of my own responsibility in relation to the world around me.
Despite my adjustment time, the culture shock, the loneliness, the fact is, that I like being a "stranger". I like the feeling of being "a stranger in a strange land". I feel comfortable being uncomfortable and I feel comfortable in situations and places where I know nothing. I cope well with it.
I share the feeling mentioned in the article that "home" is a difficult concept to pin down. Living abroad for so many years, home is everywhere and nowhere... it's here, it's there, it's Sri Lanka and Chile too... We have an unusual family, one where each member is from not only a different country but a different continent. Both children come from their own countries and have in their genes and memories, their own histories, languages, even religions... These things contribute to a sense of belonging to many cultures and places and also to having an international mindset.
Of course Canada is my home and I am happy (and curious about what it will be like) to return there after so many years. But Norway is also home. How could it not have grown to be home too? And Europe itself feels like home to me in my heart in a way that North America feels unfamiliar. And yet in some ways, North America is as familiar to me as the blood in my veins.
I left Canada as a young adult and feel as though I will have to learn many things all over again. I like the advice in the article to treat repatriating the same way as moving to somewhere unknown. Although I will have more in my favor, I will be able to speak the language, I have my family there and many friends. I believe that living there will be a great opportunity for our family, perhaps for the children most of all. Canada is an amazing, vast, multicultural and beautiful country. It will be good. Just as being here was good in many ways.