On Reentering Life in the States

I have a story about this candle.

It was given to my husband and me as a wedding gift 3 years ago. In case you don’t know this popular European tradition, it’s a celebration candle. Each year on a special anniversary, you burn it to mark the passage of time.

We had never burned it until this year on January 1st. And it seemed fitting considering it’s our 3rd and final year in Japan. A milestone to be sure.

But then I got distracted and forgot to blow out the flame. I burned it all the way down to the 5th year mark.

In some ways, the mishap reflects my relationship with time these past few years.

Since 2008, time has crawled by, and I mean– practically slow motion.

It’s been nice to enjoy a slower pace, but more than a few times I desperately wanted, even prayed for time to go faster. Living in Okinawa has been meaningful, but it’s been a complicated experience too. I’ve often wondered here if my expat “phase” had expired.

And now we’re preparing to return home in 6 months. Time is taking on a new dimension AGAIN.

Days are whizzing by and I feel new emotions stirring.

Last night, we tried a restaurant in a different part of town, and it struck me  there are undiscovered parts of this island to explore. Hurry, before it’s too late!

And what about the volunteer job I wanted to do in Nepal? Oh, and that yoga retreat in Bali?

I also have to face the truth that I’m getting anxious about reentering the States again. Reinventing myself professionally. Buying a house. Getting stuck in traffic. Not keeping up with the Jones’.

I’ve repatriated to the States twice before, and I know it’s an emotional process.

I’m thrilled to be on my own country’s soil again, enjoy different educational opportunities, and eat Mexican food.

But I also know how living abroad can rewire one’s value system ever so slightly in ways that aren’t compatible with frameworks at home. It’s work to protect those new perspectives and lifestyle habits.

But I suppose this is all normal reaction, right? I mean, transplanting yourself to another country for 3 years is BIG, and moving home again is equally BIG, isn’t it?

What’s been your relationship to time while living abroad? How have you coped with reentering your own country again?




15 thoughts on “On Reentering Life in the States

  1. andiperullo

    I’ve never lived abroad, so unfortunately I can’t really offer any advice. But, I think the best thing you can do is look at the move as just another adventure!

  2. I’ve never lived abroad so I can’t really give you much advice on this. I think it just takes flexibility and adaptability. Moving back home is a big shift, but eventually you’d adjust.

  3. It can be quite the shocker coming “home” (and what meaning does that 4 letter word have after you’ve lived all over the place? does it even count as “home” anymore or just a longish layover until the next foreign posting?)

    anyway, I usually avoid tense situations that I know will spark that clash you mention about frameworks and habits not jiving – like rush hour traffic or big box stores.

    Ive lived in havana for nine years and had to go into a super wal-mart recently while on assignment. seeing that frenzy and the weird glint in people’s eyes when another blue light special was announced almost made me faint/vomit. the largesse, the largesse (I had recently been in post quake haiti so I think it affected me more than usual)

    anyway my advice – avoidance – isn’t very helpful. good luck with re-entry!

    • maryrichardson

      The Largesse! I remember my reaction shopping for sneakers after returning from Africa after living there 2 years! That was a big shift in consciousness. This time won’t be that disturbing, but it’s a good reminder to ease in slowly to those things I know will trigger a reaction. Thanks!

  4. yes, it is work to protect what you have cultivated and learned. But even if half of that value system eventually “wears off”, the other half that is alive and well and pushing you to live responsibly, can still be just enough to inspire others to get out there and do the same. I was only gone for 3 months, not 3 years, but I still reflect and dwell on what I experienced and learned in that time frame.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Claire,
      I agree that we manage to maintain some aspects of what we’ve picked up overseas. Thanks for the positive reminder that we never totally lose what we’ve learned and experienced!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Mukuba,
      It takes time to get adjusted abroad and time to get adjusted at home again. Transitions are always a little work, aren’t they?

  5. Ren

    Living abroad was incredible; it was at times terrifying, and overwhelming, but I never regretted it. Repatriation was by far the more difficult experience. My interactions with family and friends were stilted and often uncomfortable, having gotten used to an Italian family over the past year. My longterm boyfriend and I ultimately broke up–one of the reasons being we no longer understood how to be together, having spent the majority of our relationship apart. It was a life-changing experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Ren,
      Like you, I’ve had some tense relations with family and friends coming home. My family and I always work it out, but it’s true that often with friends and boyfriends, we go our separate ways. Living abroad can really change a romantic relationship. I know that from my own experience too! Thanks for your comment!

  6. I’ve never really stayed in one place for long. I guess it’s because I’m too frisky for my own good.
    However, I can say this. When you’re abroad, no matter for how long, certain things from that place will always stick with you, wherever you go. It’s absolutely normal that a few habits will change.
    Even though I’ve only been on short travel trips, I get attached to the country I’m visiting very easily. At times when I’m at home, I look at the sky and suddenly remember how the sky looked in that country when I went to visit, or that city when I went to visit. Often, I’ve found myself crying, glad that I had a chance to visit that place, sad that I had to leave it. I’ve found myself wanting to go there again. Then I realize that no matter what I feel, there is nothing like home.
    And I get the feeling that you too, will feel the same. You’re entering your own country after 3 YEARS. A big time. You’ll remember things from here and there, and how things were different in this place and in that place. You’ll realize how cultures across the world are different.
    I wish you luck in moving back here, in the States, Mary!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Ashley,
      I often think about the sky and air in other places too! I’m sure I’ll adjust to life in the States after a transition time, but it will be a little emotional for awhile.

  7. Really well written Mary. I’ve returned home quite a few times after being away for indeterminate periods of time, at times difficult to adjust, usually most of the time. However, that being said, there are so many things about home that I miss. The old adage comes to mind, the grass is always greener on the other side…..

    You will do well wherever you go, I’m sure. All it takes is an attitude of “home is where the heart is (referring to my husband).” That’s how I’ve made peace with this mad country that I’m in.


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