Being away from home for extended periods of time can of course stir feelings of homesickness – perhaps a huge, tear-filled overreaction to seeing a bottle of HP brown sauce in the “foreign foods” aisle of a supermarket overseas, or almost tripping down an escalator when you hear the accent of a speaker who is clearly from your home country. Though you adore your international experience, reminiscing about your home always tugs at your heart strings, and you do find yourself looking forward to the time when you will finally touch down on familiar soil once more.
Upon returning home after travelling the world, you are met with the smiling, eager faces of friends and family who are excited to hear about your stories and adventures… for five minutes.
“It’s a funny thing, coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realise what’s changed is you” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hugs exchanged, catch ups completed, your loved ones are now content with the exceedingly high level summary of how you have spent the past X amount of months or years of your life and expect that you will easily slip straight back into life as you knew it before travelling, but as anyone who has lived overseas or travelled for long periods of time will know, it’s not quite as simple as that.
I joked about reverse culture shock in my article for HuffPost, but in reality, adjusting to life after living abroad can be difficult.
I have been back in the UK for two weeks now after spending the past year overseas. This isn’t the first time that I’ve left and came back after an extended period, but the transition never gets easier.
When you arrive back on home soil, friends, family, and acquaintances await you exactly as you left them, still following their same routines – the same social circles mixed with, the same bars and restaurants frequented, but yet it all feels different somehow. It isn’t them that have changed, it’s you.
I feel a strange sense of detachment from everything and everyone around me, somewhat unmotivated to see or do anything. Those who surround you simply cannot understand why it is that you just can’t go back to the way things were, querying why you don’t like the place anymore. You try to explain how peculiar you feel about being home with adjectives like “weird” and “strange” but they simply do not sufficiently express the drastic changes you have experienced. Only a fellow traveller who has felt the same reverse culture shock can identify with you, I suppose in a similar sort of way as people with children refer to some life situations as being things that “only other parents can understand”.
“No-one realises how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow” Lin Yutang
It absolutely is true when people claim that you can be surrounded by people and yet still feel completely alone. You have no-one around that can relate to all of that which you have experienced. It’s difficult to recall tales from the road around your friends at home without them assuming that there is some air of pretentiousness around it, or through a fear that they see your recollections as attempts to make them jealous. Reaching out to friends from the road and joking about these feelings aides you somewhat, but not in whole.
Travelling the world gives you a whole new perception of the meaning “home”. The people that you now identify with the most, and care so deeply about are scattered quite literally all over the world. You feel a sense of belonging in many places, not least and only the one in which you were born.
This is certainly not the end, not your last travel hurrah. Recent adventures may have ended with an anticlimactic thud but as you begin organizing your next trip – no matter how long or short in duration, there is some comfort in the thought of soon being back on the road, among like-minded individuals who get you once again.