Lessons about Settling-In at Home after Life Abroad

Moving home adjustments

Sometimes coming home doesn’t feel as good as it used to. My best friend Kayla has lived in Thailand for the past year. She moved there temporarily to teach English and to immerse herself into a new culture. She didn’t stay in a tourist hotel or in corporate temporary living accommodations. She went all in and rented a small apartment in Chon Buri. Like anybody starting a life in a foreign country, she had mountains to climb, including language barriers, cultural shifts, and traditions. Last year I wrote about her experience in a country that doesn’t celebrate any of her favorite holidays. What I failed to realize was how difficult it would be for her to come back to the US.

The idea that the move back to the home country will be an easy one is a common misconception. In fact, relocation companies even offer repatriation assistance because of the difficulty of re-acclimating. So, if you or somebody you know is moving abroad, or returning from abroad, this post is for you.

Before I dive in to Kayla’s time back in New York, I’d like to remind you that one blog post cannot possibly cover all aspects of repatriation. You need to consider tax regulation differences, customs, the actual household goods move, finding a home from abroad, etc. While those are all incredibly important, they are not the most overlooked. The difficulties in reconnecting with family and friends whose lives have also changed with time, in addition to getting reacquainted with the old life back home, is most often forgotten.

I picked Kayla up at JFK airport last Saturday with her favorite sandwich in tow: chicken fingers, bacon, mozzarella cheese, fries and barbeque sauce on a roll (heart attack on a bun but a favorite is a favorite). Before she spent a year in Thailand, this would be devoured within minutes. This time, though, she enjoyed maybe a few bites before setting it down and pushing it aside. She explained that she just isn’t used to eating heavy dishes like that anymore. She even said she already missed her favorite noodle dish from a small place in Chon Buri.

Later that night we went to a BBQ at Kayla’s cousin’s house. I noticed that she wasn’t laughing at jokes that she used to find funny and she sat pretty quietly for a while taking everything in. She even lashed out on a close friend of hers because of a joke she made. Things definitely felt different.

The next day I found her rummaging through her bedroom throwing things away.

“It’s too much,” she said. “Nobody needs all of these things.”

Her life in Thailand had been difficult at first as she adjusted to living with just the necessities, but then she grew to enjoy it and was having a hard time coming home to some luxury items.

 If I’m being honest, all of this was the opposite of what I expected. I had to remind myself that she had only been back in New York for two days. Of course there was reverse culture shock to deal with. This would probably continue for a while, especially as she goes out to do things like eat in a restaurant. In Thailand they bow their head in thanks and wave their hand in the air for service. Here, you would be looked at funny.

So, I’ve taken a step back and looked at the bigger picture. Kayla needs time to readjust, and her loved ones need to try and be sensitive to that. I’ve been back in Wilmington since Sunday night and have already gotten updates on all of the food Kayla has eaten – I’m happy to report that she REALLY missed pizza. As a die hard New York pizza fan, this makes me happy.

But, I’m also aware that there will be a new kind of normal. My friend has changed and I want to understand. So, I’m going to ask her what I can do to help integrate some of her Thai experiences into our fun. Perhaps we can take a cooking class together or find a show featuring Thai dance. I’m excited to learn from her and, in time, we will have a new routine that we can share.

Have your or anybody you know ever lived abroad? What was the hardest part about moving back?