Monday, June 25, 2012

A Year and a Day

A year and a day ago we returned to England from 5 1/2 years living abroad.

So how do we feel  a year on? Well, firstly I can't believe it's a year already. I am still at that stage where I feel the need to get 'I lived in Albania' into the first 10 minutes of most conversations I have.  It's so much a part of my identity now. The whole living abroad thing is really.

To sum up I would say my three alliterative words are wobbly, wistful and weird!

I feel quite wobbly still, in terms of adapting to life back here. Both my husband and I would sum it up saying we feel flat, detached, as if we are observing life here but aren't fully involved. Life has been very busy and much fuller, mainly due to school and church stuff, but also because we have so many more friends here than we had living abroad, we just don't feel a part of  'Life in Britain' yet.  We still feel a bit 'The Alien Has Landed. What IS This Place?'

My husband, the introvert, who was rejoicing at no commutes, and working uninterruptedly from home, is finding the reality of it quite isolating, he doesn't feel part of a team, is working alone and could go for days without even leaving the house. In fact he has done. Some days he has been known to not even get dressed, but sit at his computer in his Boden baggies! Actually they're not Boden, but that was just to give you the mental picture, or you might be conjuring images of flannel tartan pyjamas with piping cord. Not good. we're not that middle aged. Not quite yet anyway.

He misses going 'into the field', being at the chalk face, managing people and working with a team, in a cross cultural environment. He has seemed quite unmotivated to get some exercise (very unusual), join things, meet people for coffee etc. In a way I am glad he now knows how I felt at the start of our two postings when I didn't have a ready made social /work sphere and struggled to motivate myself to make a life there and not to get down. He realises that "Snap out of it. Get out there and meet people" just doesn't cut the mustard! I'm glad because it shows it's tough, it's not just me being a wimp. These are known culture shock symptoms. They even happen to him (well reverse culture shock does, he never seemed to get the normal kind!)

We feel wistful because of course we miss the weather, the mountains, the fresh produce, the coffee, my teaching job which I loved (perfect conditions-small classes, part time,delightful kids!) being able to live within our means and eat out, have a cleaner, travel to new places, be out of the rat race etc:  all the things that helped ameliorate the trash, sewage seepage, power cuts, bureaucracy and general craziness.

We feel weird, because we feel different, we have made different choices and feel ambivalent about being back. People have been very welcoming and it has certainly been heaps easier coming back to friends and a community where we are known. But, it also feels quite boring and pedestrian back here. We even miss the craziness and unpredictability!

I had a debrief with a counsellor, who said there seemed to be a lot of stuff to do with our experiences in Sri Lanka, and in particular our daughter's heart condition diagnosis, which I hadn't processed and was still very close to the surface.  She also felt there was a lot of identity loss issues with not only having been a trailing wife and putting my husband and children's needs first, but then also coming back to a new job for him, new schools for the children and nothing for me, coupled with them growing up and being more independent of me at the same time. So at least I have an excuse for being an emotional wreck! A professional vouches for me.....

I have felt out of sync especially amongst my peers, who as I said in the last post are all working, retraining, studying and have all 'moved on' in many ways. I have moved on in myself, but not in my circumstances.  It looks (and feels) like I am right back where I was 7 years ago. I also find because I have not been working I am always the one available to look after other mums' children, fetch them from school, etc. You do rather lose yourself when all you seem to do is meet other people's needs. And now I am faced with the prospect of needing to get a job but really not wanting to go back to teaching in the UK with all its pressures, stresses and demands. But I don't know what else I would do.......

I am very proud of the children though, who, being children, have adjusted to life back here so well. They put me to shame, taking everything in their stride. They have integrated well into their schools and are both doing really well. Between them they have learnt German, French, Latin, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, netball, cricket, rugby, hockey, not to mention picked up on who's who in the pop world. All new subjects to them. I miss the tight knit family life we had, where your family are also your friends much more when in a place with no family, and fewer friends and activities around. They are both desperate to spend every available moment with their new friends. It makes me a little sad, that change. But it's all about seasons and I must learn to enjoy each one.

On the other hand, they do seem to need me for 'chats' much more than they used to. I chew the cud with them most nights before lights out. Oh and after two weeks back in England, with each having their own bedroom for the first time ever, they both decided it was a bit lonely & they preferred sharing. Not many 8 and 12 year olds would say that I imagine. Now that is a special legacy from the closeness which developed from their years abroad.

So all in all, let's just say life back here is very much a 'work in progress.'


Potty Mummy said...

Got to say your post fills me with trepidation for our planned return next summer. Beautifully written.

nappy valley girl said...

Absolutely ditto what Potty Mummy said.

This is such a thoughtful, honest post and really sums up the returning expat dilemma. I can think of many of my parents' friends who never really recovered once they came back to England from Hong Kong.

Charlie said...

A lovely post and brings back memories (both good & bad)of my return from canada. Reverse culture shock i felt seemed much worse than the shock of working abroad in the first place.It does improve,but slowly. And one just has to adapt to different things.

Iota said...

Help. I'm just at the beginning of this.

Maybe we need to set up a "Reverse Culture Shock" blog, or forum, or something, for all those expat bloggers who are now returning back to their country of origin.

Expat mum said...

Cor - well there's no hope if I came back. I've been here twenty two years!

One thing I will say is that (having teens and a 9 year old), they almost need you more than when they were little. It's definitely a myth that as they grow older you become less of a part of their lives. I think it's crucial that at least one parent is around for them as they go through these weird, pre-teen and teen years.

Anonymous said...

Love your writing ! I hope one day i can write as well as you !!

Midlife Singlemum said...

I'm sending the link to this post to my friend @vegemitevix . We are both expats and have discussed the issues of repatriation many times. Thank you for such an honest account.