Observations of an Ex-Ex-Pat: Moving Home After Living Overseas 2

Moving sucks. It sucks when you’re moving just down the street, and it sucks when you’re moving from one country to another. Somehow, though, the normal stresses of moving take on a whole new level of awful when you’re moving back to your home country after any amount of time living overseas.

I’ve moved dozens of time over the course of my life, and it doesn’t get any easier. Packing up all your stuff, having to change your address on everything, cancelling all your utilities, deep-cleaning every corner of your place in preparation for the next residents, last-minute sweeps to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, desperate panicking after you’ve left because you’re sure you have forgotten something–but the worst part for me is saying goodbye. Like most of my generation, I’m a heavily nostalgic person; hell, leaving Japan, I was getting sentimental over things I used to complain about on a daily basis, if only because I wouldn’t be able to complain about them any more!

The thing about moving back is that it takes everything that you normally have to do when you move and piles on extra unpleasantries: possible language or cultural barriers to complicate the process of moving out, having to either ship your stuff back or carry it all with you onto the plane, the excitement to go home battling with the sadness of leaving, and–the kicker–more culture shock. Yeah, that’s right–not only did you have to go through culture shock when you moved to your new home, you get to go through it again when you move back to your original home.

Living abroad changes you, there’s no arguing that. You meet people and experience things that affect you for the rest of your life. You learn new languages, new ways of looking at the world, new skills. You get adjusted to a different daily flow, a different pace and a different way of living. And when you get home, all of that goes away, and suddenly you miss it more than you missed “home” when you left in the first place.

Leaving Japan was painful, regardless of how ready I was to start on the next chapter of my life. Jeff and I dragged it out by traveling for a few weeks before flying home, and as fun as it was going to Okinawa and Beppu and all these places I’d always wanted to visit, part of me wonders if it might not have been better to just rip the band-aid off instead of peeling it back bit by bit. Every day we had to say some sort of goodbye, whether that be to places and people we’d just met during our trip, or to the places and people we’ve known and loved since we first came to Japan.

Saying goodbye for such a long time made it hard for me to be excited to come back to Colorado. I wasn’t dreading the return trip, exactly, but the butterflies I always have boarding the plane weren’t there. Instead, I just felt weighed down. We have plans to come back to Japan next spring, but even thinking of that didn’t help. It only reminded me that the next time I flew into Tokyo, I would be a tourist, not a resident.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. There are plenty of things you can do to make it easier on yourself:

  • Start the process of moving earlier than you think you need to, because there will always be last-minute issues. I still have to call Japan to settle my final bill with SoftBank since I didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay at the airport.
  • Write goodbye letters to your closest friends, and make plans to see them one last time well in advance. There were lots of people we didn’t get to say goodbye to in person because time slipped past us.
  • Eat your fill of local foods that you won’t be able to access easily after you leave. I basically subsisted off of sushi for the last few days.
  • Make a list of all the things you’re looking forward to in your home country: people, restaurants, shops, scenery, etc. Remember that you get to say hello, too, not just goodbye.
  • Make a list of all the ways you’ve grown and changed in the time that you’ve been gone. It’ll help make your time overseas feel more solid, since when you get back it’s hard to believe you were ever gone.
  • Get involved in an online community of people who’ve lived where you lived. Chances are the people back home will get tired of hearing about how things were “in (insert country here),” and it can be a little disheartening when people aren’t as excited to listen to your stories as you are to tell them. Online forums or alumni associations or Facebook groups help because those spaces are full of people who are in similar positions.
  • Remember you can always go back. Even if you don’t have plans in the immediate future to go back for a visit, keep in mind that going anywhere is never a “once-in-a-lifetime” thing, and you shouldn’t treat leaving like the ultimate farewell.
  • Stay busy and focused on any new goals. This is important, especially if you’ll be moving back in with parents or guardians for a short while because it’s unbelievably easy to veg out when it feels like you’re a student on summer break again. For Jeff, that means keeping up with e-mails and trials for translation companies. For me, that means really getting serious with this blog. There are some major changes I’m hoping to implement soon–new logo, new design and layout, more posts per week, and lots of other stuff. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to get to where I want to be with this blog, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For you, what’s the absolute worst part about moving? What’s the best?

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2 thoughts on “Observations of an Ex-Ex-Pat: Moving Home After Living Overseas

  • Rashaad

    The worst part of moving is the money I spend shipping belongings home. When I left Yamagata Prefecture, I shipped numerous packages home. Unfortunately, one of them never arrived. And that package contained jinbei and gifts from my ekiden club.

    • Slomads Admin Post author

      That’s terrible! It’s definitely a hassle if it’s stuff you can replace, but losing gifts and memories like that… 🙁
      Jeff and I ended up just bringing home whatever we could fit in our carry ons and checked bags, so we didn’t have to ship anything overseas. We did, however, have to deal with Kuroneko shipping our checked bags down to the airport, which was a PAIN. Apparently they’ll only take packages of 25kg or less, and ours were both over, so they wouldn’t take them until we parsed them down. Jeff had to take out 10kg that he decided to just to carry with him and I had to take out 5kg and pack it in another box to ship since I didn’t wanna carry it. THEN we had to repack at the airport and I still got docked the heavy bag fee; thankfully Jeff got some sympathy from the clerk who checked him in and got a pass. I was so glad to be done with it by the end!