Our Story of Returning Home After Living Abroad

Returning Home After Living Abroad

I never would’ve imagined returning home after living abroad as so refreshing and well, fun. What happened to the person, aka me, who was running away from a supposedly unhappy existence? What changed? Is it the place or me who sees things differently? It’s been a process of adjustment, and repatriation isn’t easy. Each day is a series of “going for no” and reading rejection letters, but in order to achieve freedom and happiness, you have to fail along the way. This story oulines how we returned and how we’re handling home after years of living abroad.

I’m Okay with Being Home

Outside of Duke Forest in Durham, North Carolina

I still struggle every day but couldn’t be happier. That’s a part of life and something Christina and I knew when leaving our cushy life in South Korea. After a month of living in the U.S. again and thinking about our time back at home, I never thought the following words would reach my fingers to be placed onto a piece of paper and eventually out into the world. I’m okay with returning home after living abroad. It took some processing and work to reach this point, but I have absolute confidence in the previous sentence. Getting there started with the last moments of our trip between South Korea and Home.

Exhausted in Hanoi

By the Pool in Hanoi, Vietnam

The final days and nights in Hanoi are bittersweet and pressure-filled. I’m in love with the crowded sidewalks and busy streets that surround this senseless paradise. After two months of traveling through Southeast Asia, we’re exhausted and have been trying to keep up the pace since somewhere around Chiang Mai. Maybe we need to toughen up, but life is calling back home. It’s time. We power through these final moments and gulp down as many bowls of pho and bun cha as possible. Hanoi is an exercise in over-stimulation and perfectly enjoyable between moments at the hotel pool. We booked here just to relax around that pool.

Still in “Travel” Mode

Streets of Hanoi, near the Old Quarter

As we wait for our car in the lobby, the feeling still hasn’t come. For the moment, Christina and I are still expats for now and in “travel” mode, even as the car arrives at the airport. The exciting journey is still moving forward and the flight home is just a part of it. I get a final glimpse at the Vietnamese flag and walk into the airport with passport in hand. Our nerves skyrocket when the clerk explains that there’s been some sort of mistake. Our flight, that was booked months in advance, left yesterday. The kind, and very, patient airline representative eventually realizes we are here at the correct date and time, and my stress levels drop back to normal.

Worried at the Airport

Spring Rolls in Hanoi, Vietnam

Our extra bag goes on the conveyor towards the baggage car while we walk towards security and farewell point. A group of school-age girls are standing there and going through some emotional goodbyes with family. I wonder how long they’ll be away and where. Hopefully, friends and someone to take care of them will always be there during the journey. My concern for these kids overshadows our own life abroad that was shaky at first but turned out okay. Maybe they need to hit bottom like we did in order to grow and remain strong. The quick trip through immigration takes us to the terminal where I’ll never understand people’s fascinations with duty-free goods.

Drowsy and Hungry in Japan

Our first flight goes to Tokyo and the scene of so many memories but just for a few hours. A quick scan of the movie selection leads me to Jurassic World, a choice that’s all too fitting for this journey. This was the movie of choice for our return boat from the Gili Islands to Bali after the first one showed the more likely disaster movie adaptation of Life of Pi. I’ll save that for another time because the lack of sleep is convincing me that Chris Pratt is the star of an epic picture. Say what you will about this movie, but anything with a raptor whisperer part wins in my book.

Arriving in DFW from NRT

I wake up after dozing for a few minutes, and the plane is already approaching Narita and Japan for our final layover. To this day, I still don’t know how Jurassic World ends and refuse to watch it on anything that doesn’t have my life in its hands. Narita is the same airport where my time studying abroad in Japan began. Back to the present and we’ve sat down to a nice bowl of ramen and think about our trip to the Kansai region and Osaka.

Overwhelmed and Happy in Dallas

By the Baggage Claim in CLT

The last flight is with American Airlines and the people are nicer than I expected, thanks to the world’s perception of traveling with U.S. carriers. I find the staff to be almost overly polite, if that’s even a bad thing. A woman and her boyfriend sit in front of us chatting about things in English, and a thought forms inside my head. Are all conversations going to overwhelm and confuse me at the same time? When will I get used to this? Those feelings get pushed to the side because of all the things I want to consume in the airport. Can I really order a perfectly toasted bagel that’s filled with the rest of breakfast? The convenience and speed of serve-yourself coffee makes me happy in Dallas. My senses are on overdrive.

Back in the South

Shrimp and Grits in Boykin South Carolina

The airport shuttle picks us up in Charlotte after I stare at Bojangles’s signs and realize that I’m back in the South. We arrive to our hotel and remember that this is America. In Southeast Asia, I can’t imagine the luxury that would’ve greeted us, but in Charlotte, it’s nice enough but about as basic as one can get. In Hanoi, we spent $50/night relaxing in a fancy Old Quarter hotel with a rooftop pool and surrounded by some of the world’s best food. In Charlotte, you get a motel for twice the price and it’s only within delivery distance of a gastro pub and every pizza chain that’s known to man, or woman, for that matter.

Midlands South Carolina with Family

South of the Border near Dillon, South Carolina

I spend some time at my mother’s and write, pitch, and fill out resumes. Midlands South Carolina hasn’t changed too much, but I have, and walking around it with a renewed curiosity is fun for that week. Moments like these are the life through travel that I hope to continue and also, to write about. My mother and I reconnect and go for road trips through the countryside, visiting old relics.

Reunited and Scared in Durham

Walking through Duke Forest in Durham, North Carolina

After days of scouting old restaurants that serve shrimp and grits and barbecue that’s cooked in a pit, I arrive in Durham and see people walking on Duke Street’s sidewalks with smiles on their faces. Weekdays are spent writing and pitching like always while Sundays are reserved for hikes in the forest that surrounds us. Drives around the area are still confusing and our little Honda gets lost, though on a less frequent basis. After years of living abroad in a completely foreign land, this should be easy. Life is moving along. I can tell you now that it can be done. We can do this.

Do you think we can? Have you ever returned home after living abroad? I’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts in the comments section.