I’m Not an Expat Anymore

I’m not an expat anymore, but I still feel like one sometimes

Modern Women
3 min readSep 19, 2023


Illustration of a girl wearing a backpack overflowing with colorful flowers.
Artwork by author (Agnes). Find more illustrations on my Instagram!

When I was a kid, my family and I moved to another country for my dad’s job. It was an amazing experience. I think, for the first year and a half, it felt like I was on a strange holiday. Everything was new, and whenever you got used to something, there was another new thing to see.

A few years later, we moved back. If moving away was challenging, moving back was even more so.

When you are new to a country, everyone thinks you will struggle. It is expected: language barrier, cultural shock, long-distance calls, vitamin D deficiency. It is not easy, but nobody said it would be. There’s sort of a general understanding, from your family to your new neighbors, from your old friends to your new friends.

You cut yourself some slack too.

When you move back…, you are supposed to fit right in. It is your country, after all. If you miss things, if you talk about the other place too much, if you insert foreign words in conversation, it is frowned upon or even sneered at. Like you are putting on airs. Like you have forgotten where you are from. There’s a slightly judgemental question mark, from your family to your neighbors, from your old friends to your new friends.

You question yourself too.

While you are an expat, when things are hard, you think: “Well, if it doesn’t get better, I can maybe go back.” But when you are back, you start to wonder… “If I don’t fit here, then where?”

I found a journal from those first months back, where I wrote I felt like a puzzle piece. When we moved away, I spent five years tweaking my edges and softening the curves, and carving the hollows, so that they’d fit the new puzzle. Perhaps, it wasn’t a perfect fit, but you had a general idea of where it would go. You could almost snap it into place and imagine the muffled click. Then I moved back, and all those little changes meant I no longer fit the original puzzle.

I recently learned people call this reverse cultural shock, I wish I’d known the term back then. Simply to acknowledge it, to say: it’s okay, this is reverse cultural shock, it’s normal, it’ll take me a minute.

I’ve been back for a long time now, and it still feels that way, but not always in a negative way.

Sometimes it’s hard, like when I am spanglishing away, and people look at me like I’m doing it on purpose. Or when they ask why I’m speaking English as if it were a bad thing. Sometimes it’s awkward, like when I don’t understand pop culture references or sayings. Or when I travel, and people ask me where I’m from in a tone that sounds like they think I’m hiding something, or faking something just because they can’t place my very neutral accent.

Other times it’s a gift. The experiences I had are what make me who I am. You can see it in my favorite books, my friendships, my insecurities, my strengths, my love for learning languages, my ideas, and my projects. You can see it in the way I write, in how I can find homes away from home, and how I play tourist in my hometown, always exploring and looking curiously around.

There’s something to be said for being a little uncomfortable, and learning to be okay with that. We survive, we adapt, we thrive, we fall, we keep trying. And through that, we learn what we are made of. Moving away and moving “home” is still one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had, I’m having it still.

I’m not an expat anymore, I haven’t been for a while, but I still feel like one sometimes.



Modern Women

Slow runner, fast walker. I have dreamed in different languages. I read a lot. Yes, my curls are real.