How My Conversations About Being Home from Exchange Start and End
“Hey Kate! How are you?”
“Yeah, I’m still adjusting to being home.”
“Oh yeah, jet lag must really suck.”
“No, I’m not jet lagged everything is just different here and it’s weird.”
“Oh that’s cool, you know I went to Europe once! I went to Italy for a few days, it was awesome!”
Being home is weird.
I’m feeling like I don’t actually belong there anymore even though it’s the most familiar place on earth. But I’m out of the loop because I was out of the country.
The fact is, I have a love/hate with being home. I love the ordinariness, the calmness, and the tightknit community. But being at home feels like settling; settling into routine and ordinary life, and settling back into the way things were before I left for exchange.
Talking to my friends here, it seems that they think I’m the same, but they haven’t been in my life for a while and seem to think they know me from social media posts. Some people actually thought I was just in Europe travelling for a few weeks and it’s always awkward informing them that I was actually living in England for months, and they were just oblivious to it because they couldn’t be bothered to look at what I was up to.
So, I stumble through telling my friends from Canadian suburbia about what it’s like to live in affordable housing in an English town. I get inevitably emotional trying to talk about how much I love and miss the people I met abroad, before regressing and assuring my friends here that they aren’t boring or any less fun—just different. I have a hard time deciding what to wear or eat, looking around and realizing that a toastie is no longer a staple part of people’s diets and plaid shirts are meant to be worn as often as possible. I feel like an alien on my own planet—and that’s really weird.
I didn't just frolic around Europe.
As much as I have loved talking to people about my travels, it can be very difficult to explain my experience. For people that have lived in the same place all their life, the idea of moving to a different country and relearning basic things is completely foreign. When you’re travelling to a place, figuring out how to get around and what to eat is a fun challenge. It’s when you’re actually living there that it becomes a daily thing, trying to learn how to do life in this new place.
I don’t want comfort or pity. I love that people are asking about my trip and I wish they would ask me even more questions because I love talking about it and sharing travel stories. But it needs to be understood and made clear—I didn’t go abroad to travel and I was not just skipping around Europe drinking champagne for five months. I was not travelling, I was living abroad.
Living abroad comes with its own unique set of struggles—namely, trying to recreate your reality or life in a completely new place. Everything from the texture of the grass to the grading system at university is different, it required me to learn how to adult in a place I had never been a baby in.
I want people to know that living abroad was a roller coaster, I experienced some of the best moments of my life—like watching The Chainsmokers perform in Paris or stargazing after a few glasses of cheap French wine with my best friend. But I’ve also had some of the worst things happen—like being locked out of all my banking the day before I left for four days in Dubrovnik. Somehow, it all worked out. But now the ride has come to a screeching halt. And I’m stuck to stumble off the ride, dizzy as ever.
Beyond that, my social circle on exchange was completely different from my friends at home. I miss my friends from exchange more than anything, they are the people that really made me feel at home in England. We all bonded together like a really unconventional family—with people from different walks of life and from every corner of the world. My friends at home aren’t boring but we don’t share this same bond. I have seen some people at home that I feel no inclination to hang out with anymore, they simply have moved on with their lives and now we wouldn’t have anything in common. I’m already planning to go visit some exchange friends very soon.
I’m not saying that travelling abroad isn’t difficult and I’m sure spending 5 months living out of a backpack and in hostels would have its own set of challenges. It’d be a different type of exciting and a different kind of soul searching. But travelling is always exciting, it’s filled with finding new things and learning new about new cultures. Travelling abroad is focused on feeling like you’re constantly moving. Living abroad, on the other hand, is focused on feeling at home while also moving around. Now, I’m in my home back in Canada confused about what home actually is. Physically I’m here in Canada, but because I’ve been abroad I feel so attached to the home I created and left behind.
After all, the only way is Essex.