In 2006, I left Toronto with a 2-year plan in mind, one that started with living and working in New Zealand for a year, then moving on to Australia to do the same. As most people know and as I came to realize, making plans for travel can, at times, seem like wishful thinking, while making plans for a 2-year travel period is simply absolute nonsense. I ended up staying in the one country and creating a life for myself there.
Pictures taken with my point-and-shoot in 2006 and 2007
I miss New Zealand. Or maybe I miss who I was when I was there.
Me at Franz Josef Glacier & at the Tram Lookout in Wellington (2006)
We fall back into old patterns when we come home. Or at least I do. Relationship patterns, work patterns… behavioural patterns. There are some emotional ties that bind stronger than others.
My time living abroad was the best experience of my life to date and I am drawn back to it often – in memory and in emotion – and with increasing frequency of late. As much as travel is about the interactions without – the people, culture, food, smells and sounds – it is also about the resulting tumult within – the (sometimes) fundamental, intellectual, emotional and psychological effects that leaving your comfort zone can have.
A few years back, I wrote a piece for a publishing contest that talked about this idea of no longer fitting in with the place you’d called home for so long.
“What makes a place a home? Is it simply where you were born? Perhaps where your family or friends are? Or is it that place where you feel comfort, safety and familiarity?I could never have been prepared for feeling torn in two, forever missing another place and another family of friends. Nor could I have known how this unquenchable thirst for more – more travel, more exploration, more knowledge – would gnaw at me, intruding far too often when least welcome or expected.”
If you’re interested in the full piece, click here or on the Writing link at the top of the page
It was written with the contest as the stated goal, but in reality, I think it was a way for me to try to answer the question – asked repeatedly and offhandedly – “How was your trip?”. It wasn’t a trip. It was my life for the better part of two years. Am I supposed to be able to sum up two years in a neat little three sentence package? It’s hard to explain to even your closest friends how strange it feels to come ‘home’, to return to the same people, sights and sounds, feeling like a foreigner. I’d visited several websites of people who’d gone home after several years abroad and they all cautioned that re-entry would not be easy; they just didn’t say how or why.
Pictures taken during my return visit in 2011
In the end, I guess I’m still grappling with the real and lingering impacts of that period. I feel like I’m well past the age where I should already know who (and what) I want to be. But then, life and fear get in the way and I’m thrown back into the submerging weight of indecision and uncertainty. The encouraging part is that, eventually, I surface and find my way back to the writing and the photography and the irresistible pull of travel.
What are your stories about returning home after extended time abroad? How did it change you? Or did it?