Back in November I visited my mom and dad in Atlanta. I had no particular reason to go, but we had our one free trip for the year that we hadn’t used. Garrett had no more vacation days left, but he suggested I use it to see my parents, if I wanted to.
It may seem like an easy choice, but there are a few reasons why I was so hesitant – and not just because I didn’t want to leave my husband. The last time Garrett and I had been back was for Christmas and New Year’s of last year. We saw my parents in Atlanta, and then headed to Pennsylvania to spend time in Harrisburg with my in-laws, and then to Philly for New Year’s Eve with friends. It was great. We had only lived abroad at that point for four months, but it felt like we had been here for a while. Hah!
The worst part was coming back though. January last year was so hard for me. I felt so isolated and far away from the people we love. My day to day life felt empty without people around me to fill the time. I was down on myself about not having a job here again. The days were gray and mostly dark, and I missed my family.
And not just that, I missed people chatting with me in the grocery store. I missed strangers smiling and waving in the streets. I missed feeling like I really belonged somewhere, and all the conveniences of every day life when you live in your native country. I had never been cynical about being an expat before, but all of a sudden I was… just a tad.
Of course, I came out of it. I picked my life back up in Antwerp. I started seeing my friends more, and making more of an effort to keep myself busy and my days filled. We started planning our trips for the year, and soon enough those trips were at our feet and I had forgotten about the dark days of January. I remembered to appreciate this experience all over again, and not take a second for granted.
So yeah, a year later when I had the opportunity to go back, I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes I feel like Garrett and I live in a bubble here. It’s not until people come to visit or I go back home that I miss anything. And I don’t want to waste time missing what life is like “back in the U.S.” I know I’ll have that again.
The desire to spend time with my mom and dad, and shop for clothes that cost me a fraction of what they cost here, weighed on my heart and I did go back home. And I enjoyed every single sunny, beautiful day in Atlanta. I loved shopping with my mom, sleeping in my old bed, catching up with some of my best friends, eating Mexican food, and letting my dad take “his girls” out to a steak dinner. But when the seven days were up, I was ready. I missed my husband. I missed the bed that has been ours for the last three years. I missed our cat. I missed our life. And I missed Antwerp.
And now we’ve arrived in January again. Garrett and I have lived here for a year and four months. My family has come and gone for the holidays. That first week without them here was tough. This week, much better. I had lunch with 10 girlfriends on Wednesday. We celebrated all the January birthdays with champagne and elegant salads in a beautiful old palace that one can only experience in this part of the world. Our conversations took us into the afternoon, and a cloud of happiness and gratitude has stayed with me all week.
When I was 20 and studying abroad, I made some of the most significant friendships in my life. I met my husband, my maid of honor, and our honorary speaker in our wedding. The four of us formed this unbelievable tight bond through the experience of being so far from home, and learning to overcome that challenge together. The same rings true for the friendships I have formed here. There’s nothing quite like them.
I do still feel like I’m in a sort of bubble. But a beautiful one. It’s not easy all the time, but the people and the opportunities make it exciting and fun. I can’t help but think of all the things we will miss when we leave. And I’ll be singing the same song. Back in the U.S., yet feeling strangely far from home.