Think of my reverse culture shock post, but with more than 10 minutes available to write.
I’ve returned to the US for the first time in six months; while I come back twice a year, returning gets harder and harder as time passes. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I live in another country, because permanently moving abroad is just not a thing many Americans do. Living abroad feels like a strange limbo; I feel progressively more at home, but I never feel 100% there. It’s like a funhouse in a way; fundamentally life’s the same, but with so many differences. I’m not British (despite my spelling, and my American friends continue to roast me for it), I don’t have the accent, and I haven’t lived the same life my native friends have. It’s frustrating at times, being labelled as “the foreigner;” a feeling of subtle, yet perpetual exclusion lives within you.
This semester was particularly difficult, and it was my first time I’d ever gotten homesick. I considered going back to NY during my spring break, but I passed while I booked my summer tickets back to LA as soon as I could. Many expats discuss the isolation one faces abroad, but few talk of that awkward position when you don’t feel at home in your new home, but you feel even less at-home in your old country.
I returned to LA 11 days ago, and it’s been rough. Firstly, reverse culture shock is still a thing! I still get thrown off by the effusive customer service, the gargantuan food portions, and strangers talking to me (maybe I am British after all). But, it’s been feeling different lately. I’m feeling less and less at home in the US. I was, and continue to be, shocked and confused that I feel so out of touch with most of the people, places, and customs I had lived with for the first 18 years of my life. The first few days when I come back, I accidentally say certain things, or I’ll feel a little weird when a complete stranger says “have a good day!” In the most extreme case, I’ve accidently driven on the left upon my first few times back on the road (not this time, though!).
At the same time, it’s all too easy. Everything was so hauntingly familiar, and my first week back was surreal. I had visited some high school teachers; I saw the same juice lady at Whole Foods from when I was 16; I even saw the same strangely militant man, in combat boots, aviator sunglasses and an army cap, rounding up the carts in the Target parking lot. I felt like this new person I had become was so out of place here, just as I was in Edinburgh upon moving.
It’s a common feeling amongst those living abroad to feel like they’re living a “double life” of sorts. And it’s not on purpose either. While I was growing in Scotland, I come back to the US, and I feel a massive void, as if the past two years didn’t exist. I have massively different experiences with my friends in the US than my friends in Scotland.
It’s so strange, however, because I do many of the same things in Scotland as I do in the US. I still watch the same shows, make a morning cup of coffee/tea and sit in bed, and listen to same, ever-growing morning playlist I’ve curated since 2014. However, after just eleven days back in America, I realise how different I view things, from social interactions, to handling precarious situations, to even my body image (which has improved!). I’ve stayed similar on the surface, but I’ve changed completely in the inside. It happened: I’ve been having a cultural identity crisis. And sometimes I just wish I didn’t have to come back so I won’t face it again.
However, the most important trait I kept from the US is my tendency to observe situations with optimism. I have two friend groups, two homes, two settings to learn and grow. I’ve learned so much from being born and raised in the US, and I’ve learned countless things from living in the UK. I feel quite a few of these are mutually exclusive; I don’t feel I would’ve been able to learn some things I have if I hadn’t left, and this would apply whether I was born/raised in the US or the UK.
However, I’ve accepted that America isn’t 100% home for me, and I can’t continue to stay here for months on end during the summer. I remember the sense of relief I felt when I returned to Scotland last September, like I was able to breathe. Then again, Scotland will also never be 100% home. I feel I’m 60-40 with the UK and US (New York, that is). I don’t think anywhere will ever feel 100% home. There are customs and nuances in daily life that will always make me crave the US, but upon return, I feel incomplete. And the opposite is the same; the subtleties of British life I crave draw me back, but I feel incomplete. Less incomplete, however.
Will I ever feel 100% at home in one place someday? Who knows! I don’t even think it’s necessary, because I’d prefer to have multiple homes, social groups, customs, and in the future, families. I have my cake and eat it too; I enjoy the mysterious, exciting positives of living abroad, and the sense of normalcy and comfort of my native country, even if I can’t handle it for long. Visiting my native country evokes a strange nostalgia that I can’t explain completely. I always thought “home” had to be one place. I think the most important thing I’ve learned, and perhaps the one thing to take away from this post is that what we call “home” doesn’t have to be one solid place. It can be one place, two, three, however many. Or, it can be none, and it’s up to each individual to decide. And I’ve decided to make the best of this cultural identity crisis and make both my home. And I’m okay with feeling a little incomplete in each place if it means I get to continue the life abroad I currently live.