Today marks the one year anniversary of our departure from Australia. If I weren't so busy with house renovations I'd probably have felt sadder about this or at least marked the occasion in some way. Fortunately I've been working on a series of reflections on life post-Australia and I'll be sharing these with you over the next few days.
Having returned to the homeland after many years spent living abroad, we are frequently asked a few common questions:
How was Australia?
Why did you leave?
What's it like to be back?
How is it different from the US?
Anyone who's had an amazing vacation experience can appreciate the difficulty in answering the offhand, "so how was it?" question. Imagine the difficulty in characterizing an entire life cultivated in a faraway land!
I don't begrudge the questions by any means, but in order to respond, I try to assess if the enquirer is just making small talk or if they are genuinely interested in the answer. Then I consider how long I have to answer and how much emotional energy I want to pour into the response.
Sometimes I offer the briefest answer of, "it was amazing, but we're generally happy to be back," but this never feels satisfactory as my heart can't help but call up a selection of the people and experiences that made our Adventures Down Under so profound.
The answers aren't always straightforward either and sometimes they even change from day to day. We love being close to family but when the temperatures were plummeting, we wondered what in the world we were thinking! And even though we're back in familiar territory, there are things that feel unfamiliar and out of sync with how we're accustomed to doing things now.
My first experience with reverse culture shock came after living in Costa Rica for six months in college. After happily immersing myself in all things "Tico," I found returning to the US to be totally overwhelming. Such a fast paced life, so many choices in the supermarket and everything so big and sprawling. While Australia is hardly exotic in comparison to the US, it certainly takes some adjusting to life in a different place and to a city with a much different personality than the one that was home for most of the last decade.
The funny thing is that expats spend so much time preparing for a stint abroad by reading about the culture, language, food, where to live and so on, but we neglect to spend as much time processing the details of a return home. We expect everything to be more or less the same, but of course, we've changed and the place that was home has changed too. When going abroad, you expect everything to be new and different. Being confronted by what was once familiar is unnerving and can make you feel like a stranger in your own backyard.
All of this adds up to some major changes and I've found it helpful to think of these life transitions in terms of seasons. We had a good long season for adventuring, traveling and forging our own path. While we loved Australia and our life overseas, we feel our kids deserve some constancy, not to mention family and friends they won't have to leave behind anytime soon. Now is the season to lay down roots and build strong foundations.
That said, I suppose settling down could be considered an adventure for us since we've never really done that before - not like this anyway! We've bought a house, we're starting a business and delving into projects we've been itching to do for ages (woodworking, music, photography, brewing, painting, sewing).
So you see, when asked how Australia was, my head goes off rambling in a million directions. How can I ever convey to my listener the fondness I feel for that sunburnt country? I love talking about Australia and probably always will, but there's just no capturing the essence of what feels like the blending of two lives in just a few concise sentences. So if I look at you somewhat blankly when you ask me about my life in Australia, it's because the pages between the two chapters are still being written and I'm still passing through the enormity of the transition.
Thanks for asking though.
PS. Since the answers to these seemingly innocuous questions are so complicated and have so much back story behind them, I've set to compiling a list of observations about life in Australia versus life in the US. That'll be the next post so stay tuned!
PPS. You'll be pleased to know that while proofreading this post, I remembered that I had a package of Tim Tams stashed in the pantry so I marked the occasion with a chocolate biscuit. They sell them at Target now!