Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Settling back

I was just talking to my friend Rae from My Life in Korea, who just returned home after two years abroad. She was telling me how difficult it is to settle back into her old life. I completely understand. I think it's easier to adjust to a new culture, than it is to get back into your old life. And just yesterday, Des from Des in Real Life posted a great entry about life after being an expat.

Reading from them reminded me of my own experience with settling back, and made me think about how badly I handled things. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I'm not sure if I'm any stronger by now, but I'm definitely wiser. If I had to do it over, I'd do it differently.

My biggest mistake was... well, where should I start. I came back in the dead of winter. February. Freezing cold, tons of snow, nothing fun to do. I came home without a job, and most importantly, without a plan. I came home in the midst of a relationship mess. I came home with a broken heart, not just from the relationship, but from departing Seoul, a city I had grown to love, a city I was not ready to leave just yet. I came home living in some kind of fantasy world. Thinking I had it all figured out, thinking nothing would ever fall apart. But it all did. And I made some people feel horrible. Myself included.

The best thing was my home. I had kept my apartment, which was a smart move. And I'm glad it was there, it was the only comforting thing for several weeks. And I really did lucked out with the job situation. I found something rather quickly, something I liked, something in my field. However, the winter lasted forever, life back home was more expensive than I remembered, my friendships had changed, and so had I. Little things like setting up a new cell phone, an internet connection, insurance, were just so boring and depressing. Things just didn't go as planned, which made me realize that I had been a bit silly, thinking everything would be... perfect. I spent my first few weeks looking up flights to go back to Incheon... seriously.

But I gave it a try. Slowly things started getting better, but now that I look back, I wish I had handled things in a different manner. I would have traveled for a few months after Korea- to escape the Canadian winter, and to give myself some kind of transition. I would have had some kind of career plan, and some exciting personal projects to work on.

I wasn't a complete failure, but I definitely learned a lot from the past months. Going home can be much smoother if you have things to look forward to, especially new things. Just settling back into your old life is going to be depressing, because most things at home haven't changed, and you have, so it will never be the same. Your experience abroad does not seem real to most people, in the sense that they cannot relate, so you feel lonely with your thoughts.

I'm glad I kept some of my acquired habits from Korea, such as my ability to spend more time alone, my desire to meet new people, and to try new activities and places. Since being back from Seoul, I've completely rediscovered my own city, met tons of new friends, and I'm way more outgoing than I used to be. Even though I felt like being alone most of the time, I'd force myself to go out, and always enjoyed myself anyways. I brought my Seoul personality to Montreal, and it translated quite well.

In the end, I think I did alright, because I'm definitely okay now. Some messes are a bit harder to fix, but for the most part, I feel great. I'm not sure I'm the best person to turn to for advice, but that's what I learned. So, this post goes out to Rae... and Des... and Stephanie, my fellow Seoulite, who's heading home in a few days... and to Annie, who's coming home after traveling the world. Coming back to your old life sucks, but instead of trying to make everything the same, just start something fresh. It just takes some time. You'll be just fine.

{Words of wisdom from V.V., horsing around at work. You can take me seriously. I promise.}

{Oh, copious amounts of cocktails and partying is definitely helpful... kidding, kidding.}


Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT move on keeping your apartment. Unfortunately, I came back to my parents lol...but if i had to find a place of my own upon coming back, I think I'd go crazy. It is SO very depressing doing things like getting internet, cell phone, car insurance, etc....I never had to do those in Korea..and in Korean it was so fast. If I wanted to go somewhere, I could hop on a bus or the subway. Here, I feel trapped that I can't go ANYWHERE. I tried walking to the store one day...let's just say I almost died getting there...and it was only 5 blocks away.

And I can't agree with you more about people and things NOT changing and yet you have. I feel like I've changed...sooo much...even though people might not notice. Seeing how everything is the just so...blah. It's like..I left Seoul for this??? I'm not exactly sure I want to get back into that mundane pattern again. I feel like I have more than that in me now that I'm an expat lol.

Anyway, thanks for the advice. I will keep my head up...hopefully it'll be better soon.

Sarah Alaoui said...

what great advice: "look forward to something at home". good post.

Nicole Marie said...

hahahah i'm pretty sure the drinking definitely helps :)

but really , yet again you have put into words the way i once felt too. real life was boring. going back to school was boring. being around english speaking people all the time was boring.

but i did travel for a month before i went back home which i definitely think helped. sleeping in a different dirty hostel every night, running after trains and lugging 50 ponds on your back makes a comfortable bed at home seem a lot better even though i missed my italian/traveling life.

i'm sorry your relationship fell apart. i know that must have been so so so much harder coming back. i met my now bf in italy and he had gone back home before me so i had a little something exciting to come back to and see where that relationship would go.

when i came back my grandpa just kept saying how quiet i was. and every time he said that i just wanted to burst into tears and say its because i wanted to go back. but now life is wonderful. i love the city i live in. the people in my life and the adventures ahead. and planning for another stint in europe makes me very excited.

{ok really long comment, sorry!}

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Life Abroad said...

You have no idea how much your "post-living-abroad" posts help me! I'm gearing up to leave Amsterdam in 1.5 weeks, and it's definitely taking its toll on me.

I don't feel ready to leave at all, and I'm leaving my boyfriend here. However, I am starting a MBA 5 days after I return home, and I have a new niece and nephew to entertain me! I guess I just have to focus on the new and positive experiences that I have ahead of me. The hardest part, from what I've read on similar blog posts from other former expats, is having no one understand your experience abroad. That is going to be a tough one I'm sure, because they just won't understand everything that has gone on this past year, and all the challenges it entailed.

Thanks for writing this, and keep these informative posts coming, I love reading them!

seasonal lust said...

"I'm glad I kept some of my acquired habits from Korea, such as my ability to spend more time alone"

Funny how such a small feat is so hard to accomplish. Every since start my new relationship (he's in new york) i'm having a hard time coping with not having a bf on call 24/7 whenever i want him. I have finally learn how to be alone and its so hard. but i guess thats a part of growing up. cheers to you!

Kelly said...

you know how i feel about your writing, your adventures, your relationship, and just you in general :)

but just a reminder, you're fantastic and I've so enjoyed reading about your transitions, adventures, and what you face everyday! xoxo

Anonymous said...

You get it, Vivian. You just get it. And I know that's why people enjoy reading your blog so much. You have the ability to consistently write about things people are feeling, but don't really know how to express.

Kerri Lynne said...

On a much, much, much, much smaller scale I can relate to some of what you've said here and I've read this just in time to revamp and change my attitude toward recent changes in my life. I lived outside of Boston for all my life and took the plunge to move to the city last year. Now, I'm back to my old stomping grounds to go to school and live somewhere less expensive.

I've been very ho-hum about coming back so soon, but your post has encouraged me to also go out and re-acquaint with my old city!

Coffee_c said...

Thanks for that post my friend! At least I know the challenges I'll face.
I think it will be very hard to come back to Montreal, especially since I have no appartment, no plan, no job, no money. I thought I would figure everything out while I was travelling, but I have no time to think about that. lol

Anyways, this trip has definetly changed me, and I understand that this will need adjustment as well, with friends who don't understand and all of that.

You give me hope though. I see that after a while, everything falls into place...or I'll just go back travelling!