We all agree: Summer 2020 was weird. I have already babbled enough about what this pandemic summer taught me, and I will leave it at that.
But be it customary or atypical, summer means only one thing for expats: homecoming. Now, no matter what type of expat you are, homecoming is always a big deal.
Trust me: IT IS.
Here are the 5 stages every expat goes through when returning home for holidays. Or – if you like – here are the 5 stages I personally go through when I am off to Italy for a while.
Stage 1: It’s the final countdooooown
You are about 2 weeks from departure. You have been busy completing any project, work, and whatever pending task you might have on your to-do list. Until you see it: you will be back home in less than 15 days [angels cheering in the background].
Your tickets have been reserved well in advance. Your journey and stay have been carefully planned in agreement with your partner, family, friends, boss, and whoever may play a role in or be affected by your holiday plans. You just need to pack and get onto that plane.
The excitement that comes along with this phase is fulfilling and makes your “last mile” less stressful. You can’t wait to be with your people back home.
The countdown is on. That’s one of those rare occasions where the clock is ticking, and you couldn’t be happier.
Personal considerations: This is my favourite phase.
Stage 2: I didn’t remember it being like this
You are back. Your folks are as lovely as always, food has never been so tasty, and you can finally speak your native language again. Some of your sentences might not be fully grammatically correct, but who cares. You are home.
Then some minor detail annoys you. Or something happens that leaves you startled. Has that always worked like this…? You can’t remember. But you feel somewhat uncomfortable.
Take a breath: you are not alone. And there is also a name for it: reverse culture shock.
It happens when you get back to what was your place, people, habits – in a word, your life – before you moved. But now you see it through your “expat lens.”
As Barack Obama nicely put it in his memoir, it’s that “falling into the strange familiar” that makes your stay bittersweet.
You feel split: you still belong because of your roots, but at the same time you no longer belong for your branches are now stretching high into the sky. Does that make sense?
Personal considerations: I have mixed feelings towards this phase. I will be honest here: I do like feeling “foreignish.” My expat experience has given me a new “key” for reading my home country – and my past. On the other hand, I feel I have become somehow estranged from my own people, and I don’t like this feeling at all.
Phase 3: What’s today’s date?
You switched into holiday mode completely, and you lost track of time. Your rhythms are different. Your days are filled with unplanned activities. Your wristwatch lies somewhere down your suitcase. You also recovered from your initial “returnee’s headache” and are enjoying your time.
Departure date is still far away, and your sole concern is preventing your skin from sunburn. (Who spent their summer holidays in Sicily at least once is nodding now.)
To put it simply: things are great, and you couldn’t ask for more. That’s what holidays are for, after all.
Personal considerations: I enjoy this phase, like everyone else. Okay, it might occur to me that I get pissed off at something at this stage. You know, the typical family reunion dramas that happen in American holiday movies… And okay, I might also state (groan) my eagerness to get over this vacation and fly back to my everyday life ASAP. But no one believes it, and it doesn’t last.
Phase 4: The Last Supper
You are heading towards the end of your stay, and your euphoria begins to wane. Departure date resurfaces on your mental schedule as well as your wristwatch.
Time seems to go by faster, and you are left with yet too many things to do, people to see, and meals to eat.
Any gathering, encounter, or activity – nearly everything actually – becomes “the last one.” Your last meeting with your friends; your last swim; your last [insert favourite food]. Awful.
The day before departure is liquid sadness. It could make up for some divine retribution. Saying “goodbye” to your family and friends really tests your nerves. Your heart breaks with every hug, kiss, or “see you soon” you give or receive.
At some point, it becomes so painful you wish you hadn’t gone back. And you wonder how you will carry on with your life once away.
Personal considerations: It goes without saying that this is my most hated part of the journey.
Phase 5: Homesickness
It’s over. You are back to your expat life.
The first couple of days are harsh. You feel lost. Was your host country really so… cold? Busy? French? Whatever.
Your mood is very low, and you wonder why you moved so far away, for God’s sake!
But then you slowly get back into your routine. You reconnect with the city, hang out with your local friends, go back to work… You even missed local food (frites anyone?).
After a while, you feel brave enough to look at your holiday photos. Your heart hurts, but what hits you is a sort of “background pain.” That’s homesickness. And it never leaves.
Personal considerations: I have come to terms with my homesickness. Sometimes it hits me badly, but that’s the price for being an expat, I guess. When that happens, I try to remind myself why I am away. Why I made this choice; what good is coming from being abroad; what I most enjoy about being an expat.
I often suggest this “reverse-thinking approach” in my posts. That’s because it truly helps keep me on track. I mean, I am not a fool! I made a conscious decision, and I can definitely defend it. And if that doesn’t work… Did someone say Zoom?!
Over to you! How do you usually spend your summer holidays? Do you fly back home? If so, do you experience the same emotional rollercoaster? Leave a comment down below!