Same Old, Same Old…

When Pirkko from Finland returns home after several months of working in Brazil, she is really looking forward to telling her friends all about her big adventure. However, things turn out somewhat differently: totally unexpectedly she feels isolated in her own home town and estranged from her old friends…

Almost exactly one year ago, I returned to my hometown Jyväskylä in Finland, having spent several months working in Brazil. The reason why I’m writing about my return home rather than my time abroad is that I found it somehow much more emotionally upsetting than the experience of moving to Brazil in the first place.

In Brazil, I was involved in a project working with young people in the favelas, teaching them English and dance. I was of course immensely excited about going there, I had no idea what it would be like, where and how I would live, what sort of people I would meet, … – basically, I was expecting the unexpected. I think that’s probably why I didn’t suffer from culture shock at all: I knew everything was going to be different from home, so that was okay. And as I had formed no clear expectations in my head before setting off on my journey, I could not be disappointed either.

How different things were when I returned home, though. As it turned out, my time in Brazil was one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my life so far. I felt that it had changed me and my outlook on life forever. So you can imagine my feeling of alienation when I came back home and nobody seemed to notice that I had changed. I was disappointed and even offended when my friends just assumed that I would still be interested in the same old gossip, the same old bars, the same old problems, the same old nights out… Couldn’t they see that I had come back a different person? Couldn’t they appreciate that I had now met people facing much more serious issues than dissatisfaction in the work place, a boyfriend or husband who didn’t pull his weight in the household, or a cancerous cat?

Once, for instance, not long after I’d come back, I met up for a night out with a group of people who had been among my closest friends for years. Some of them hadn’t seen me since my return, so there was a lot of questioning going on. For some reason, however, there was a barrier between me and my friends preventing me from communicating my experiences the way I wanted to. It was really strange: While I was in Brazil, I had often longed for someone from back home to tell my adventures to. I had even imagined this very situation: I surrounded by my old friends, telling them all about my life in Brazil. But now it had become reality, it wasn’t at all like I had imagined it. Everything I had experienced in Brazil seemed totally out of place here, and I didn’t seem to be able to bring it across in a way that made it accessible for my friends. I felt misunderstood and disillusioned. Suddenly my friends’ questions seemed superficial, as though they weren’t really interested in my stories at all but were just asking out of politeness while waiting impatiently to be able to talk about “their own stuff” again. That night, I went home feeling very sad, empty and alone in my own city.

I didn’t understand how people whom I had always thought to be open minded and culturally interested could be so absorbed in their own little worlds and so content with their own uneventful lives. Did they not feel the need for change? Did they not want to see different parts of the world, experience different ways of life?

Now I know of course that this is a universal problem. Almost everyone who has spent a significant period of time abroad finds it hard to readjust upon their return home. It’s part of the reverse culture shock experience and nobody’s fault really. Unless your friends back home have themselves been through a similar experience, or are extraordinarily perceptive or intuitive people, you can’t expect them to understand how you feel. In the same way that I couldn’t relate to them, my friends couldn’t relate to me. One thing I shouldn’t have done was to show my contempt for their seemingly petty worries and their boring lives. After all, I had been part of this life myself until very recently, so how could they have guessed that I didn’t want to know it anymore. I was guilty of the same crime as they: I wasn’t really interested in what they wanted to tell me. I didn’t appreciate that they had changed as well, only in a different way and in different circumstances, so their life changes had seemed a lot less important to me. They must have thought that I was feeling pretty damn special…

I think I have learned a lot from that experience. My approach might not have been the most sensible and sensitive, but neither was my friends’. There was a certain amount of perversity and obstinacy in their reactions to me. Now, almost a year later, everything is “back to normal” with most of my old friends. With some of them, however, I have completely lost touch since I returned home. We were emailing each other regularly while I was away, and now that I’m back we have all of a sudden realized that we have nothing in common any more. It’s a funny old world …

Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Attribution (in order of appearance): LovesDance, Paula le Dieu, Miraceti, Roberto Berlim, Zimbres

5 Responses to “Same Old, Same Old…”

  1. Hi Pirkko, I’m about to face the same situation… After 5 years living in Australia and Singapore we’re returning to our home country: Brazil… For some reason I’m not excited at all and I guess I’m terrified of the same old, same old!

    Anywho… I found your text great, and could relate to it!

    Cheers,

    Thais

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment on our blog, Thais! It’s nice to hear you liked our guest article. And best of luck for your impending move back home!

  3. great article.. the exact same situation im living now that I moved back home to Guatemala after 5 years of being abroad…. I miss all the people and experiences I had and it hasnt been easy.. its the worst feeling like a stranger in your own country.. but I am sure we will get there someday!

  4. I have tears in my eyes reading the repatriations blogs. I moved back to my home country (which I left 11 years ago with the intention of not returning) yet 5 months ago my husbands job took us back here (hopefully temporary). What helps me right now is to read about others facing the same issue. Especially how much one looked forward to connect to old friends with whom one was so closed while being abroad, yet feeling totally estranged now. Moving back for me is by far the toughest move I faced… thanks for all the blogs about this!

  5. Hi Ann-Katrin,

    I’m glad that you found the entries on our blog helpful to you, and I hope you’ll soon cope with all those issues connected to repatriation. Good luck!

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