Feeling Like an Expat in Your Own City

Our new guest blogger Jessica from Adventures of the Repatriate opens her series on repatriation with some musings on how it felt to move to the US after seven years of living overseas, in Belgium, and how she gets over being “homesick” for Brussels. We also have an interview with Jessica on her (former) expat blog “Adventures of a Puertorican Girl in Brussels” in our Featured Blogs section for InterNations members.

I recently returned to living in the United States after almost seven years of living abroad. I have spent almost nine years out of my eleven post-university years in Asia and Europe. Needless to say, coming back to my own country seems like quite the adventure. I always said I wanted to live in Washington, DC if I returned to the United States. I was fortunate enough to do so. I find myself exploring my new city, wandering its streets, looking for the places to make my own, and finding new friends to cook for. In many ways, I’m still feeling like a stranger in a land which saw me grow.

I am excited for my return and to be closer to my family in Upstate NY and my roots in Puerto Rico. Although happy, I have this creeping fear of losing the European bond of my years in Belgium and Germany. The fear of losing that joie de vivre which came from spontaneous weekend trips throughout Europe, having a beer at noon (at work), or discovering a new country. Aside from the occasional overpriced, seven-hour flight to Belgium, how does one hold on to the memories created in a foreign country I called home for so many years?

I have a deep love for America. I used to stand up to my European friends in its defense, always trying to show the other side of the typical judgments against my country. My heart will always be American, but I developed a very deep love for Belgium and the countries which surround it. It was there for me when I needed a new life; it taught me new languages, and most importantly, it gave me a broad spectrum of friends. I became a local. The lady at my local patisserie anticipated my pain au chocolat order. All my friends knew to find me at Place du Châtelain on a warm Wednesday night. Questions popped in my head: How do I start all over again? Who will remember my order in the morning? Where can my friends find me on a warm summer night? Will I forget all the French I worked so hard to learn?

It now has been almost three months of living in DC and slowly getting accustomed to my new life. I’ve traded my pain au chocolat for a bagel sandwich, am still looking for a Place du Châtelain, and started to fill my dinner table with new friends. Although I can’t indulge in my pain au chocolat anymore, I try to find other ways to connect.

I recently began Dutch lessons at the Belgian Embassy. Consoling thought: I guess technically I am in Belgium every Monday night when my teacher Pat’s accent from Leuven reminds me of good times in Flanders. I am also fortunate enough that Belgian food is all the rage in my nation’s capital. I have been indulging from time to time at Brasserie Beck and love the fusion between Belgian and American at the Belga Café brunch. Who knew cornbread waffles can be so delicious! I can have Hoegaarden while watching a Wizards game at the Verizon Center. Prima!

When I arrived in Brussels, I was certain I was only going to live there for eighteen months. I ended up staying in Europe for six years. Therefore I choose not to predict the length of my stay in Washington. My house is filled with remnants of my former lives, but I’m always cautious not to have too much as I cannot predict my next move. For now, I will search for that broad spectrum of new friends here, discover my city, and find little pockets of Europe right here in Washington, DC.

(Photo credits: 1) Jessica D. 2) Scott Bauer for the US Department of Agriculture, public domain)

12 Responses to “Feeling Like an Expat in Your Own City”

  1. I know the feeling! After being abroad several years I became a foreigner in my own place of origin!

  2. @Pedro:

    So, where did you live abroad? And where are you from? What was the transition like?

  3. Hi Jessica
    I know exactly what you feel as I am going through the same thing. I am originally from Romania, but I spent the last four years and a half in the UK. Just before Christmas, I came back for good to Romania. I am very pleased to be at home; it was a bit sad to leave the UK, but the warmth of my family and my country help a lot!
    Good luck and enjoy Washington DC!
    Best
    Ana

  4. Dear Jessica,

    I going through the same things you said above. I am Vietnamese who studied in the States for 8 years. I anticipated that I would have culture shock when I first came to the States. But, NO…. I didn’t feel shock at all. I some how fit right in to all the new people, new school, new culture and new stuff. After 8 years, I had to return home, I also anticipated that I will have re-entry culture shock, and what can I say? I got it. and I got it bad. It is over a year now, but I still struggle to fit in.

    To read your essay and know that somebody also feeling the same way I do, really help.

    I hope you all the best and thank you for writing your experience.

    Best wishes,

    Van

  5. I have also repatriated and it took years to settle back in. It’s famililar yet not, and it is just not special or exciting in the same way back home. I can’t help comparing my Beautiful scenic drive to preschool in Switzerland (think pretty Little chalets and alps in the background) with the plain Swedish road to preschool here. 🙂

    Here is one of my blog post about repatriation (and advice for expatriation too) http://globatris.se/2013/02/15/save-your-first-impressions/ . Klick the link in the post to read about “going ..home??”

  6. I totally understand this feeling. I have been back to my home country for almost 4 years and try to settle down or adjust myself emotionally. However, I totally understand the life when I met some friends from countries that I stayed before and just found this expat blog that someone who can write this out finally.

  7. I know the feeling. I recently relocated back to Copenhagen after 16 years in London and whilst I enjoy living here there are so many things I miss about London. Making friends In London was certainly easier than than trying to do so as a Dane who is back in town…
    A Spanish colleague recommended Internations so I thought hey why not, I am sure I am not the only who might feel like a stranger in their own town and was encouraged by reading this blog.

  8. Hi Nicole,

    First of all, I’m sorry for the belated reply. All comments are moderated and answered personally by the InterNations team, and lots of us were out of the office over Christmas and New Year’s Day. Happy 2014, by the way!

    I’m happy to hear that Jessica’s experience resonated with you. It certainly seems to be one that many former expats share. Good luck with your new life back in Denmark!

    If you’d like to stay in touch with the international community in Copenhagen, you can send us a membership request by filling in the form on our homepage (if you aren’t an InterNations member yet). Please be aware, though, that membership is currently moderated by our Member Relations team.

    http://www.internations.org/

  9. I can only say what all the others said before me – it helps a lot to see that you are not the only ‘alien’ in your home country but others feel the same way when they go back ‘home’. It is like you say, what helps me a lot is to see it as a place where I live NOW and to remember that I do have a choice. What amuses me though is the fact that the places I find boring are the places other people miss and the other way round – kind of shows that you like more what you can’t have 🙂

  10. Hi Kerstin,

    First of all, I’m sorry for the belated reply. As I’ve mentioned in another reply above, moderating the comment section of this blog was briefly interrupted by the Christmas vacation of much of the InterNations team. Happy New Year, by the way!

    It’s nice to hear that you can relate to Jessica’s story. Thank you for sharing your own experience! 🙂

  11. Congratulations for your post and thanks for sharing your experience!

    I know exactly how you feel.

    I´ve spent many years living abroad, Brussels and some other places and now that I´m back I feel like an expat most of the time.

    In fact, I write many posts in Spanish and English about that feeling in my blog. One of them is called “Feeling nowhere”… and that´s where I feel sometimes 🙂
    Livia.

  12. I believe that if you stay away from home for maore than 5 years. You will always belong nowhere. You will be bitten by this bug that will make you feel that you cannot be here nor there, and that I believe is for leaving home. And from then on all you can say is, Like I always do ” THE WORLD IS MY HOME”

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