Saying farewell is hardly ever easy. Our guest blogger Ben shares in the following his thoughts on the temporality of expat life and on going home again…
Hong Kong is such a transitory city. You have people from all over the world coming here to study, to work, or to live; but usually just temporarily. Sometimes they stay for a few years, and sometimes just for a few short months. It’s this ever changing environment that allows you to make friends so quickly, but on the flip side, it seems that there are always good-bye parties to attend. Recently, I had to bid farewell to a few friends in Hong Kong. It seemed like we had just gotten to know each other, and yet it was already time to say good-bye.
I remember one good friend in particular. Her assignment at the Hong Kong office was up, and she was being called back to the head office. It was time for her to go home. During one of our last outings together, I asked her how she felt. She told me, “You really start to miss where you were because you forget all the disadvantages and only remember the good things.” She was understandably sad because this was her first time living abroad. She’d made some unforgettable memories and great friends. At the same time, she was nervous because going “home” would not be the same.
Having lived in a few different places and attended countless farewell parties for both friends and for myself, I understood what she was going through. I have often experienced short periods of depression when I returned home. The first thing I miss is the adrenaline rush of being in a foreign locale. When I am abroad, even mundane tasks can turn into an adventure – sometimes a very frustrating one. However, after returning home, I often forget the difficult moments and why they were so stressful. I just remember the excitement.
Secondly, everything at home seems to be the same: the people, the food, and my old stomping grounds. But for some strange reason they don’t feel the same. What I have soon come to realize is that it’s me who has changed. I am not the same person who left, perhaps, just one year ago. I have grown and been infused with new ideas and new perspectives. As journalist Pico Iyer so eloquently states it: “Once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home, become something different.”
Lastly, by being abroad, I usually have a wealth of interesting experiences and stories to share, but I often find that there are not too many people who I can share them with. Many people around me don’t seem to be that interested in hearing about them. I have learned over time it is not that they don’t care about me. They simply can’t relate very much to what I went through. When it is hard to relate to something, it is also hard to contribute to the conversation. And when it is hard to contribute to the conversation, it’s really best to change the topic.
I am fully aware that my Hong Kong journey will probably come to an end eventually. There will be many parties to attend and farewells to say. I always hope that I will be able to stay in contact with the people I’ve met along the way. I do try my best, and all the new technological tools are definitely helpful, but everyone gets busier and it becomes harder to keep in touch.
When the adrenaline and excitement slowly subside, I am left with my thoughts and memories. I know that I will probably go through a period of melancholy while adjusting to my new-old surroundings. But after returning home, I always try to keep in mind what writer Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in seeing with new eyes.”
(Image credit: iStockphoto)