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)
I spent a year on student exchange the year after I graduated high school, I’ve always said that “the hardest part” was the year after I came back home. I thought it was because all my friends had “moved on” to jobs or university, but it was more than just that 🙂
Aaaahhh! the infamous “re-entry shock”. Fantastic narration to describe it Ben. you truly capture the emotional piece behind some of the challenges regarding going back home.
I am convinced that you have made a connection with many because for those of us who have had the opportunity to live abroad or in a different environment, this is one of the biggest challenges and the shock can last a very long time or even prevent us from wanting to stay back “home”. It is important to first, be aware about the existence of the re-entry shock, and second, that during any assignment, it is important to plan ahead and take some action forecasting probable outcomes upon your return.
For example, if you want to make a connection between your home town and your new environment, it is key to have your friends and family up for a visit in your new environment as much as possible. Make the connection! Our “people” back home are unaware of the challenges, opportunities and adventures that one is experiencing. We think it is cool to take an adventurous path/journey in our lives, but we take for granted that in the excitement we also exclude/step away from those who have lost the consistency of our companionship. They often find themselves left behind to continue their own journey without us. They managed to adapt and once “we” go back, we remind them about how great our path was without them. Hum! so maybe there is also a reentry shock for those who stayed back home. I am not trying to justify one side or the other, nor to say that what one does is right and the other one is wrong. On the contrary. To be sensitive, develop awareness and skills in communication with those who cross our lives is key for multicultural understanding.
There are many tips and trick to help prepare us for going back home. Good luck and much success in your journeys!
Perfect, I feel the same way too. 🙂
It happens to me right away coming home
really awesome i’m about to cry
Ben W says
I’m glad I am not the only one. 🙂
It seems your contribution has really hit a nerve. Great job! 🙂
good post, love it, you said somewhat I want to express.