Notes on Coming Home for the Holidays

 

As I write this, I am currently en route to Paris via Copenhagen, thanks to bargain SAS flights. I’ve spent the past two weeks celebrating Christmas and New Year’s back in my hometown in southeastern Wisconsin. It was a much needed, much welcomed visit and break from my life in France.

I don’t come home to the United States as often as I would like, or for that matter, as often as I probably should. During my first two years in France, I didn’t really want to come home- I thought my time in Europe was limited; my visas and work contracts had expiration dates, and I wanted to take full advantage of Christmas markets and vacations and budget airlines to Europe’s hottest destinations before I ran out of reasons to stay. (And to be fair, to that I did.)

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Catching up with some of my best friends and sorority sisters from college

I absolutely adore spending quality time with my family and catching up with my friends. But as an expat, coming home means being confronted head on with so many emotions—feelings and issues that are easier to bury and ignore when I’m in France.

First, there’s guilt, shortly followed by agitation and discomfort. Then there’s the nostalgia.

Coming home means facing frustration: One of the difficult things this time around was hearing, “When are you coming home? Couldn’t you just teach here and make more money? It must be hard being so far away especially with the recent events in your personal life”, instead of “Wow, what an amazing professional opportunity you’ve landed!”

 I know my loved ones mean well; those things are said out of love and concern, and because I am missed at home. But sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t feel so guilty or pressured by these remarks, or if these comments wouldn’t be said at all, if I were a man, or if I was in a different, higher paid, and more valued profession. International teaching is a goal I’ve had since I was in college, but sometimes it feels disregarded.

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Indulging in Wisconsin’s finest Beer in Downtown Milwaukee with some of my Cousins

Coming home means facing guilt: Most notably, one grandfather’s ashes in my grandmother’s living room, and flashbacks of my other grandfather crying in 2014 because I was leaving for France again, as I walk through my grandma’s front door and am greeted with his picture and military flag instead of his smiling face.

Living abroad means missing milestones—weddings and babies and funerals and Thanksgivings and everyday get-togethers. Coming home means making up for lost time. It means confronting how life moves on without you there.

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Christmas Day #Selfie

Coming home means facing the hard questions, or in my case, dodging them. Do I want to stay in France forever? (I don’t know.) Will I settle there permanently? (Again, I don’t know.) Am I going to apply for French Nationality? (I guess it depends on how long I stay?) Will I ever come back to the USA? (I would like to, maybe. But I want to try an international school or grad school in the UK first.) Do I have to know right now what I’ll be doing in another five year’s time? (I’m not sure, but it feels like society is telling me that I should.) Would these questions be asked if I wasn’t already settled at home? (Probably not.)

 Is this what a quarter-life crisis feels like? I’m not even 27 yet!

Coming home means confronting nostalgia. Since fleeing the nest, I’ve changed. And the people around me have changed. But my childhood home and hometown has been the one thing that’s remained semi-consistent throughout the years. I’ve always been able to come back to sleep in the same twin bed I’ve had since I was five years old. Coming home means being flocked with all my memories—good and bad, positive and negative, joyful and painful. It’s harder to run away.

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Sibling Selfie

When I come home and am surrounded by my family and friends and bombarded with the hard-hitting questions and life updates, I start to wonder and question the “What ifs”. What if, this past year, I had accepted that offer to teach high school French and live with my best friend and save up for grad school in the UK instead of holding out and testing my luck for this amazing opportunity at an International School?

What if I had come home after years 1 or 2? I certainly would not have met the people I have met; I certainly would not have some of the experiences I’ve had.

But would I be happier? Would I be satisfied? Would I still be writing this blog? If I wasn’t 100% confident with my current choices, would I even be grappling with this topic in the first place?

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Two of my oldest and closest friends from middle school– a doctor, a teacher, and a college admissions counselor!

For the moment, I’m trying to listen to what the universe is trying to tell me. I know I am where I’m supposed to be right now. But I think I need to spend more than two weeks in the USA in 2017. If there’s anything I’ve learned since picking up my bags four years ago, it’s that no one really has it figured out. Priorities change. People change. Paths change. And that’s okay. That’s what a new year is for.

Bisous,

Dana

 

15 thoughts on “Notes on Coming Home for the Holidays

  1. This was exactly what I needed to read! I’m currently in my first year of TAPIF (trying to renew for next year) and whenever I talk to my mom she always reminds me how I could be making more money in the Silicon Valley–near her home (never mind she doesn’t know exactly what I could do in that area, she simply reminds me I could be making more money). Even before I left for TAPIF my whole family was trying to talk me out of it, reminding me how little the pay was. I know it comes from a place of love, but not having that support and feeling so belittled has definitely been difficult.
    It’s so nice to read your blog and see how far you’ve come since first starting TAPIF, it definitely gives me hope for the future!
    xoxo
    Daley

    1. Haha, aint that the truth about the money! It isn’t everything but it is something. Now that I make (a bit) more I don’t think I could go back to so little, but budgeting is a great and essential skill to have. Plus it’s easier to do it when you’re young. It’s hard to ignore the dis-support you get from family, but many of them are just envious 🙂

      Thanks for your kind words 🙂 Hang in there !

      Dana

  2. Hey, you and I finally got to meet in person because you’re still in France. That’s a good enough reason for you to still be there in my book!

    But on a serious note, even though I spent less time abroad than you have, I still relate to how you feel. It’s HARD missing milestones. I missed weddings and babies and graduations and Homecomings. But once you live back in the States long enough, you realize that just because you’re in this country doesn’t mean you suddenly stop missing milestones. Dan and I can’t afford to travel for every wedding. Most of my friends’ babies I only see online. Plus now I miss so much about France. I miss my cousins. I miss public transportation. I miss the food and wine and art. So much of what I love about life is cheaper in France.

    But Dan and I are making the most of traveling in the US. We’re spending as much quality time with our families before we add a Baby Flong to the mix.

    The mixed feelings remind me of how I felt planning my wedding alongside my best friend. I picked the best choices for what Dan and I wanted. But I still wished I could have had the other choices too, the choices my best friend was making. I loved having a short engagement and a small wedding and no bridal party… But I also wanted a long engagement and a huge wedding and tons of bridesmaids… But I could only choose one, and I chose what was best for us, even if it meant missing out on the other choice.

    That’s life. You can’t have everything. You’re living a great, independent life in France filled with adventure and opportunity. No, it’s not perfect, but nothing ever is.

    1. I absolutely agree! You still have to send me that photo!

      You make excellent points, as always. Grass in always greener, we’ll always have FOMO.Many of the family members making these comments are ones I didn’t see often anyways, even when I was living at home …

      BIG bisous Brita 🙂
      HAPPY new year to you and dan- here’s to a new baby Flong for 2917!

  3. For what it’s worth I think that all of your choices have been great and they show how strong of a person you are. You have had more experiences, seen the world and had more opportunites out in front of you than most 50 year olds let alone 27 year olds. I frequently use you as a role model for my girls. Even if you stayed in the US you would ask yourself “what if..” Seize the moment while you are young and able. Just being at college in Madison and living there all year long Allie gets the questions of what are you going to do, why don’t you come home etc…..and she too finds it annoying and personally invasive. No one asks me as an adult, when are you going to change jobs, get a better one, move to a bigger house….. Why is it OK to ask those questions of younger people? I think the adults are jealous and therefor inquisitive as to how you do/have done it. (And being American adults think hey have it all figured out.). Stay the course, reach for your dreams.

    1. Thank you so much, jane, that is such a humbling and touching thing to say.

      Such great perspective and insight- maybe its because we are young, or women, or both?

      HAPPY new year !🎆🎊🎈

  4. It makes me sad to think that some people don’t realize that teaching at an international school in France is a major professional accomplishment. I never got a hard time about whether I was coming home, but it bothered me that people didn’t realize that I had actual job that wasn’t total crap. Once I was grading papers and someone was like, “So does a professor approve those afterwards?” And I was like “NO, it’s ME, I’M the teacher.”

    “What ifs” are very hard to deal with for me. I know that the best thing to do is accept the choices I’ve made and make the most of them, but it’s not always easy to do that in reality.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing an awesome job at life!!

    1. Ugh I hated when people didn’t take my lectrice job seriously. And YES to your comment about international schools ! Also- Thanks 🙂

      You’re so kind 🙃

  5. Hell I get having limited time in France and wanting to enjoy every minute of it so not going home as often as you would have liked it is what it is and can’t be changed as in can’t change what was can only do better in the future. Take each day as it comes don’t stress over things that you have done because what is done is done and what’s the point in stressing over it, either do better or don’t and as for upsetting family that happens can’t make everyone happy all the time that is just a fact and family should be able to forgive and move on

  6. Oh the what ifs! There are so many! I thought about them a lot more in my earlier years in France. Things have settled down so much since then that I don’t wonder much anymore—but every once in a while I think geez, how nuts is it that my life ended up like this?

    I also used to get the “when are you coming home???” questions which hurt personally because I so much, umm, didn’t want to go “home.” But people eventually stopped asking.

    Now the hard part is the future: making sure little boy knows his American side.

    1. Glad to know I’m not alone / it gets better. And yes! Make sure Littlest knows where he came from. There’s so many great things about the USA and being American 🙂

  7. Hello! I think we all can relate to your post. I’m lucky that my friends and family don’t ask questions that would leave me frustrated, but even still, sometimes I ask myself those types of questions. I guess I’m at peace with where I am now. Your last paragraph is so true. No one has it figured out. Life moves on and we move with it and there’s no wrong path. Happy New Year!

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