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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.