Returning Home: A Tougher Transition?

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  03.26.09 | 11:08 AM ET

Photo by *Solar ikon*, via Flickr (Creative Commons)

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Alan Paul writes that he’s feeling persistent grief, three months after returning to the U.S. following a three-year stint in China. He misses his neighborhood noodle restaurant in Beijing, and his kids miss the friends they made at their international school. It’s been a rougher transition than moving to Beijing in the first place, a sentiment shared by several former expats he interviews about cultural re-entry.

“I have certainly found myself carrying a heavier sense of loss here than I ever did there,” he notes. “During my stay in Beijing, people in the U.S. would ask me about missing home and often didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t a problem. I longed for specific people or places, sometimes profoundly, but I never had a deep sense of loss, simply because I knew that my old existence wasn’t gone forever; it was on hold and I would be returning to it ...”

I can’t say I experienced a deep sense of grief after I returned from a year in Taiwan. What I most remember, from my first few weeks home, is a collage of odd reactions: Subway escalators seemed agonizingly slow; quarters and dimes felt light in my palm; and the Washington Post and New York Times, victims of cost-cutting during my time away, appeared to be toy-sized versions of their previous selves.

But Paul and I do agree on this: it’s the small things you miss the most. In Taipei, I lived above one of the buzzing night markets that create a tight sense of community in the city. Each night, at midnight, I’d fall asleep to the sound of one straggling vendor packing up and hosing down his stall. Rinse. Scrub. Rinse. Scrub. Every night, for a year. I thought I’d savor the comparative silence of my Washington, D.C., neighborhood when I came home, but, more often than not, I find myself recalling that sound—deliberately—just as I’m on the verge of sleep.

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

1 Comment for Returning Home: A Tougher Transition?

Roger 03.26.09 | 1:54 PM ET

I can relate to this subject on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. I spent two wonderful stints in London in the late eighties and early nineties for a total of about six years, and I’ve never gotten over leaving London. My only saving grace, is my wife, who was both the reason we left London, and the reason I found some enjoyment being back in the States. She did not grow up in the States, and everything we did felt a little more special because it was all new to her. I know everything has worked out for the best, but don’t under estimate the power of falling in love with a new culture and place. It wasn’t as hard for me to give up America as I might have thought. I never experienced homesickness, for instance, but reverse homesickness has been with me constantly.

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