This post is a little different than usual, but it has been on my mind for a while now. If you’ve ever lived abroad for any amount of time, you know how it can be lonely it can be. We recount its advantages together or and commiserate about the difficulties we’ve faced. After 6 years, I’m only now starting to get past the various negative emotions, which truly come in waves overtime, I’ve felt since leaving my previous life behind.
Living abroad is an adventure but it’s more of a challenge. An ongoing challenge, which I’m not sure ever really ends. The formalities and all the permits and blah blah is nothing compared to the loneliness you experience. There are times when you forget the differences which set you apart from everyone surrounding you and then it’s recalled swiftly and without warning. A song which everyone seems to know the words to which you’ve never heard before. A joke which has to be explained to you long after everyone has stopped laughing. Those instances are like a subtle warning whispering to you. Don’t get too comfortable. This isn’t your place. You don’t belong here. But then again, isn’t everyone reminding you of that constantly? Of course it’s not intentional but people’s comments and behaviors continually force a rift between you and everyone else. Each person you meet balks at you and asks why you live here. They giggle when you speak their language, which stings no matter how many times it happens.
The effort that must be made to fit in, to communicate what you really mean, to present yourself in the manner which reflects your true self most accurately – those are complex enough in your natural environment, much less a different context. Other aspects cause long-lasting damage. The friendships which fade away despite your best efforts to keep in touch are one of the worst side effects of moving abroad. You can’t know for sure the reasons why some people make an effort and some people don’t. Why your best friend from college pushes you aside as if you never mattered. Why your friends don’t ask how you’re managing. Don’t they know how hard it is for you? How sometimes you’re just barely holding it all together?
Despite the fact that you’ve lived away for years, it’s still a struggle that you want people to understand. It’s not something that others get. Your family, your friends, your partner – those people who haven’t lived abroad for an extended period of time – they can’t understand the sadness and loneliness you sometimes feel as a perpetual alien. And the knowledge that you miss every birthday, every Christmas, every important occasion in your family’s lives. You’re the one who’s always missing. You have to deal with the guilt you feel for not being there. You try as hard as you can to stay in touch and make those you left feel loved but most don’t seem to reciprocate. You visit, you write, you call, but how often do they? So they’re forgetting and letting go. Even with all the forms of communication we have nowadays, it’s still not the same to see someone and be with them in the same physical space. It’s as if they’re offended you left, when it really has nothing to do with them but your own wish to live as you choose and go where the wind blew you, not a conscious decision to hurt those who care about you.
How do you reconcile those feelings? If you do move back, it will never be the same. You’re different now, changed. You can simply reassimilate as if nothing ever happened. You have an altered way of being, of living. A lifestyle which can’t simply be relocated. When you live abroad you start to change your habits, ways of communicating, thinking. How do you just go back? Is it possible? My guess is that after so long abroad, you can’t fit in anywhere. You have to accept a constant state of limbo where you don’t feel right here and you don’t feel right there. But inside your home, you can feel right. That’s the only place you can be you.
If you’ve had a similar experience and can offer some advice or just simply want to commiserate, please write to me in the comments.