Repatriating: an ex-expat’s dilemma

Living abroad is a fantastic opportunity. So much that the thought of moving back “home” can be quite unsettling. In this blog, a fellow scientist turned writer describes her headspace regarding the possibility of repatriating to the USA.

By Jeanette McConnell, PhD

I remember when I was ten years old all I wanted to do was move away from home. Don’t get the wrong idea here: this had nothing to do with my family. I have a wonderful mother, an only slightly annoying little brother, and a glorious extended family.

But I wanted to explore. I wanted adventure. I wanted independence.

Nearly eighteen years later, here I am, entering my fifth year living 7,494 miles from my hometown.

Living in Australia has been an adventure. I found a wonderful partner and experienced both the highs and lows of graduate school here. I entered Sydney young and wide-eyed, ready to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity—and I believe that I did.

Now I am planning to move back to the States.

As a freshly minted PhD, there are more opportunities in the States, and if I’m completely honest, I miss my family.

But what will it be like trying to reintegrate into American society and culture? I have been an expat for the past four years. Does that status become negated when I return to the country I am from? I have been influenced and changed by Australian culture and by the experience of living as an outsider.

Can I be an expat who lives in the US?

When I first moved to Sydney, I would go to events and as soon as I opened my mouth everyone would know where I was from. I could see them testing me, deciding if I was an arrogant American.

Before I made a steady group of friends, I would have to prove my worth as a decent human being, to overcome my American accent, every time that I met a new person. Not to mention the comments I always got about my straight and white teeth. It was strange to be judged in this way.

But, it taught me a lot about what the world thinks of Americans. Wait let me re-phrase… it taught me that the actions of the American government and American media outlets have caused other countries to view Americans with distrust.

I do not want to lose this understanding when I return to the States.

Actually, I think that this change in my thought process, among many other things, will prevent me from ever not being an expat. I will soon be an expat among patriots, for better or worse.

I am going to miss living in Australia.

I’ll miss the dialect, the accent, and the way that Australians can shorten any word and everyone still seems to understand one another. (Kindie: Kindergarten, Prezzy: Present, Snag: Sausage, Tinny: Tin can of beer… and the list goes on.)

I will miss their excellent, yet very small, coffees.

I will miss not needing a car because the public transportation functions so well.

I’ll miss the fact that they usually pay their workers a decent wage ($19/hour if you are over 21).

But I will not miss the 14-hour plane ride and the 16-hour time difference separating me from my family.

Because of this separation I have experienced a massive level of independence during my time in Australia, remaining connected with my family and friends on my own terms. They could not check up on me and I could tell them as much or as little about my life as I wanted.

To this day, none of my relatives call me while I am in Australia. I always call them. This has something to do with the complexity of ‘dialing-out’ from within the States.

Often our families define us, because they are our origin. By living in Australia, so far from my family, I was given the opportunity to chose whether I wanted to be defined by them or not. I have chosen to keep my family as a large defining part of my existence. But it has been my time away that has made that a choice and something that was determined without my input.

Leaving the ‘land of the free’ granted me a level of independence and freedom that I did not know was possible.

And now as I plan my return home, I am scared to lose my new perspective, my independence, and my freedom that I have gained during this time abroad.

Who knows, maybe this move back to the States will only be temporary?

I will always be an expat at heart and there will always be international travel in my future.

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