1) You will feel alone. Wherever you were in the world, it’s likely there were people around. New people, fun people, interesting people. People who understood you and people who didn’t. Always something to challenge and adapt to. Now that you’re home, that might not be the case. Also, people may not show as much interest in where you’ve been. That happens. The best way to get over this is to also get over yourself. Also, volunteering. Or even just being around people you can interact with. Block parties, bars, clubs, libraries etc. In the words of Ariel: I want to be where the people are.
2) You will feel angry. Maybe it’s reconnecting with friends who are now really busy with family/jobs/moved away. Maybe it’s trying to find a job and realizing that teaching ESL and yoga/basket weaving wasn’t the best idea in terms of future job perspectives and no one will hire you. Maybe it’s trying to unpack and not wanting to. Maybe it’s going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Either way, feelings of anger and frustration are totally normal. Think of yourself as an aging movie star. Just don’t start drinking and wearing peignoirs. The gloriousness you once felt is no longer there. And it takes adjusting.
3) Nothing has changed. This can be good and bad. On the one hand, it’s soothing to know that, no matter what happens to you, returning home will be like you never left. On the other hand, you may have changed and outgrown whatever you left behind. It’s a duality of embracing both change and stagnation that people struggle with. Like jetlag, it takes some time to get over.
4) Everything has changed. Depending on how long you’ve been away, people may have changed and moved ahead in their lives without you. Marriage, deaths, family, children…while you were away being amazing and saving the world or teaching yoga in Thailand. Much like with parties and drinking, there’s no catching up. Frantically trying to get on the path that everyone else is is certainly the path to sadness and frustration. You’re on your own path. There’s more than one way to get to where you want to go. And there’s time.
5) You will feel hungry. The food isn’t so great. I’m not talking about the amazing wonders of international cuisine we’ve been blessed with in the Western world, I’m talking more about grocery stores. Why does bread not mold or go stale? How is it possible that milk bought overseas lasts 3 days and milk here lasts a month?! That can’t be right. Why is there so much frozen food and why is it so easy and cheap to buy? There’s a period of “food adjustment” that comes when you’ve been away. Start slow. And try not to be too disappointed by the produce that tastes watery and depressing. Try farmer’s markets and eating seasonally to maximize the freshness and flavor!
6) Reverse culture shock. It happens. And it’s usually the little things. An example of questions your brain may ask upon returning may include: why is the check-out clerk asking me how I am? Why do they want to know? I don’t know that person, why are they smiling at me? Why are bathroom stall doors so short? Why is there so much driving? Why are people always afraid someone’s going to suspect them of wrong-doing? Why are people buying so much stuff at the grocery store?!
7) You will feel lost. No matter how long you’ve been gone or where, you’ve had something to guide you. GPS, maps, friends, relatives, a hand drawn list of directions you copied from Google maps. Something to tell you where you were going. A purpose. A mission. And now that’s all gone.
8) Your money may dwindle. There are a lot of things to pay for again. Healthcare, gas, insurance, car payments, college loans, rent, electricity, water, garbage, etc. It adds up. I remember the freedom of living overseas on $300 a month and still having money left over to travel with. Even with trips to the dentist and house calls from a doctor, it was still enough. Coming back home? $300 isn’t going very far.
9) Chemically, your brain is decompressing. It’s just science. For however long you were gone, every day your mind was in survival mode. Where are you going, how will you communicate, where will food come from, what’s that weird noise, etc. Paul Nussbaum, of the neuroscience dept. at The University of Pittsburg says that “When you expose your brain to an environment that’s novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts”. Now that it doesn’t have all that stimulation, it’s slowing down and adjusting to your ‘new’ surroundings again.
10) You will want to run again. Embrace it. Plan that ridiculous fantasy trip, if only using your mind and kayak.com/buzz. It’ll make you feel better and keep your mind looking toward the future.