What we understand and misunderstand about coming back home

It’s not easy to come home.

First, there’s the sixteen hours of the flight back, which is in itself a special kind of torture. There’s the reverse culture shock, this inability to comprehend what it’s like to be among people who speak your native language. For the first twelve hours being back,  there’s the violent jolting back to a place where the unfamiliar becomes the comforting – where things like ordering a coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts inside Newark Terminal E bring back a searing sense of nostalgia for no apparent reason at all.

It feels powerless to come home.

There’s a sense of complete disorientation about being back on the other side of the globe. It’s difficult because people who you used to love no longer know what to do with you. They can’t drop their lives for a week to spend as much time with you as possible, no matter how much you want them to. There’s this desire to experience everything, to see everyone, to disrupt their daily lives to say, here, I am here, why are you not paying attention? There is so much to discuss in so little time. And that’s the thing: there is just so little time.

And then there’s the jet lag.

For the first week, I doze off by 6pm, I’m restless and awake at 4am and groggy in all of the hours in between. I function best at times that I should be asleep. I refuse to fully acclimate because in just a week I’ll be back in a more familiar time zone. I never really get used to home.

And so, it’s not easy to come back home, but we do it anyways, because we miss our friends, our family, the food, the people, the clean air, the green road signs on I-95 pointing me towards New Haven (Exit 3).

We miss it all, until we actually come back. And then I begin to miss Shanghai.

3 thoughts on “What we understand and misunderstand about coming back home”

  • Ah Maria, I so understand. I lived in Europe for two years in my mid-twenties. I had a much harder time readjusting to the US when I returned than I ever did moving to Ireland. The cars (so BIG!), my mother’s laundry soap (chin to toe rash from the sheets), it went on and on. It’s astonishing how many things change in a mere two years.

    The jet lag gets worse with age and with diminishing space on the planes, we’ve discovered. We now set aside at least one over night in a hotel or hostel upon landing before contacting anyone we know. Mostly we sleep.

    We have to go back in August and I’m dreading it. I just keep focusing on the fact I’ll be able to swim in a pond, eat lots of blueberries and have a good Margarita at our favourite Mexican restaurant.

    I applaud you for figuring out people have laundry to do, lives to lead so they can’t “vacate” with you, as much as they may want to. We’ve had visitors who never got this. It made for a miserable three weeks, especially since we had to move houses the day after they left. Yikes.

    Best wishes,

    • Thank you for your kind message! it really doesn’t get as easy as we want it to to when we come back, does it? I also find that the things that keep me sane when I come home have become outdated in just a few years, so i’m a living relic of the US in 2014 in some ways, which is such a bizarre feeling!

      • It really is so amazing how many little things change in just a couple of years. I remember not being able to make a phone call because they’d changed something on pay phones when I was gone. Musicians had whole careers–became known, peaked and then sank into oblivion–while I was gone. I had to ask someone about two political scandals several months after my return, which made me look like a real uninformed dope. Usually those things fade away, but Watergate didn’t so there I was asking “What’s Watergate?” when it had been going on around me for months. I just figured it would die out like any other scandal so hadn’t bothered to ask.

        Conversely, I didn’t go back to Ireland for 20 years so there’s a 20-year gap in my knowledge. Every so often I have the opportunity to learn about some event or period of time that occurred during my absence. It’s sort of like taking a train trip, getting off at a particular station, then finding yourself ten stations down the line, wondering what you missed. Every so often someone talks about the great snack bar or the messy bathrooms in one or the other of the missed stations so you get some context.

        I was raised by Irish-born grandparents. They were born in the 1870s. I am ideally suited for life in Gilber & Sullivan-era western Ireland. We go with what we’ve got in life.

        I love your stories, love your insights and the questions that arise in your life. Keep writing.

Leave a Reply