I have lived on multiple continents, studied abroad and have traveled to dozens of countries. Yet, this was a first. It was the first time I have lived in a foreign country and returned home for a visit. All the other times I have been away, I returned knowing that I was there to stay (at least for a while). Brett had been back twice for work, but it had been 10 months since the girls and I had crossed the ocean to begin a new life in Denmark. Suddenly, there we were…back in Seattle.
I am familiar with reverse culture shock, so walking into Whole Foods and standing in front of the yogurt aisle, in complete awe of the sheer variety, was not a big surprise. The world around me was loud, as I became acutely aware of the English language. I withdrew money, ordered coffee and picked up medicine, all from the comfort of my car. I made casual conversation with store clerks and returned things without a receipt. I ordered a double, tall, split-shot, extra hot, caramel macchiato and the barista didn’t flinch. Yep, we were back.
We rode ferries across Puget Sound in search of a mini-adventure and yummy crepes. We walked along drift wood and collected shells. We admired newly budding cherry blossoms, snowy mountain ranges and lush evergreens.
We reconnected, through hugs and birthdays celebrations, at Easter gatherings, over glasses of wine and around dinner tables with friends and family…
The days in Seattle felt fun and familiar, like we had never left. Yet, I wondered what the girls were thinking. How did it feel for them to see our old house, eat familiar foods and see so many familiar faces? When I was my daughter’s age, we moved from New Jersey to Peru and I wasn’t happy about it. Looking back, I cherish that time in my life and have wonderful memories of being there. But I suspect that at the time, it would have felt like a cruel joke to be offered the opportunity to go back to New Jersey for a “visit”.
Before we left, other expat parents told us that the girls would likely go through the adjustment of moving, all over again, once we returned to Europe. I don’t know if it is due to age or personality, but the 4-year-old’s transition seemed to go without-a-hitch, but in the case of a certain 6-year-old…they were right. Her world is getting bigger and when you have to travel across an ocean for a play-date, you suddenly realize how big it really is! Jet-lag, combined with confusion and homesickness did not make for the happiest days upon our return to Denmark. Comforting my girl, I saw myself in her tear-filled eyes…skeptical of change and unconvinced of the value that adults keep saying this experience is worth.
Parents often talk about how well children adjust to new situations – sometimes with more ease than adults. We often say they are tough, resilient and able to adapt. I find this to be true, but they are not inhuman and their emotions are raw and real.
Seeing her sad, I had to remind myself why we did this, which wasn’t hard to do, because I could see that this experience has already added value. She loves with her whole heart and does not take thing – or especially people – for granted. It has also strengthened our family’s bond. Our little family of four provided her with the love and support she needed to feel safe and secure. (Good sleep, a trip to Tivoli and a birthday celebration at school, full of lots of love and attention helped too.)
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for her to settled back in to life in Copenhagen – she is currently counting-down the days until her cousins arrive. She can’t wait to show them her “home away from home”.