The first time I came home from abroad I was 17, and had just finished a year as an exchange student in Germany.
I remember stepping off the plane and walking into my hometown’s tiny 6-gate airport where my friends and family were waiting to take me “home.” I was so proud of all I’d done and who I’d become during my year abroad.
But I was also really, really scared.
What will my life be like now?
If I talk about Germany, will it sound like I’m bragging?
Will I ever go abroad again?
Despite my fears, the first few weeks were great. I ate all of the foods I’d missed, I snuggled with my dog, and grinned from ear to ear as my friends and family happily looked at my scrapbook.
Two weeks in, I thought I was winning at re-entry.
I was under the impression that if I could survive the first few weeks back at home, I was good to go.
What I didn’t realize is that I’d only experienced one small part of re-entry. Instead of being nearly over it, re-entry was just beginning.
After returning home, all I could think about was going abroad again. In college I majored in German so I could spend a year studying in Stuttgart, and then I became an English teacher after graduation so I could spend another year abroad.
I felt the most alive out exploring the world and found that grad school gave me the perfect excuse to continue living and traveling abroad. I spent a few more years in Germany and traveled around Europe, the US, Central and South America, and Australia.
It’s probably no surprise that I wrote my PhD dissertation on study abroad, and that most of my career has been focused on teaching and helping global adventurers thrive before, during, and after they go abroad.
Even though I was thrilled with all of the time I spent abroad, and the way my international education career was shaping up, something always felt….off.
It took me years – and a lot of pain and searching – to figure it out.
I’d never resolved re-entry.
The deep effects of this unresolved re-entry were so subtle that I couldn’t ever put my finger on anything specific. But it was always there influencing my relationships, career decisions, and general level of happiness.
My primary re-entry coping strategy was to go abroad again. This strategy worked for many years — and going abroad so often actually made me a stronger person. But then I got married, my parents started getting older, I finished grad school, I moved…basically, my life started changing and I could no longer simply up and leave when I felt re-entry closing in.
At one point, I felt stuck, lost, and just generally miserable. Even though I had a loving and supportive husband, a great international education job, and liked where I lived, I just couldn’t shake a feeling of deep restlessness. I felt like such a failure; I wasn’t living abroad, nor was I happy in my home country.
I began asking myself some tough questions:
Who am I if I’m not living abroad?
What does “global” mean to me at this point in my life?
What’s most important to me right now?
Who am I and what do I want?
What is it about traveling and living abroad that makes me feel so alive?
If I move abroad again, what do I want the experience to be like?
I also slowly worked through the lingering grief, guilt, and loss inherent in living abroad and choosing a different life path from other people.
After much reflection, tough self-love, and many heart-to-hearts with my husband (you rock, Aaron!), I made peace with re-entry and created a thriving global life around my Global Life Ingredients – one that fits who I am and includes what’s most important to me at this point in my life.
The bonus? I no longer dread re-entry. Instead of a sad ending, re-entry is now simply another step in my global life journey, one that leads to my next global adventure at home or abroad.
Today, I see that re-entry is a gift waiting to be unwrapped.
It’s taken me a looooong time to see re-entry as a gift but I do. More accurately, I choose to see re-entry as a gift. What’s inside? A global life that you love at home and abroad. A global life that builds on your experiences abroad, incorporates the things that are most important to you, and evolves as you grow and change.
Re-entry isn’t a negative experience for me anymore because I’ve created a global life that grows and evolves with me, and I want the same for you!
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