The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Returnee Family

It's been one year that we've been home after living in Japan. This was our third time to live in Japan, so the reverse culture shock was expected. However, it was the first time we lived in Japan with kids which created a new dimension of reverse culture shock. The girls are now eight and six, but lived in Japan beginning at ages five and three. The youngest didn't remember living in the U.S. when we moved back, although we had visited the States several times during our stay abroad. The oldest remembers everything about living in Japan in vivid detail through (maybe not unfairly) rose colored glasses.

The new challenge: Adjusting to the U.S. when your kids (and you) enjoyed the other lifestyle better.

Don't get us wrong. We love the U.S. We are proud Americans.  We particularly love living in the South. We missed our family and friends when me moved abroad. We missed our fireplace, the ease of parking, and Target. The kids are happy to now own a trampoline, something we would never had been able to accomplish in our miniscule yard (unless it was one of those tiny trampolines for exercise, but who wants that?). We missed having a dog (or at least most of us did).

However, we liked walking to stores and restaurants. Walking around aimlessly while experiencing new sites serendipitously (without fear). Having our weekends free for discovery and adventure, rather than the rush from activity to activity between stops at Home Depot. 

The children were free to ride their bikes with the local kids to parks without worry. We were outside every day: rain, shine, snow, heat or cold (this was not always pleasant but feels healthier in hindsight). At school, the girls walked to places like parks and went on fun field trips (like sledding). The international and Japanese kids in their classes were more innocent and carefree than kids in the States.

We were 30 minutes from the beach and mountains. The food and drinks were fun. The people we met were warm and giving. Our days could be frustrating but they were always interesting. The zoo, museums, and other fun stuff were free for kids or very cheap. There was a lot of seasonal entertainment from festivals to ice skating for reasonable cost.

We were on an extended vacation where we still worked and went to school. Everyday life could be challenging (luckily my husband was fluent) but never boring. And we met other people similar to us.

We miss living in Japan. And we're trying to get over our homesickness.

And I bet there's quite a bit other people out there who miss it, too. Or maybe you lived in other parts of Asia or Europe. Spent time in Australia or other parts down under. You miss living in South America or Africa? This blog is for you. 

What living experience do you miss the most?


  1. Ris, Great job! This is perfectly done, not whiny

  2. An ex-expat, I'm going to follow this for a while, looking for a place to truly mourn expat life (35 years in Japan, lots of time in France, love my mother USA but am expat at heart and just chafe at my new small, charming, beautiful and boring town/life). Being snarky for a sec, I hope you get your giganormous carp photo at the top a bit smaller so we can see a lot of the blog without scrolling first......

  3. Thanks for following, Kay. I know exactly how you feel about your new life. It's hard to explain how you feel to those who haven't lived overseas.
    Sorry about the carp. I like him, but can't figure yet how to shrink him. I may have to throw him back for something new.

  4. I'm also an ex ex-pat finding the adjustment a wee bit difficult even after a year of being 'back home'. I've spent 16 years in the following countries: The Netherlands, Romania, Czech Rep, Slovak Rep. and Albania. We're back in Canada now and living in a fairly small town. I miss my friendships tremendously, especially the laughter and lovely times I spent with my girlfriends. It's really hard to make friends since we were away so long and moved back to an unfamiliar town. Any advice on meeting people? Kim

  5. Hi Kim,
    That's tough. I found, when you're an expat it's easier to make friends with people from your home country because you have the "foreigner in a foreign land" as a shared experience. That's why I started this blog. I wanted a place to express how much I miss my overseas living experience without sounding whiny (I hope) to like-minded people.

    If your town has foreign country friendship societies, I would start there. The second time we returned from Japan, I got involved in a Japanese group which helped me to meet other Japanese families and other people who had lived in Japan. That led to teaching English to a few families, which helped me keep a connection I missed.

    Even if the country is not one you've lived in, generally there are people who appreciate or have experienced the expat experience. Do you live within driving distance to a larger city that would offer cultural events related to the countries you lived in?

    Because you're in a small town, you might not have those options. The best way to meet new friends is to get involved in your community. You have to make the effort in a small town (I grew up in one), which is not easy. It may be hard to find other people who value the experiences you've had, but there will be some who appreciate what you've done even if they don't understand it.

    I hope eventually people can find each other through this blog, though. You may not be able to see them in person, but you never know what kind of friendships can develop. I recently made a friend through a writing blog (we were both commenting at someone else's blog). It's led to an email friendship where we're emailing each other several times a week and hope to meet in person at a conference next year.

    Good luck Kim! You are not alone:-)

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful answer :)

    Our town is probably too small and too distant from any sort of international group, though I did phone the 'newcomers' group up to see what they might offer and that might lead to something. Last week I dropped off my application to our local hospital's volunteer association and have started the process to be part of that. I'm really looking forward to having something to do that involves being around other people!

    I'll drop by your blog often and read all your posts :))

    Nice meeting you! Kim

  7. I'm so glad to hear you looked into the newcomers group & are applying to volunteer, Kim! Good for you! Are you Canadian? I was going to say all the Canadians I have met in my travels have been such nice, friendly people that I'm very hopeful you're going to find some friends soon.

    I have an expat friend that I met in Japan that has just moved back to the US to a new city and is experiencing the same feelings. She's going to be a guest poster soon and will talk about this topic. I hope it helps just to know that you are not alone!

    Nice to meet you, too!