As far as the whole expat lifestyle goes, I can deal with the regular change in scenery. Packing up and settling down in a new place is easy because all the logistics and planning propel you forward. One thing I’m not so sure of is how expats deal with the emotional turnover that comes with consistently changing places.
I’m proud of myself for never looking at Bogotá as just the place I’d be living the next two years. I made it my home because I didn’t see how being happy was possible if I continued to look over my shoulder at the U.S. But when we left Bogotá this past June and it was time to open my heart to the next place, it wasn’t so easy to stop looking back.
Somehow I thought that because I said proper goodbyes to friends, wrapped up my volunteer work and took my last walk around Parque Virrey, that my affection for my adopted home would follow suit. Unfortunately, there’s no switch that turns off those feelings when it’s time to move on.
I recently read a blog post from a fellow expat who compared leaving your temporary home to being dumped. I agree with that, but think it goes one step further: expat life is like getting dumped and immediately jumping into a new relationship. Because if you think about it, you’re going right into your new home without a chance to get over your old one.
I came to Madrid expecting to love it. I didn’t. I loved aspects of life, like all the quality time I had with Velázquez, Picasso, Goya, and Gaudí. I found incredible used bookshops and visited every bar frequented by Hemingway. But instead of keeping those good moments in the fore I mostly fixated on the things I didn’t like—the horrible service in shops, the late lifestyle, the cumbersome time difference. And for real, enough with the ham already.
Now, we’ve finished the short term assignment in Madrid and I’ve been back in the U.S. almost two weeks. Having a moment in a familiar place has helped me see that even if you do your goodbyes well, the real emotional wave doesn’t break until the dust has settled in the next place. I suppose it’s not that I didn’t like Madrid—I never even gave it a chance.
Whether it’s people or places, goodbyes top the list of things that never get easier for expats. On the bright side, familiarity helps. Both times we’ve moved the busy-ness and excitement pushed the emotional aspect aside and only once things were quiet did those feelings rush in to fill the vacuum. Knowing what to expect only helps you ride the emotional waves that used to knock you over.
Cody and I will be in the U.S. for the next month or so, renewing our passports and getting ready for a more permanent assignment. It’s still not certain where we’ll be headed, but it feels good to be ready to build again, no matter where we go.