I just returned to the US for the first time since I moved, which was almost a year ago.  I admit that I was a little bit anxious about returning home.

Would it feel like a million things had happened and I no longer “belonged” here?  Would my friends seem a lot different after a year apart or would it feel like life here had been frozen in time?  Would people be too busy to make time for me or would I end up overwhelmed with plans?  Would my nephews remember me?  Would Portland seem better after being away?  Would I wish that I could return to Portland RIGHT NOW and want to quit?

I can’t answer for what it will be like for every ex-pat/immigrant, but I can answer about my experience.

  • In some ways, it feels like I never left.  
    • When I walked through the Portland International Airport, it felt like I’d just been there.  When I was out having drinks with my friends at the same local bar we always went to, it was like no time had passed at all.  When I left a little before 5 PM one day, I almost went over to tell my former boss that I was taking off a little early.  My favorite Black Rock coffee shop is exactly where I left it and my Mexican mocha tastes exactly how I remember.  I didn’t sell my car before I left, so even my car is the same!
  • In other ways, I feel like I’ve been gone forever.
    • I might feel like I was just at PDX, but even the exit from the airport has changed.  My niece was just over a month old when I left and she’s almost a year old now.  My brother has lost so much weight that I didn’t recognize him.  The little Mexican food place that I wanted to go to on my first night is closed and a fitness center is in its place.  It took me several days to quit trying to use a clutch and shift in my American automatic, plus the gas is more responsive and the brakes are less responsive.
  • Things are both the same and different with my friends
    • A year in, life doesn’t seem to have changed dramatically for most of my friends.  They’re basically all in relationships with the same people, living in the same place and enjoying the same hobbies.  The time apart hasn’t been so extended that we’ve totally disconnected, so my calendar still filled up quickly with activities . . . and yes, it has already been a little overwhelming trying to juggle it all!  Of course, I can’t complain about having people who still care after a year apart!  At the same time, I’m a step removed from many things – the team members on my pool teams have changed, some of the teams are no longer together at all.  Some friendships have fallen apart, somebody quit drinking, somebody else started drinking again, a couple of jobs have changed.  Yet, they’re still your old friends, who’ve known you for years (or decades) and love you.
  • I’ve become very aware of how much I’ve changed
    • Given that I didn’t speak French well when I arrived, the past year has been a serious trial by fire.  It was one of the most challenging years of my life and that changes a person.  Somebody made a comment, “well, it’s because we know you,” and what they said was true of me before, but not now.  Some of the changes weren’t intentional, they just came from learning that I had the strength to power through some serious challenges.  And some of the changes were conscious choices that I made to choose a different path now that I was “starting over.”
  • Portland is still Portland and I’m not in a rush to move back
    • I love my friends and family in Portland.  I miss them.  I was thrilled my nephews remembered me, but it’s sad that my niece has no clue who I am.  I learned somebody at home has a serious illness that I wasn’t aware of, which raised the concern that I could lose someone while I’m overseas.  All of these things make me want to be in Portland . . . yet, I don’t actually want to be in Portland.  I mean, I want to be here to visit, and then I want to go home.
  • I already miss France
    • I miss my quiet little town.  I miss being ~5 minutes from everywhere that I need to drive on a daily basis.  I miss being able to go out to eat at any restaurant in town with a virtual guarantee that there will be healthy options.  I miss all of the seasonal, fresh, local produce that is easily available.  I miss how laid-back my French lifestyle is.  I miss driving through fields of sunflowers.  And it’s no reflection on my friends in the US, but I miss my friends in France (Snapchat videos only carry you so far!)