sydney harbour bridge, sunset

The Space Between

September 25, 2013

in family, friends, life changes, moving home, new york city

I love being in New York, but I miss Sydney.

It’s in a new way, not in the fashion I used to talk about, how America had more convenience and options yet Australia had less crime and more friendliness. Conversations comparing two countries can be useful. Discussions about which place has better infrastructure, transport, health care and social support are relevant because they formulate ideas about the quality of life that’s best for you, the place where there are good work opportunities, the best place to raise a family and to retire.

But I don’t necessarily find myself comparing so much as craving the feeling Sydney gave me and its beauty. I see pictures of the Sydney Harbour, the see-through, green-blue sea, the perfect beach scenes, the craggy cliffside cuddling the Bondi shoreline, and my heart breaks a little bit. Sydney was never perfect for me, but neither was America. Yet, Australia has a certain purity in relation to the time and space of my life that I lived there.

Shoreline along the path to Bondi Beach

When I got there, my life was poised on the precipice of great possibility. It still is, but not in the same way. I’m not a bright-eyed, just-turned 28-year-old whose life had to be rebuilt and, thus, was open to each and every opportunity out of necessity. There are things I cannot get away with now that I could when I first arrived in Sydney. I was allowed to be lost then in the most wondrous way possible. I truly felt I had a global circle of friends while I was there, and was fortunate to have so many souls to call upon and who stayed there for me while I was off on an adventure that lasted longer than expected.

sydney harbour bridge, sunset

Now that I’m back, I am feeling the loss. It became quickly and painfully apparent that there were certain people who, while I thought we’d maintained a solid connection while I was away, aren’t really as close as I believed. There are some friends who I believe still treat me like I’m on an island 10,000 miles away instead of on one that’s only about 90 minutes’ drive. And it’s made me wonder if this is what I deserve, if this is my karma. I up and left. I was so bold, abandoned everything to do something selfish for years, and I missed a lot while I was gone. And maybe while I was still gone, that was forgiven, but now that I’m back, it makes people angry. “She’s back, and now she thinks people should care? Should visit? Should come to her?”

Even when you follow a dream, there is always a sacrifice, forever a trade-off. You lose something for gaining something. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to figure out which one you value more. You cannot have it all.

And if you meet enough people who have lived abroad, I think you’ll find this to be true. There are some who stopped keeping in touch with the close friends they had back home altogether. Others hold on, but it’s always one-sided. They do all the calling, all the visiting, all the Skyping at times when they could be out exploring their new country to keep that increasingly tenuous connection alive. But the spark fizzles to a few shocks here and there, until it dies altogether. At some point, whether while you’re still abroad or on a visit or after you’ve returned home, you’ll realize you always knew these things about these people, but wouldn’t let yourself see it. We protect ourselves a lot when it comes to people we love to close off the painful reality of who they really are. This is by no means all friends, all people, but a few will be lost in the mix. Every former expat I know has told me as much.

Sydney beach

This is all sad, I know, and it’s a sadness I’m feeling right now. There’s a multi-layered grief occurring in my world, and it always takes time for these things to strike the soul full-force. But it’s not a feeling that erases my happiness for leaving to live in Australia and everything I found while there. I have become a more peaceful person, a more alive person who loves to explore and who is more confident, and many of the things I grappled with before I left are not my demons now.  Australia let me stay a confused 20-something for a little while longer, then nudged me into finally growing up. If I never set foot on its soil again, the love I have for it will stay with me, like the love of a family member that is no longer here. And I’ll rely on the experience to help myself readjust to new life in an old country.

Have you moved back to your native country after long-term travel or life abroad? I’d really love to hear your story.

19 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Laura

    Man oh man, I haven’t even left Sydney yet (I’m headed back to NY in a few months, but only for a short time before moving onto Asia) and I feel I can relate so much to this. I know I will miss Sydney, miss Australia; I know that I will feel a disconnect with my friends and family back home. I already feel the resentment of everyone not dropping everything and spending Christmas with ME instead of their new families and their new friends. What I thought would be a big warm welcoming from home is going to be just my parents and then me traveling to see everyone in their own cities in the US. I feel hurt, but it’s my fault as well, how can I expect everyone to put everything on hold when I have neglected them for the three years that I’ve been away?

    Thanks for writing this and I hope you find your footing again at home, or figure out what it is that you want to do next.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Laura. It’s a weird feeling, isn’t it, the sort of guilt even though it might not even be warranted and then the bitterness that others sort of have fallen off the radar. Someone told me that I needed to prepare myself to not feel special anymore when I moved home. You’re like a celebrity when you visit while you’re living away. It’s not necessarily that I want anyone to drop things for me, but I think it stems back to before I even left. I always was the one visiting people, even though I only lived a state away. Maybe it’s a long-time coming that this is all burbling over now. Anyway, good luck to you and I hope you enjoy the holidays and transition to Asia – that’s exciting!

  2. Lindsay

    We miss you (and Brendan). Heaps.

    I feel fortunate that because Steve is Aussie I’ll always have a reason to come back, but the time to move away from Sydney is coming nearer and I am confident I’ll share many of your emotions… I already do and nothing has changed.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Lindsay 🙁 We miss you guys, too. I miss just being able to catch up for a drink or brunch (or wine and cheese in the DJ food court :). It must be double-layered in a way for you because you’ve lived in Australia twice. So there was that transition away from and then back home, and how Round 2. I am here for you when that times comes. And, who knows, maybe we’ll be neighbors in New York.

  3. Rebecca

    All I can say is time helps everything. I was overseas for 2+ years and for the same amount of time after returning, I would like count back (this time last year, I was blahblahblah, etc). I also didn’t come back under the greatest circumstances (out of money during the recession and was just tired all the time of trying to hustle and essentially gave up). I knew it would turn around eventually and it did. Time helped. I have now been back more then twice as long as I was gone and while I cherish my time and love to talk about it still, it feels dated.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Rebecca. I think I will always talk about my time abroad. It was such a massive part of my life. I give you a lot of credit for making it past tough circumstances and getting to where you are. Would you ever move abroad again?

      1. Rebecca

        For now, I am over living abroad. I missed my family a lot and while I came home earlier then I had hoped, missing them was part of the reason it sucked a little less. Unless my job took me overseas, I wouldn’t make the effort personally. I have a dog, a car and am finally living in a city I love. I love traveling still, but I think I am going to stick to one short and one long vacation a year. That seems to work pretty well for me at the moment. I will always talk about my time abroad, as should you. Never stop! When you stop talking, you’ll forget. And I know I would never want that to happen to me.

        Forgot to say earlier, great post, great topic. One I never really got around to writing about on my blog.

        1. Lauren Post author

          Thanks Rebecca. That’s great that you are confident in your choices and where your life is now, especially the part about loving where you live. I hope all former expats can continue to find a space to talk about their adventures abroad. There are stories to last a lifetime.

  4. Beverley | Pack Your Passport

    This post perfectly describes how I’m feeling right now. I’m home in England after 3 years working/travelling in Australia and New Zealand and, although I’m excited to make a new life in London and start again and explore places a bit closer to home, every time I see a picture of Sydney or a Facebook status about Melbourne or a picture posted by my ex-flatmates in Auckland I get a pang of….I don’t know what it is….sadness? Nostalgia? Jealousy?

    I guess I’m nostalgic about Australia because I travelled there with my boyfriend of 6 years and I’m nostalgic about New Zealand because, when we broke up shortly after arriving in Auckland, it’s where I picked up the pieces and learned what it was like to be on my own again. And I made it work.

    Australia was the first place I ever travelled to and I hold so many fond memories of figuring things out in the early days, like where to live or eat or work. It wasn’t always fun, sometimes it was really hard, but I’ll never regret going there despite not being with the person I went there with anymore.

    I’m hoping that over time I’ll feel differently about it. But at the moment it kind of feels like it never happened – I’ve been home for about 3 months and, I don’t know if you’ve found this, but not many people back home really care that much that I went away. In fact, my best friend has hardly spoken to me since I’ve been back.

    I sincerely hope that you feel better about the whole thing soon hun and that we can both learn to feel really happy and grateful that we had that time in another country rather than spending that time at home doing the same things we always have done.

    Thank you for writing this x

    1. Lauren Post author

      Oh Beverley, your post breaks my heart. I hate that you feel this way, but at the same time, maybe it’s representative of how much your time and travels abroad meant. And you’re a good person that you can still cherish that time despite having experienced some of it with someone who is no longer your significant other.

      I am on the same page as you are as far as close friends, including my best friend, and I’ve been home around the same amount of time as you have. For the most part, I’ve had to approach them or visit them in their state. I live in New York City and no one is making an effort to come visit. I’m lucky that one of my other close friends lives in the same area of the city as I do. She’s been a saving grace, but at the same time, I know she has her own life and I don’t want to overburden her.

      Sigh. I know it will get better for both of us. I really meant it when I said that a lot of former expats I’ve talked to have felt this way. My sister-in-law, who’s lived in both Australia and Ireland, said all her friends disappeared when she moved back. I don’t really understand why that happens. Maybe they feel abandoned. Maybe they’re jealous. Maybe they’re unhappy with themselves and in their lives. Maybe they’ve just moved on and they are too different from us now to be close like we used to. Who knows. But I do know that what you did by living abroad was awesome and it is life-defining and world-changing. Always hold onto it.

  5. iliana

    Wonderful post – hits home with many, and warns the ones about to repatriate. I relate to the comments too, strongly. You say ‘You cannot have it all.’ In the words of the great Gatsby – ‘Why, of course you can!’. Only not at the same time, not at the same place, I add. The people that once were my best friends, so eagerly waiting for me to return and catch up in the first couple of years, now only want the trailer of my recent life via FB. And when I happen to travel home, it’s me that goes to visit (yes, they have a life and kids now, but I only have a few days back home). So, yes, that happens to many. When I was about to cross oceans for a second time, I simply asked my new best friends – will you do that too? One (an expat) told me – you can’t go away for more than a few months and expect it will all be the same, people move on with their lives. Now I know it was her own experience talking. 5 years later, she is amongst the few that keep being good friends. I think I am lucky – she knows what it would feel to be forgotten, and we care about each other. Mind you – she too has a life, two kids, got a degree while keeping a full time job, moved to another state. But she finds the time. So, in my biased more-than-once-expatriated opinion – the true ones will stick. Some may need a warm up time – after all, we went away, we saw the world, we expanded our thinking in way they can’t imagine or comprehend. But we can still bridge the gap with acceptance of our differences. And it’s ok that we would make the first step – after all, we are the one that need to rebuild our lives, as if we are abroad again.
    I have another few months in Australia, and I know I will miss a lot, I’m already a bit nostalgic. But as my Mother puts it bluntly – ‘It was your choice to leave home.’ My solution – make the best of what we have here and now. ‘We cannot have it all’. And when I relocate, I will do the same.
    But I see a silver lining to our common ‘I miss it’ – it means we bonded with a place, with the people we met, we saw beauty we wouldn’t otherwise see, we perhaps felt independent and empowered that we made it, we believe more in ourselves, we let our wild side blossom. And that enriching life experience, I think, it’s worth the few sad moments we stumble upon.
    I loved this quote by Pascal Mercier I recently read – “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

    1. Lauren Post author

      Love, love, love your comment Iliana. I really adore that final quote. It’s so true. I am finding solice in speaking with a very good friend I had in Sydney, which is funny, because she has not yet moved back home from being abroad (in fact, she hasn’t gone home in about three years, even for a visit). But somehow she gets it. I know there may be a little selfishness on the part of the expat, but I do want to be involved in my friends’ lives. The only barrier I put up is that I struggle to listen to the same complaints and dramas in life that they had 3.5 years ago. So maybe I am the problem. I realize how mundane and stuck a lot of people are now if they are still talking about the same problems they had back in 2009/2010. So maybe I am asking for too much in that I am in a way asking that these people moved on with their lives in a positive way as I did. Anyway, enjoy your last few months in Oz. I look forward to following the next part of your journey.

  6. Heather

    Fritz, it took months for my heart to not feel broken every time I thought about Australia, and like you, it wasn’t just the great things about Oz but just as much (if not MUCH more so), the way I felt when I was there, the version of me I got to be, and the ideas and dreams that were hatched there.

    I desperately wanted to return in May of next year for at least a month, but with the visa process for Gav and needing/wanting to visit family and friends there a couple of times in the next year, we have to postpone. And for the last few months, when I’ve thought about that I’m actually NOT going next year as I’d always thought, I get so emotional and cry. I’m afraid if I don’t return soon, Australia will soon feel like a dream — a great dream, but a dream.

    Good things have happened since returning over two years ago, and I love where I live! But it’s not the same home I left over three years ago. Friendships are lost or are different. I’m different.

    I wouldn’t trade Australia for all of the challenges of coming home, and I’d repeat the experience in a heart beat, time and time again.

    I’ve missed us being in touch since I left. You are one of my fave things about my time there.

    1. Lauren Post author

      Heather, you are such a sweet soul. Let’s arrange a Skype date soon. I remember talking to you in the first few months after you moved back and I know it was difficult. At the time, I empathized, but couldn’t fathom. Now I can. We’ve had similar good fortunes come our way in terms of finding and marrying our “ones.” Sometimes I feel guilty I’ve had such good fortune yet am complaining about missing this foreign country I had the privilege of living in when so many never get the opportunity we did. I hope you get to visit again sooner rather than later.

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