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.
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.
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.
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.