I often return from summer vacation back home feeling a bit blue and unsettled. I find that these feelings hit me the hardest just as we are settling into a routine, preparing to return to school and work. Maybe the blues are really more of a bittersweetness — yes, there is a sadness there, but there is also a sense of relief at being back in our own environment. 

I’m sad because summer went by far too quickly and I know I’ll miss my home country. There is sadness because I feel like I should have accomplished more  — I should have spent more time with family, shown my kids more of the country, gone to the beach more. At the same time, I know we squeezed out all we could from the time we had, we saw people and places, we managed the chaos, and we had fun. So why the blues? 

Well, the most obvious explanation is that it’s the aftermath of having just said our goodbyes and knowing it will be a while before seeing everyone back home again — that’s enough to make anyone gloomy.

But I think there are some other forces at play as well. I think it happens, partly, because when you go home you see everything and everyone from a new vantage point. You see family dynamics differently — tendencies and relationships, what’s wearing on people, health problems. All the things you have known about in theory, but not seen in reality, are now right there in front of you. Often times it’s not until you are back in the everyday that you can truly reflect on these observations and digest the reality of living with one foot in each of two worlds.  At least, that’s my experience. 

I have learned that living abroad, you tend to have a slightly idealized view of home. However, the reality on the ground is often very different from how you see it in your mind. So you come away with this nagging feeling that things are not as you remember them — be it relationships, people or places. It’s unsettling and bewildering, but not so strange if you think about it. We all change over time. It’s just that when we change while living in different environments, apart from each other, the contrasts undoubtedly become greater. 

One thing is clear — living in two different worlds can be taxing, it messes with your mind a bit. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling torn about living abroad — I like it, but it comes at a cost; there is a certain amount of latent guilt along with a sense of missing out. And there is nothing like a visit home to put it all to the forefront. 

I think the transitional phase right after you come back from visiting home is the toughest, for several reasons. For one, you’re often exhausted from the trip (and if you’re like me, seriously jet-lagged). Second, when returning back to everyday life, you have a lot of catching up to do — work, mail, bills, pets, paperwork for school — it’s overwhelming and tiring, the stress only adding to the post-vacation blues.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s not until returning to your home-away-from-home that it becomes clear what the trade-offs are for having made the decision to live abroad. There is a renewed awareness of what you’re missing out on, and a fresh sense of the impact of your decision on others. It’s no wonder you’re feeling a little blue. 

By: Felicia Shermis

Safety for the International Assignee
The Need to Belong