I have lived almost my entire adult life abroad with all that that entails — building friendships, raising kids, working, engaging in my community, and so on. While I have maintained close ties to my family back home, there is no doubt that, over time, my identity has been shaped by the culture I’ve lived in. At the same time, I’ve worked hard to hold on to my roots — my “Swedishness” as it were. I’m not sure what that has ultimately made me, but I guess I’m a bit of a “mix” by now — not fully Swedish and not fully American. Very capable of immersing in both societies but not quite at home anywhere. I think it’s a trait I share with many long-term expats.
About a month ago, I moved back home; after 28 years, I returned to the city where I was born. And I can’t help but wonder what it will be like to start over in what in many ways feels like a new country, albeit one very familiar to me.
I have to say here that it’s not lost on me that I’m one of the lucky ones. After all, I’m moving of free will, I made a conscious decision and executed a plan. I am not fleeing war. I’ve had the luxury of being able to plan for this move. I have a place to stay and the practical aspects of the transition are likely to be mostly smooth. As I said, I am one of the lucky ones.
And yet, I worry about adjusting, about making friends, about understanding how I fit in. I worry about how I’m going to deal with the long dark winters of Sweden after having lived in sunny California for over a quarter-century. I worry about maintaining meaningful relationships with my friends now that we are so far apart. Will we do all the things we said we’d do to keep our friendships active or will the distance and time difference eventually creep in and leave us mere acquaintances?
I struggle with the feeling of having left my kids behind. I know it’s irrational as they are adults who have already moved out and with lives of their own. But something inside of me nags and berates me — how could I decide to leave the safe nest they have always known as home, how could I move so far away. Never mind that they are spread out over the US and one of them is even living in Sweden. Irrational indeed, but nonetheless, these are thoughts that are swirling around as I try to wrap my head around this move.
For all my concerns, I of course have reasons for moving back; I would even venture to say they are well-vetted and valid. I suppose what is really at the heart of the matter at this stage is “identity”: I am uncertain about who I am in Sweden. My frame of reference has changed; the way I go about life is not typical. I don’t know when the shift happened; when I became more attuned to the California way of life than the Swedish, but somewhere along the line, I did.
I don’t think the reality of what I have done has hit me yet. So far, it feels like any other summer when I’m home for a visit. I think it’s going to take a while to sink in. Quite possibly a long while. In some ways, I feel like a foreigner — one that speaks the language really well but who has gotten their wiring a little mixed up.
By: Felicia Shermis