Readjustment Not Easy After Living Abroad

Expat shares story how she adjusted to coming home.

Photo credit: Tereza Flachová, Pixabay
Photo credit: Tereza Flachová, Pixabay


Looking through the bathroom mirror at Pearson Airport in Toronto, truth had found me. Despite my best intentions, the rumours were true. All those Korean mirrors did not lie. The scales measured in kilos were not way off.

I could see it in my face, arms, chest and eyes. I looked different, I felt different. Regardless of my year of taekwondo training and lack of a vehicle, I had managed to expand my capacity to the point were it was undeniable.

As soon as I got home, I unpacked half of one of my suitcases and collapsed with my cat into my re-arranged bed.

As a birthday gift, my room had been semi-renovated. New blinds, bed covers, pillows, night stands, the works. Nothing looked like it did before, leaving me awkward in my own space. Reluctantly, I fell asleep in my bed that no longer ran the length of one of my bedroom walls. Overcoming fears of falling off the edge of the earth, rest found me where I continued to lay for almost 20 hours.

When I awoke the next day a friend had just stopped by and was in my doorway. I hadn’t kept in touch with her while I was away and I had no idea how she knew I was back. In all candidness, I wasn’t ready and felt a little exposed.

The following day I was forced by my vegetarian diet to go to the grocery store which proved to be horrifying. The bleak reminder of everything I left that had stayed the same was overwhelming to say the least. Although the streets had widened since I’d left, the houses and tenants were unchanged, although aged a year. The mall had expanded and improved, I suppose, but the grocery store was the same.

At the checkout, I saw an old friend and quickly fumbled for my sunglasses. Dressed in the colour of mourning I donned my shades and exited with my face to the ground and my heart in my throat. I felt vulnerable, laid bare and unprepared to see the people who had known me for years.

Oddly, this feeling persisted within the home as well. Talks of moving out erupted almost immediately followed by harsh words and hurt feelings. The act of living away for a long period of time and then returning from whence you came is not as blissful as one may think. There is a a mix of relief and happiness of course, but with it comes a feeling of being out of place, unwelcome and inappropriate all at the same time. Considering this is your family I’m talking about, this is odd indeed.

Depending on your existing relationship with family and others close to you, this feeling soon passes and the old ways resume their place in your life. Old jokes are still funny, old tricks are still used and the old you has welcomed the new you back to where you started.

It’s a strange time for all involved. I think the scariest part about coming home and readjusting is figuring out what it is exactly that you’ve learned while abroad and how, if at all, it has changed you, for better or for worse. As over-dramatic as it may seem to you dear reader, I truly believe that the self-evaluation and excessive over-analysis that accompanies your return is the part that is most difficult to withstand. Although most would have you believe that adjusting to everything around you is trying, the real challenge lies within your own mind. What have you done? So what? What now? What next? And no matter how much you recite these answers overseas, they always seem to change once you land back on home-base and all you can do is try to make sense of it all. IT!

Karli Vezina works for a music company in Canada. She spent a year in South Korea before returning to Canada to work in promotions at a music company. Karli is also Senior Editor for The Weekly Wanderer.