I’m home!! It’s been a long time coming after 11 months abroad and it feels SO good to be back. Nobody tells you before you disappear to a new country for that amount of time just how much you will miss your own life. I wouldn’t trade the last 11 months for anything, but it has really made me realize just how much I love my home, my country, my friends, and my normal routine. There were times when I definitely felt like I was just going through the motions and living a life that wasn’t my own. Being abroad for me felt like playing a character in a film – I was there and I had convinced myself I was meant for the role, but deep down I knew it wasn’t my life.
At first I surprised myself at how quickly I pushed the last year out of my mind. I spent the first few weeks doing everything I had been fantasizing about for months: lounging on the sofa with a proper cup of English tea, walking the dog down the canal and feeling the familiar British cold on my face (weird I know), catching up on all the BBC dramas I had missed which my mum had recorded for me, eating porridge made with fresh milk and not that awful long-life stuff, and my mum’s Sunday dinners with homemade Yorkshire pudding. Now that I’m home, everything seems miraculously easy. There is constant wifi, food in the fridge, I don’t have to wait for hours outside the bank waiting for it to open, the roads feel safer, and I can use my debit card without getting charged £3 every time I buy a bottle of water.
Strangely though, once the novelty wore off I began to really miss France, as if I had forgotten about all of the bad things that happened to me. I had visions of my little village in Provence everywhere I went and I kept remembering random memories and feeling sad that it was over. I lacked motivation and all I wanted to do was go back to the one place that had actually tested me beyond my limits. I felt like I couldn’t share it with anybody because nobody back home understood or knew anything about my life in France. It was like having two completely separate lives and I was trying desperately to hold onto my time there – keeping in touch with friends out there and forcing contact so that I felt close to my old life.
What I also realized was that I had idealized my life at home whilst expecting everything to remain the same, but of course a lot can change in a year. Friendships distance, some get closer, people move away, and on top of everything, I had changed a lot. I felt like ‘why is everyone expecting me to be the same as I always was when I can barely recognize myself?’ It was like waking up from a strange dream and not being able to explain exactly what happened, but only you know how real it felt. I keep having to remind myself that I didn’t dream it – it actually happened, even though it feels like a distant blur. People around me couldn’t possibly comprehend my second life and it felt quite alienating at the start and I had nobody to share the memories with. I felt like it was all I talked about, “oh this one time we went on the motorbike together…” I could tell people were just being polite, like you do when people get home from holiday and you have to sit through their photos and act interested, but for me it was my world.
It has taken me 6 months to feel completely settled back into normal life, and coming back to Newcastle this weekend has definitely woken me up a lot. Spending time with family and getting back into my study has eased the sense of disassociation, but I think it will still take time for me to move on from my life abroad. I still find myself looking through photos and listening to French songs which take me back to the car journeys through L’Isle sur la Sorgue. I don’t want to forget the last year, but I need to let go of it at the same time so I can continue with my normal life at home. It was such a special time for me and has shaped me into a person I never knew I could be, but it’s time to embrace the next chapter.