As this post is published, it is December 12. A normal day for most folks, apart from some heightened holiday cheer and gift-giving stress. Maybe you had to scrape ice and snow off the car windshield before work (Michigan), or maybe it’s drizzling outside your bedroom windows as the radiator hisses (England). For me, though, December 12 isn’t a normal December day. It will forever be the day that my visa expired, and I had to move away from my adopted home of England. It is the day I transitioned from being an ‘expat‘ to being a ‘repat.’
What is a repat?
Repat is a shortened phrase for the word ‘repatriation.’ It refers to people who have returned to their native country after a period of living abroad.
There is a big expat community online (short for the term ‘expatriation’), which is natural as you’ve just moved abroad and want to document your new adventure. After all, that’s why I started Endless Distances. However I haven’t read a lot about what happens when those expats return to their home countries (if they do at all).
Introducing the repat diaries
That’s why I’ve decided to start a short series of ‘repat diaries,’ where I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experience on moving back to the USA after years of living in England. What better day to start that than on December 12, my repat anniversary?
It’s taken me a year to reflect and even figure out my own emotions about repatriating. I think, as a repat, it’s important to give yourself that space to sort through your feelings.
Why did I become a repat?
For anyone who is a repat, probably the most difficult question to figure out is… why did you become a repat? It is a huge decision to move countries (again), and sometimes that decision isn’t necessarily up to you. Shout out to immigration bureaucracy.
In cases where that lovely bureaucracy comes into play, as in my case of my Tier 4 visa expiring, it’s important to take back some control. Personally, about five months prior to my visa expiring, I made the executive decision that I would not try and get a new visa. Anyone who has immigrated to a new country knows how soul-sucking (and bank-draining) the visa application process is. I was suffering from a lot of unsolved health problems, I missed my family and friends back in the USA, and I just didn’t have the energy to dive into another visa application. On top of that, any UK visa I applied for would be for 5+ years, and I wasn’t ready to commit myself to five years of living in the same place with the same job, with restrictions on any outside work (meaning no yoga teaching or blogging or freelance writing). My unsolved health problems and lack of progress in the NHS were the final straw on an already wobbly camel’s back.
I took a hard look at where I was in my life, and my goals for the future, and I knew it was time to move back to the USA.
Was this the right decision? How could I turn away from a life in Europe? Would my relationship last? Would I ever get the chance to live in the UK again? Would I miss the socialized healthcare? How could I give up my independence? These are all questions that people asked me, and of course I asked myself over the last year.
Looking back on one year of repat life
So I have been a repat in the USA for the last twelve months, not only back in my home country, but back in my home state and living with my family. I vividly remember walking into my childhood home late at night, with all my luggage (literally vacuum packed with every belonging I hadn’t sold or given away). I was exhausted… not from the international flight, but from my declining health, saying goodbye to Dan, and so much more. My parents made me some tea (in retrospect, maybe some effort at cultural inclusion), and I went upstairs to my old bedroom, where I found a card from my parents. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of ‘welcome home, we know this is going to be a difficult transition, we are here if you need anything.’ And I just felt so grateful for that acknowledgement that YES. This was going to be hard.
The culture shock was a lot at first. The flat Midwestern accents on the radio jarred me. The gigantic Ford pickup trucks filled me with anger about fragile American masculinity (regardless of their driver). Everything was so far apart, and I had no car for my first four months. Most people didn’t seem that interested in travel. Or climate change. And everyone commented on my accidentally adopted accent (not quite English, and not quite American).
Even to this day, there are remnants of, let’s say cultural dislocation, because the shock has muted a bit. My accent is still ‘odd,’ comparatively, but I’ve subconsciously tried to normalize it by using hyper-American phrases. For example using the word ‘folks’ in the first paragraph of this article… not something I ever would have said before. When I make announcements at work, I sometimes purposely use incorrect, but colloquially relevant, grammar…it’s an automatic effort to fit in.
There are positive culture shocks, too. Like the massive grocery stores with lovely Jiff peanut butter and shopping carts you don’t need to insert a 50p to use. And people honestly don’t talk about Trump as much here. You’d think that they would, but I think everyone (in my social circle at least) is suffering in solidarity and we know not to over-push the subject. Versus living in the UK, it was like being treated as the personal spokesperson for the entire American voting body, tasked with justifying Trump’s every action affecting international relations. I do not miss that! And the TV here is really great. Yes, we’ve got weird commercials for pharmaceuticals listing every last deadly side effect, but in comparison, one of the UK’s most popular TV shows is a show where you watch other people watching TV. Really. I’m not kidding.
Do I regret becoming a repat?
This is the question on most people’s minds when they hear my story, or if they are considering their own move home. Now that I am coming to the one year mark of repat life, a lot of people are asking me if I plan to move back to the UK. Or what my thoughts are on being back in the USA.
I do not regret becoming a repat.
Moving back to the USA when I did was just what I needed. Yes, it’s been a hard year in many ways. But it enabled me to see the doctors I needed to work on my chronic illness. I got to reconnect with family, and I got the space to look at my life choices and envision the future I want. I can look at both of my “home” countries (USA and England) and give you a long list of things I hate about them, and things I love about them. Nowhere is perfect, especially not in a static sense.
Instead, as our lives change over time, we might be happier in one place or another. It’s not that one place is ‘better’ than another. I am certainly grateful for all the support I received in the USA this past year, both from my family and from the Affordable Care Act (thanks Obama).
As for whether I will continue living in the USA, or become an expat again, that’s probably for another entry in the ‘repat diaries.’ I hope this post has given you some insight into my experience repatriating to the USA, and some support for anyone else relocating. If you have any requests for future ‘repat diaries’ topics, please comment them below!
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