Lee and I have been living in Amsterdam for almost three years now. During the last three years, he has been back to the United States for work and I have not been back at all. With the recent birthday of our daughter, we thought it was time to make the journey so that she could meet her family and so that we could catch up with old friends. Three years is a long time to be away from everyone, but so is the life of an expat abroad. Especially with a baby. It's not easy or cheap to travel thirteen hours by plane.
Living abroad changes you. Traveling changes you as well. Not only does spending time on foreign soil make you more creative but it can also change you in fundamental ways as well.
I knew going into this trip that I wouldn't be quite the same person that I was when I left the US almost three years ago. Living as an American expat in Amsterdam is not the same as living where I grew up. I've come to adapt parts of the Dutch culture as my own. I've grown accustomed to life on a bicycle and a more relaxed way of living. Traveling an hour to get some place to me now seems like a long way to go.
With all of these changes that have taken place while living in Amsterdam and from having and traveling Europe with a baby, I wasn't quite sure how I would feel coming home. And no matter how long I live overseas, be it three years or the rest of my life, the USA will always be my first home. I am the person that I am today because of where I was raised. And I spent all of my formative years in the United States.
What I wasn't prepared for was just how much I had changed in the last three years. Not only had I changed, but so has America. While I was off busy traveling the world, America has been doing it's own version of growing and developing. And while you may know something with your head, it's different when you see it with your eyes.
Here are five things that I didn't expect but they happened anyway.
My taste in food had changed
When we first moved to Amsterdam, everything tasted off to me. Nothing seemed to be flavored the same as what I had grown accustomed to. I was looking forward and had even made a list of all of the food that I was going to eat upon landing in America. However, it turns out that after three years of not having it, now American cuisine doesn't quite taste the same.
Big House Envy
They say that everything is bigger in America. I, however, do not feel like this is at all a negative thing. Living in the city in our small apartment has become our new normal. We willingly and gladly traded our big house in the suburbs for the chance to live in a major European city. However, seeing the homes of my friends with furniture that can be fun without the IKEA functionality made me a bit nostalgic. Not to mention, seeing just how much square footage we could have back home vs. how far that same amount goes here in Amsterdam!
How quickly we can adapt
Going anywhere can lead to a feeling of "this is not familiar" or "this is different than home." I expected that when coming back to America. It had been a long time since we moved to start our expat life abroad and I didn't expect to just fly back home and feel like I was the long lost daughter returned. However, after a day or two it didn't seem so weird to be riding around town in a large vehicle rather than on a bicycle.
Nothing stays the same
There are new food trends, new pop culture references, new popular stores. You leave your home country for just a few years and all of a sudden it's like coming home to a foreign land. Like all things in life, nothing stays the same. This became quite apparent on our recent trip back home. It was good to catch up and see what was new with America but at the same time, left me feeling a bit as an outsider.
How easy it was to leave
As much as I was looking forward to seeing all of my friends and family in America and how happy I was to be surrounded by (mostly) familiar things, it was surprisingly easy to say goodbye. While America is the land that I grew up in, and the first with which my heart will always lie, I missed Amsterdam. And so I boarded the plane not so much with a heavy heart, but with a feeling of rightness. I will always be happy to be in America, but now home has a different meaning.
Has this been true for any other expats abroad? I'd love to hear about your experience. Leave a comment below.