The whole time I was in Dubai, I'd heard and read over and over again that going "home" was the hardest part of being away.
Everything I'd read had said things along the lines of: "I was so depressed in my home country, feeling like I don't fit in", "Coming home was so much harder that leaving". Throughout our time there we had no plan to come home, when we'd come home or even if we'd come home. So when we discovered that we would be returning to Australia I always knew it would be hard. I expected to miss Dubai, to get annoyed by things here, find it hard to discover my groove. All that was true, but I've recently discovered it's actually a whole lot more.
The first few months being back in Australia, in a new city, was exciting. The green, the food, the beauty. Being easily understood. Feeling the comfort of colloquial shorthand. Moving and resettling was understandably an upheaval. Getting the kids settled a task. I expected all that. What I didn't expect a few months down the track was the wave of sadness that envelopes me at certain moments, catching me unawares.
I love Dubai, but I don't exactly miss it. I can live without it. There are things I miss - friends, the stuff that we did and the places we went, of course, but it's more than that. I miss the excitement. I miss that every day for 3.5 years I learnt something new, constantly having my eyes opened to new sounds, tastes, tidbits of information. Always something new about the place I was in and the people who inhabited it. I miss the camaraderie of being with other expats, being surrounded by people who were up for the adventure of living somewhere else, who could throw themselves on a plane and caution to the wind and see what's out there. I miss the adventure.
I guess, essentially, I miss being an expat.
Home, for me, is such a loose concept. Is it where you are born? What your passport says? Where your heart is? Where you are in that moment. Is it a place that you long to return to? Is it where you make it? I don't know. I've lived in 7 different cities and four different countries in my life.
We recently moved into our "proper" house and literally as we were moving in, my middle girl had a big stack on her scooter in the street. One moment she was relishing a new-found freedom, one of the reasons why we moved here. The next she screamed and cried and said to me: "I just want to go home!"
Confused, I cautiously asked: "Which home?"
She couldn't answer me and just sobbed. Strangely I got what she meant.
Home is that moment when you feel a sense of comfort. Home can be an old movie that you haven't seen for years, but watched over and over as a kid. Home can be a good laugh with an old friend. Home can be a shared memory with someone you love, because shared memories are without doubt the best. It's easy to remember something on your own, but it's so much more special when you can remember it with someone.
Being an expat is addictive. It's so hard to fill that void of adventure and excitement in other ways now home. To stop and say, OK, this is it for the next however long and be happy with it. For someone, like me, who loves change and growth and challenge and not knowing what's around the corner, it's the thing I've feared the most.
Repatriation is hard. You can't just go home and be the same person when you left, because you're not and neither is anyone else. As a family it's hard. Individually it's tough too, for each of us. Finding your place, your worth. So, I'd be lying if I didn't say that I felt a little lost and unsure. I think most repats would agree.