Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Life as a Past-Expat…On Returning HOME.

This one is for my friends I've met overseas whom have recently returned home, and the ones about to return home.

When you go to a new country, you allow yourself time to explore and settle into the culture and city. It's okay to stumble around and get lost, not know anyone or not know where to go to have fun. Culture shock is expected and braced for: what will the people be like? What are popular pastimes? How can I fit in?

What I've learned coming back to Portland is this: that particular grace period doesn't really exist when returning home. You should kinda automatically fit in. The life you lived abroad is foreign and irrelevant now…it's the only excuse you have for not knowing about the most famous waffle stand in town! I felt like Rip Van Wrinkle, and even that's an odd reference. Yes, I felt odd and a bit awkward. Still do sometimes.

For many expats returning home, reverse culture-shock comes as a surprise. It's hard to imagine your hometown feeling unfamiliar. And honestly at times, it's harder to adjust to living back home. I think one reason is that you come back with expectations and ideas of what life will be like, whereas when moving away, you prepare an open mind. I was lucky in that coming back to the States, I first lived in San Francisco for a few months and it was a good balance of familiarity and the unknown. I could still smile at strangers and say "Hi I'm new!" Moving back to Portland was the next step, and I found it harder to feel 'normal'. It seems like I missed out on so much, yet at the same time-nothing at all, really.

Job searching is especially interesting as a returning expat. I literally did not know where to start. With my job experience mostly irrelevant in the States (who would I teach English to?!) it was time to start from the bottom up. In Portland I applied for everything, from retail management to sales, HR and customer service (I had learned the hard way that non-profit work would have to wait). However as I reconstructed my resume and underwent multiple interviews, it became increasingly apparent to me that the skills I gained from living in different countries were very valuable in the workplace.
Flexibility, adaptability, risk-taking, overcoming challenges, assertiveness, creative problem solving, teamwork and resilience were a few. I have very solid examples to show for all of those. I didn't know it at the time, but it turns out that one of the most important life skills for our generation is getting back up after repeated failures, and refusing to give up. Work knowledge needed to fill a role can be learned, and what better person to learn it than someone who has learned completely new ways of living? I got my first job offer 3 days after arriving back home but turned it down for a better fit, and multiple opportunities have sprung up since. I am now officially hired at a very exciting and innovative company which I will announce in a different post :)

It was definitely NOT easy. I just made it out to sound that way maybe. I'm thankful I had lots of support from friends and strangers alike, encouraging me to be brave and optimistic. It's quite scary actually, and I feel very young but old at the same time. DETERMINATION was the word of my every-day. (Okay I admit some days were really overwhelming and uncertain and I cried a lot! I'm human!)

So to all my overseas friends who are returning home soon, don't you dare start to despair. You are a gem-don't limit yourself. We have way more interesting stories to tell at our interviews, so don't be shy about it. We have gone down a path very few our age have, so don't be ashamed of your lack in relevant job skills. Our LIFE skills are more relevant than you might realize.

Also, prepare a three sentence answer to the question: "Oh so you were living in ___. What was it like?" Cause after five minutes of you struggling to sum up your experiences, people's eyes glaze over. Don't be offended. I just (literally, NOW) came up with mine:
"It was amazing because I met so many great friends from all over the world. I learned how to speak Mandarin and Spanish, also loved my job teaching kindergarten at an international schools. I got to travel a lot and met my boyfriend and I'm excited for what's next!"

Be patient with your surroundings, we're the ones who've changed. 

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