Settled: Chronic Homesickness and Moving Back After Two Years Abroad

It’s been three weeks since we arrived in America and it feels more like 3 months because of all we’ve crammed into those 21 days.

“Are you all settled in?” people ask.

Am I settled? I’ve unpacked. I’ve decorated. I’ve figured out where the bank is and the grocery store and the closest Chinese takeout place. Is that settled?

“You must be so glad to be home!” they say.

Glad. Yes, I suppose I am. I was glad to see my family and my in-laws. Glad to reconnect with old friends. Glad to have a car and the ability to drive where I want whenever I want to. I’m glad to have more space and glad for an apartment with central air conditioning. I’m glad to be surrounded with our old things and glad to have our cats back in our home. Glad to start making new friends and building a new community. But glad to be Home? I don’t even know what that means.

I crave Home like water. Like air. Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, but when I turn my head it fades like smoke in the night, leaving only a shadowy outline where it may have been. I’m unsure of its shape, much less its substance.

In Korea I was homesick for my family and for America. In America, I’m homesick for my family and for Korea. I’m comfortable here, and yet, I’m homesick. And who says I can’t be both?

I miss the river and the mountains and the park by our house. I miss life in a city and the energy of downtown and the ease of the subway and how completely safe I always felt in spite of all the people. I miss my friends and I miss the luxury of two full-time incomes and how little we had to worry about paying for groceries or going out to dinner. It takes my breath away, how much I miss it. While in Korea I thought of America as Home and yet I’m realizing that on a subconscious, maybe even visceral level, Korea is Home as well.

Last week I went to Publix, a local grocery chain I’d never been to before. I walked along the aisles of produce and marveled at the abundance, the novelty of such easy access to foods both familiar and foreign. I stopped in front of a cold case of artichokes, green beans, and asparagus. I picked up a bundle of asparagus, felt the weight of it in my hand – succulent green stalks with their knobby purplish heads that I can never look at without thinking of Junior the Asparagus from Veggie Tales. It wasn’t until the man stocking produce asked if I was OK that I realized I was crying.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m OK.” Embarrassed, I put the asparagus back and wandered down another aisle where I was assaulted by an overwhelming 10 varieties of Oreos. I left without buying anything.

Science tells us that adaptation is crucial to survival. We bend and change and mold ourselves into new shapes, learn to breathe the air and drink the water of a new environment. But I can only bend so far and sometimes I think I’ll never quite fit this mold again, although it once fit me like a glove. I feel stretched thin, spread across cities and continents, straddling an ever widening gap between the world I’ve loved for the past few years and the world I’m trying to love now.

I don’t know if Home is here or there or if I will ever stop feeling homesick for some other unnamable place, but I do know this: Who I am and Where I am are not the same thing, but they are connected. Who I am is a work-in-progress. Who I am has been shaped by Louisiana and Chicago and Raleigh and Korea, and now it’s being shaped by Columbia.

Maybe I’ll never truly feel settled, but I will always know where I’ve been and who I am because of those places. Here’s to the next stage of becoming.

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23 comments

  1. This entry made me want to cry. I was in Korea for much shorter a time than you were (only about a month and a half), and I still miss it every single day, five and a half years later. Who we are IS where we’ve been. We are no longer who we once were, and neither is where we came from. But we can begin to craft the new from the old. The best masterpieces are created from the most precious treasures. Thank you for continuing to share your life journey. 💜💜💜

    Liked by 3 people

    1. So sweet to hear from someone who understands this, specifically about Korea. I love what you said about masterpieces being crafted from the precious treasures of our lives. Korea will always be a part of me, even the hard times. It’s just a journey learning how to blend the old with the new. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Poor you… Of course you aren’t settled in one month hard work to get your new place done. They say home is where the heart is, and obviously your heart travels much slower than you do 😉 all the best waiting for your heart to arrive!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And Korea misses you! I read this cool book on homesickness when we arrived in Korea 18 months ago, and I loved how the author showed how homesickness can be a good thing if we let it remind us that this earth is not our home… “Homesickness reminds us that God created us eternal beings, with eternity in our hearts.” It’s called ‘Uprooted’ by Rebecca van Doodewaard

    “While there are a lot of positive aspects to moving around, the biggest ones are spiritual. The best thing about homesickness is that it points us to heaven and the Savior who waits there for us. When we are done this earthly pilgrimage, we have a heavenly home waiting for us. On the way, the Lord uses homesickness to sanctify us and make us fruitful as we walk towards the eternal city. Homesickness reminds us to make the most of the time we have. You used to live in one place, and now you live in another. Someday, you will leave where you are now, and go to another new place, whether on this earth, or in eternity. Use homesickness as a reminder to make the most of the time you have where you are.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love that and I think it’s really true. We can either wallow in homesickness or let it remind us to make the most of our time. Thanks for sharing. And congratulations on your beautiful baby boy! Wish we could be there to meet him!

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  4. This is a really beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

    I recently moved away from home and I feel like neither place suits me anymore, but I’m homesick. It’s a strange feeling and I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling it.

    I’m not alone. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I know exactly how you feel. And Korea is not just a location, it’s an entirely different culture, language, daily ritual — a whole different way of living life. It’s weird and hard to switch your entire life, even if it’s back to something you missed, because the new one still became your way of life, and now it feels dead, or gone, like a missing limb. It’s a part of yourself that might never be again, either because you won’t go back, or because when you do you will have changed again and it won’t be the same.
    This is all from a Louisianan who has lived in Italy and Germany, and finds visits back to Covington extremely emotionally uncomfortable. While I miss home, I know it won’t ever be the same if I go back. I’m too changed, and it has changed while I was gone. In the end I think the worst part is this idea that you can ever “go back” to something. Just like The Lion King simply won’t ever be as magical as it was when I was 6 — I can’t relive the wonder I had at 6, even if I try. I can’t go back to the States and have my old life again, even if I try.

    It’s really cool to read a post like this from someone who gets it. What you’re describing is like what every visit back home for me is like, and I’m trying to find a way to stop holding on to the idea of “home,” and be able to be present and find wonder and joy through each gigantic shift and change, no matter how sad and weird it can seem at times. In the end it’s only sad because of our perspective, because we want to keep things that give us a sense of identity.

    – Anna (sorry I haven’t commented in a while xD)

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  6. I know this feeling. I never feel settled. I’m not sure what is “home” anymore either. I moved to Virginia in 1991 for college from Bermuda. Since then I’ve been back and forth living in Bermuda or in some part of the USA. I think of Bermuda as “home” but when I go back to visit I find myself thinking of California as home. LOL it is confusing and weird. I’m glad to realize I’m not the only one with this…

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    1. Wow, your experience sounds similar to one of my good friends who is American, but grew up in Spain. She moved to the US for college and has now mostly been in the US for 15 years or so, but she’s also said that she’s never fully been able to embrace American culture as her own even though it’s become so much more familiar. I always think of “home” as where I’m from, but I also think of it as where I am currently. So sometimes in one conversation I’ll say, “I talked to my mom about that the last time I was home,” meaning my parents’ home in Louisiana and then “I’m stopping at the store and then I’ll be home!” meaning my current residence. It doesn’t make any sense, even to me, haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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