On June 11, 2010 Robert Sánchez published a post on his blog, Reven.org, about the experiences of “the eternal traveler” – someone, who once they have lived abroad, belongs neither here nor there but somewhere in between. In the past few weeks, Robert’s post has gone viral! Each day it is read by thousands of people around the world who resonate deeply with his message.
Being that Robert discusses my post Returning Home After Living Abroad in his post, I wrote him expressing how delighted I was that he referenced my post but how sad I was that I couldn’t read his post in his own words (Spanish) – there is no way that Google Translate could capture his true expressions.
During the inspirational contact and communication which followed, Robert sent me the following translation (see post below) that he made from his original blog post Síndrome del viajero eterno. I can not express how truly honored I am to receive this and I am certain that you will enjoy it as much as I have!
By Robert Sánchez
Photo credit: Robert Sánchez
One of the hardest things to explain to someone who has always lived in the same place is that sensation of not belonging anywhere. It’s an anxiety, a discomfort, like something is missing. I call it “eternal traveler syndrome,” because once you leave, you are a traveler forever; there is no going back. I’ve only met a few people who actually know what I’m talking of: the experts call it “reverse cultural shock” (and it actually is a well described medical condition, but I’ll skip the details).
In it’s most simple form, it would be something like this: when you leave a city your memory of that city is frozen on that moment and doesn’t change substantially over time. In our new home, we always miss that city and we even idealize that memory, forgetting the things we disliked. It’s not until we return that we realize that we suffer this syndrome and that’s why this illness is so cruel: we realize that the idealized city we remember has continued to change without us and that things do not seem that familiar all of a sudden. The effect is usually as strong as the distance between the cultures and increases with time.
And that’s how we enter the path where nothing is home. You end up wanting to live in a city that’s a collage of memories, experiences and people. A mix of styles, architecture and gastronomy… A city that’s a chimera of all the memories of the cities you have loved. But that city doesn’t exist.
And those who have only traveled on vacation won’t understand you. They’ll just say you’re exaggerating, and for them “home” will always be a defined place. You have to live abroad at least a year to notice the effects.
Some time ago, I read an article titled “Returning Home After Living Abroad” that explained this pretty well. One of the things that the author (Corey Heller) said is that she had the sensation of wanting to go back the whole time but as soon as she was actually there she wanted to leave again. That’s something that I’ve felt a lot of times, but I had never completely understood why.
She also explains how discovering other cultures changes you for ever, and that even though you don’t feel “at home” anywhere, it’s a sacrifice that would gladly be done again.
I agree with her that the familiarity you lose with your city is invested in “international” familiarity; you become an airport animal, for whom check-ins and security controls are something trivial. You become more observant and you pick up the general principles of the culture in which you find yourself much quicker and are able to adapt to them easier.
She concludes that we must stop asking ourselves if we will feel at home some day (or better said, in some place) and just try to figure out what we need to feel at home now, in the place we are at this precise moment.
Those of us that are nomads will already know that in the end there are a few little things or a few chosen ones that will be “home” for us wherever we are. And some of us are even lucky enough to have those people follow us, and then home can be anywhere at all.
Visit Síndrome del viajero eterno to read the original post.
Robert Sánchez is a Spaniard and a nomad. He has been moving around the world for as long as he remembers. But he’s also a lucky one, because he found somebody that loves to travel as much as he does – and a little one follows their steps now too. He works in research and loves to write about the things that happen to him in his blog Reven.org. Please feel free to contact him because he loves to receive emails (from humans).