Can You Ever Go Back?

by contributor · 14 comments

Living Abroad: Can You Ever Go Back?

Can we ever go back home? That is the question which Dinka Souzek considers in this wonderful essay about returning to our native country after having lived abroad.

For those who have never lived in another country, it may seem like a strange question to ask. Yet, for those of us who have lived in other countries, it is simply part of our reality (good and bad).

Download this wonderful essay by CLICKING HERE (PDF format).

You are welcome to save the file to your computer so that you can read it later or you can print it out so that you can share with others (Yes, we think it is THAT good!).

If you like this, you might want to check out the back issues of Multilingual Living Magazine (which is where this was originally published)!

After you read it, let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What do you think? Can we ever go back to that which we had before? Why do you think things change so much for us when we live abroad? Do we miss out on things back home and therefore feel strange coming home? Or are we the ones who have changed to such a great degree that home feels different now – not as comforting and familiar?

Please take a moment to let us know what you think!

For more food for thought on this topic,
don’t miss our post Returning Home After Living Abroad

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric August 12, 2013 at 5:58 am

Thank you if you choose to read the long text below but what I want to say is best described in two quotes:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
T. S. Eliot. “At the end of our exploring we shall not cease from exploration . . . and the end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we started. . . and know the place for the first time.”

I think that the idea that it is hard to go back is actually a romantic cliché that pass. Yes immigrated changes you, but the world is moving so fast also in the place you left that the strangeness cannot be put only on your own growth. As an immigrant your country froze in your mind at the time you left. But at home they grow in their own ways and face new technological/economic changes in their own ways…

I had a very unique experience of going back in my native country for four years after leaving it (France) as a teenager/young adult (19). Living around twenty years in Canada (mostly in English speaking Western Canada) and an expat assignment in Asia I was offered a position I have to commute. Commuting means for one month you work in one place continuously every day of the week one month your off and so can be anywhere in the world (if transportation is not too costly). So after 22 years I moved back with my family born in Asia to the city to where I grew up and next door my mum was living (choice of my wife: she wanted to experience France). Something I did not expect to do if I leave thousand years…

My (adopted-step)daughter born in Central Asia went through the same middle school and starting the same high school I did… My wife was living hundred feet of her mother in law!(Disclaimer: her choice) It has been a unique time where French became a dominant family language and I reacquainted and reconciled myself with the culture I grew up in.
There were also tough times, like the day the civil servant limited the permanent visa of my spouse to one year when we explained that at home we were practicing OPOL and English as a couple language so children are exposed to three: “ refusal of integration” according to this person. I wanted to write to the “Prefet” asking if there was a law indicating what language to use in the bedroom in France. My indignation was truly Canadian where several languages are seen as a strength and multiculturalism the way to live in community. But at the end I knew we were to come back to Western Canada anyway.

As an immigrant accepted as a New-Canadian and a foreign worker welcomes in Asia and Africa: the xenophobia and limit to freedom of religious expression which were at the heart of political debate in France got me riled up. But it made me realised I had now an affinity with any immigrants: I was one in Canada, my family was an immigrant family in France. At the end we followed our bliss and moved (back for me) to Western Canada where people all around us were also from somewhere else.
On “Canada day”, in the city we chose to live (because of a large French-speaking school nearby) : there was a huge map asking “Where are you born?” my eleven year old and five year old proudly put a pin in the Asian cities they saw the day. Lots of the pins where in British Columbia but equal amount where in clusters around Iran, Korea, England etc… I saw my wife and my daughters smiled: being from somewhere else could be a pride
Arriving in Canada: neighbours welcomed us explaining us where to get rid of boxes, best places for groceries etc… Not knowing was never an handicap but the occasion to ask and to exchange! I wish in France there was a translation for “There is no such thing as a stupid question” often not knowing means you are not part of the group. My only sadness is that a few months before my wife and my oldest daughter received their French nationalities with just a mail: one letter of the president, the French declaration of Human Rights, the text of the Marseillaise etc… When reading all those words/founding texts I realised that if it was followed through France: all was there to have in theory maybe a place as welcoming of the difference that where we were moving now…
At the end: for a few years my Mum could be a grand-mother in a way she never thought possible! Souvenirs/Memories my daughters will cherish and build on. Anyway with Skype/cheap phone lines both grand-mothers in Central Asia and Europe have daily news… and they know maybe more about the new adventures of their far away grand-children that they do of the ones close by!
As my wife says: “be careful how you treat your parents as it is the way your children will treat you!” I cannot imagine how technology will treat my children and if they will ever have the choice to cut the umbilical cord with all the technology to keep in touch and share?

Maybe coming back to an old place is difficult because there you were a child a teenager. I am thankful I could revisit these places as a father. I am thankfull both my daughters could have the same as also part of their childhood


2 Maureen August 14, 2013 at 6:47 am

I’ve returned “home” to the US twice, once after being an exchange student to Germany and once for a three-year work contract sponsored by the Swiss company I work for. I’ve since returned “home” to Switzerland after the conclusion of said work contract.

Can you go back home? Yes, most certainly, but things and people will be different, just as you are different. If you’re there for a long period of time, you will transition, just as when you move abroad. If you’re there for a short time, I’ve found it’s best to focus on the positive, either new or nostalgic. After all, time is a continuum, and for that fact you can go back home, but not go back in time.


3 Gretha August 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I was born in Holland and moved to Israel in 1987 because I fell in love with an israli
We divorced after 5 years but I stayed in Israel because it became my new home.
I am still connected with Holland in several ways but it is not home anymore.
They changed and so did I. I even feel this after two weeks holliday in Holland.
I think it would have been very sad if we didn’t.
They moved on and so did I.


4 Francisco August 15, 2013 at 12:55 am

I have to agree with Native American poet Simon Ortiz, for whom “Acoma is home, but I don´t live there” to really express how I really feel whenever I go back to Spain on vacation from the US. Los Angeles will always be my temporary dwelling, even after 24 years here. “Spain is home, but I don´t live there”


5 Brittany October 24, 2013 at 5:15 am

Very nice.


6 Kimberly de Berzunza August 15, 2013 at 5:57 pm

We just returned from a week in Mexico, where my Mexican husband and I (American) met. It is where his mother is from and where he went to college, but not where he grew up nor where she lives. It is where he once bought his dream property and where we planned to return, but like so many, we now know that will not happen and the property is now for sale. Could we go back? Yes, I believe we could. But our life is in the U.S. now, and we prefer to visit there but live here. Where is “home”? Wherever you make it, I believe.


7 Beth Ortuño August 24, 2013 at 7:24 am

When you go home, you realize that some people don’t understand you and they decide they love you anyway. It makes me think I am lucky to have an automatic filter. No, you don’t just fit in automatically like before. I mourned that, briefly. But my visits home are much more fun now that some people are off my visiting list. You realize that now, when people are happy to see you, it’s because they love you, the real you. You’re never going to say something weird and have people look at you funny. They’ve already decided even though you are different, they love you and want to be with you. It’s a very free and happy feeling.


8 Petra October 23, 2013 at 7:23 am

What an interesting article. I lived in England for four years. Then returned back home to the Czech Republic. Now after another five years I´m doing an internship in Barcelona for three months and thinking about leaving again… The only thing I miss is my family and friends. Not anything else really. Here I love everything – the people, food, weather, sea… And I´m realizing that I feel a lot happier here. So will probably leave again cause my home country is not the one for me…


9 Brittany October 24, 2013 at 5:13 am

It is so interesting to hear of others who feel the same way as me. I was raised in the US, but have lived the past 4 years in Italy and the Netherlands. Seems like a short amount of time, but I have ‘grown up’ here. I am grateful for the influence growing up in the US has had on my worldview, but I do not miss very much about it. The ‘European lifestyle’ (diverse as it is from country to country) agrees more with my personality. My Dutch husband and I will move back to the US soon to be near my family, but I think we’ll end up back in Europe eventually. It is difficult when your family and ‘home’ are different places.


10 Celia October 31, 2013 at 2:32 am

A very interesting article and sooo true. I returned for about 2 years and found myself feeling like a foreigner in my own homeland. SO much had changed and I felt as though some things hadn’t changed at all. It was difficult to grasp the thread being away for about 12 years had made it’s mark. I then decided perhaps it wasn’t the right time to be back and move abroad again. Which I feel is right for me. Family have gotten used to and enjoy me being abroad and I certainly enjoy going back for visits as not to loose all ties.


11 Sophie May 20, 2014 at 5:02 am

Celia, your answer is the one that matches the best what I feel about going home. Yes, I too feel like a foreigner in my own homeland. They have changed, I have changed and it’s hard to meet in the middle. And the longer you live abroad, the harder it is to come “back home”. I’ve been in the US for more than 20 years, and when I go back to France for a visit, I always tell my friends I’m going home. But once in France, when I think of home, it’s the US!!! We experience the best of 2 countries.


12 Olga December 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Francisco I like that “Home is ______but I don’t live there”…3 months in Toronto after 13 years away, 1 in Japan with a short 3 month return to Toronto before moving to London, UK. Have just returned to Toronto again. I know it’s only been3 months and a transition time but my question is does “going back” ever feel natural/right? I’ve longed to be here and now here I’m happy to have left London it’s not that I want to return but not sure if I belong here…it’s that limbo feeling. Hubby a Brit and still in London awaiting sponsorship and I’m here with our two children-it’s tough for sure. Am wondering about a move to Ottawa instead-neutral ground and a new experience for us all but not so far as London, UK from my Toronto friends/family…for now, we need to secure jobs and we will look for jobs in Toronto or Ottawa and then oh from there. It’s a very strange time. This sounds like a depressing post sorry. I’m enjoying Toronto and seeing friends and I find living day to day helps a lot but a lot of unanswered questions and sometimes one feels impatient for the life they are waiting for. I am a person that enjoys living/appreciating each moment so this waiting feeling us annoying me-yoga and relaxation/meditation helping and also seeing life through the kids eyes! Thanks everyone


13 Valerie December 27, 2013 at 12:02 am

my home is where my husband and (5) children are…born in US, lived in France as a teenager for 2 years (but really felt like a became an adult there), returned to US and married Iranian man & learned Farsi, spent summers in Iran. Each place, language, culture, food, religion is a part of my being. It futher complicates things being brought up Christian, becoming Muslim (of the Sufi variety), deeply respecting everyone’s faith and belief and heritage. Few understand the identity of my family save a select few friends who are free-minded and loving. The hardest thing is not fitting in with family…to understand that you don’t meet the expectations of them. But in reality it is because you are light years away from their mind-process (like what the first commentator said). I am not saying this and being proud of it, or ego-centric, it is just the reality of certain circumstances made me give up my attachment to certain facets of identity that people think is necessary. I love to hear your thoughts on this…it is really inspiring that others have similar experiences!


14 Ana January 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm

I have moved to 9 different cities at all different stages of my life, from Mexico to Queretaro, to Florida, London, Amsterdam, Canada, Texas and Canada again. Everytime I have realized I learned a lot about my country of origin when I leave it. many times we are blinded by our ways, the way we grow up, as we learn different ways and are exposed to different cultures we may even disapprove some of our own ways, but to get back to the point, every time I went back home things had changed, I had changed. Today, we are in Toronto after having lived in The Woodlands for 8 years and Florida 6 years prior to that, I never thought Florida was my home and I wanted to return to Mexico many times, then Tx became my home, now I wonder how long it will take for Toronto to feel like home. I now know, going back to Tx is not an option, life changes, people change and in a matter of months everything is different, the Tx I left is not the Tx I would go back to. I am determined to make Toronto feel like home as soon as possible.
thank you all for sharing!


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