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Finding your footing: How to reintegrate after long-term travel or living abroad

Updated: Feb 3

Wow, I cannot believe I've been back in the Netherlands for over 7 months already. After roaming around Europe for 2.5 years, I felt the urge to settle down somewhere familiar and, in a sense, comfortable. Whilst some might say that leaving your home country is the hardest part of going abroad, for me, returning home has definitely come with some unexpected dynamics. Coming back to a place I know so well, and frequently visited during my travels, I assumed I wouldn't need much time to readjust. Turns out, that assumption was off! 😏 In this blog, let me share my transitioning experience and offer some valuable tips for reintegrating into your home country after an extended period abroad. Click here if you want to skip my personal story and go straight to the tips.


Photos: The turn of 2023 into 2024


My 2023 was a year of contradictions: I danced into 2023 on top of a mountain under the stars, with snowy mountain peaks as the backdrop of the party. I continued spending the first half of the year in different European mountain ranges, one even more spectacular than the other. Subsequently I worked on a traditional organic beef farm in Switzerland's Jungfrau region; managed a chalet in Zell am See (Austria); cat-sat in Ticino, Switzerland; lived a month in Northern Norway, 3,5 hours above the Artic Circle, with the idea to take care of bunnies; and tended to a permaculture garden of a retreat center in northern Italy. Somewhere in that first half of the year, I decided it was time to root down for a while. Thus, in the second half of the year, I found myself back in mundane Holland, ready to build a life again. Without a home to return to, I dove full-time into cat sitting while hunting for a job, a place to call my own, and figuring out what I want in those areas.


Even though it's been over 7 months since I returned, my travels still feel vivid in my consciousness, and the nomadic feeling still runs strongly through my veins. This makes perfect sense, considering I've been continuously moving from place to place through cat sitting, and I've taken numerous trips abroad as my job search took longer than expected. It's only been 2 weeks since I actually found a place to call home for a while, and as I write this blog from Switzerland, I haven't had much time to fully settle into my new place and embrace a more stable lifestyle yet.


The first months back home felt weird. Weird (and wonderful!) to have so many close friends so easily around again. Weird that life back home feels pretty much the same as it used to, yet you feel like a different person. Weird that even though you've been away a couple of years, everything feels so incredibly familiar. And probably the most weird was that initially my level of happiness decreased, but that I adapted to it so quickly!


Arriving in Dutch summer was a smart decision, especially since I'm not a big fan of Dutch winters. However, it ended up being one of the wettest summers in a long time. At the beginning of my return, I found myself comparing Holland a lot to the places I had stayed before. I missed my adventurous outdoorsy lifestyle and the lush, pristine and serene nature that had surrounded me full-time during my travels. I also felt a bit lost; being in my home country without a home and job felt somewhat like being a traveller in my own country. I didn't have the stability and routines yet that I longed for. Nevertheless, I knew that returning was the right decision. I kept reminding myself I'd just need the patience, perseverance and trust to keep going, until things fell into place. It was helpful that moving to a new country or traveling again weren't options for me.


Photos of mundane moments back in my home country. Photo 1: kitten feedback on my job application, photo 2: I had a lovely weekend job at a tea garden whilst job hunting, photo 3: spending as much time in nature as possible to combat fernweh


Before returning home, I was quite optimistic about how quickly I could rebuild my life. I expected it would take a maximum of a couple of months to find a job and a place to live. I didn't anticipate that the job market, especially for the type of positions I applied for, wouldn't be very favourable. I also didn't foresee having such a hard time finding the energy to start writing job application, as I share extensively in this post. After all, this is what I wanted, right?  With all the time in the world, why then was I stuck on the couch with little energy? I realised I needed sometime to adapt being back in my home country, and to figure out what type of work I would like without completely getting sucked back into the rat race. And since I didn't have an income yet, I postponed actively searching for a place to live.


After a while, being back home began to feel more normal, but not necessarily in a positive way. It was as if the vibrancy I experienced during my nomadic journey had been replaced by a general lower baseline that I was familiar with from my times before roaming around the globe. As if  feeling a bit down had become the norm again, and hence wasn't that bad. That was a little shocking to see how quickly your brain adapts to a new standard, even when it's a lower standard! However, fast forward a few months: now that I'm having an exciting job, a comfortable home, and fulfilling activities, make me feel much better overall. Everything still feels new, but I'm eager to explore and further land into this next chapter.


This is not the first time I experienced what it is like to reintegrate back into your home country. Also in 2018, I left my beloved Berlin, a city that truly felt like home, after 6 years! Having moved a dozen times in my life, I'd say I'm quite an expert in all things "turning over your life", moving abroad and reintegrating! But each time feels a little different, also depending on the circumstances and the life phase you're in. Nevertheless, with all my experiences, I can definitely provide some tips to make your transition back home smoother!


Tips:

  • This is perhaps a funny one to start off with, but don’t underestimate the return to your home country. I’m not saying you should anticipate the worst, but it can be helpful to realise that returning to you home country, which you once intentionally said goodbye to, may not be effortless. Adopting a realistic and open-minded approach to the challenges you may face will make it easier to prepare for and accept what is coming your way.

  • Allow yourself the necessary time to adjust. Returning home after an extended period, particularly if you've embraced a significantly different lifestyle abroad, can feel like experiencing reverse culture shock. Some things have changed, while others remain familiar. Giving yourself permission to take the time to reintegrate, takes off the weight of needing to succeed as soon as possible. Practically this can look like, not expecting to have a job fixed within week or month 1 of your return for example, or to expect that after a month you should have adapted to your new living situation. Become very mindful when you notice yourself speaking of "shoulds".

  • If you’ve got the head space while still abroad, consider making some plans for how and where you are going to spend your first months. I didn’t have the head space to do so, so when I arrived in Holland, all I had was my first cat sit destination and I took it from there. Although it worked out, finding a small side job or volunteering opportunity, or securing a place to live for a few months beforehand, could have eased the transition back home.

  • Remain curious & invest in what makes you come alive. Falling back into old habits and routines is tempting, especially in familiar surroundings. Yet, returning home after an extended absence offers the chance to reinvent yourself and shape your life anew, much like moving abroad. It might be appealing to live life by the standards of your home country, and a little adaption might be useful to make integration work, but do not loose sight of your needs and wishes! I really want to emphasise this, because this can be such a pitfall. Instead, try and figure out how you can make it work back at home. For example: Being adventurous and frequently outdoors was my main life elixer while travelling; how can I keep those aspects alive, even if I’m not constantly moving around and not being surrounded by lush nature? It might be more challenging, but definitely not impossible.

  • Connect with people with similar experiences. With social media, it’s easy to find people who just like you are going through similar circumstances. It can be so helpful to exchange with others, to hear you’re not alone with the challenges and support one another with encouragement and a listening ear.

  • While you are trying to build back your life, also create enough time to have fun and reconnect with friends and family. There's a lot to organise and figure out, but only focussing on that, will soon leave you feeling depleted. Having a fun activity/hobby to get hung up on from the beginning, is so helpful. For me, this blog was a huge outlet that gave me positive energy and a sense of purpose, whilst I spend much of my days job and house searching.

  • Create a ritual to honour and close off the previous chapter of your life. Consider writing a letter of gratitude and burning it ceremoniously. Consciously embrace and welcome the new chapter ahead. You might consider creating a supportive mantra or creating a vision board representing aspirations and goals, followed by a meditation session to manifest intentions.

  • Here's likely the most important advice: give your home country a chance! Your brain can easily trick you in pointing out all the negatives, especially compared to the places you were staying before (they obviously had their own challenges, but with time passing by, these can fade away and the beautiful memories remain). Actively appreciate all the good you regained in your life (e.g. being closer to friends and family, having a sense of stability and security, having access to good health care or knowing how to easily make your way around). Fully land in your home country, give yourselves the time to find a way of living that feels satisfying and life giving, create supportive routines and invest in fun (long term) projects and hobbies. Basically, don’t live as if you are ready to pick up your bags any moment.

  • If the above, isn’t supportive enough, perhaps seek support of a coach. This one conversation I had with the coach of my previous employer, was already so helpful in putting my feelings into perspective.


Curious about how I could support you in your transition to your home country, or whilst starting a life abroad? Get in touch here, to learn more about my coaching offer.

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