…a foreign place can provide the opportunity to reinvent oneself, to be freed from a constraining self-image and become more individualized and less controlled by convention. Not belonging allows a kind of creative jiggle-room between self and environment. The challenge of living in a very foreign place, where there is no familiarity and no foundation for a sense of belonging, can even be experienced as joyful! It offers the chance to begin again, without having to compensate for the ‘failure’ of not fitting in at home.
— The End of Belonging by Dr. Greg Madison
I moved half-way around the world and ended up reinventing myself (well, partially). It wasn’t deliberate, it wasn’t planned. It just happened. I discovered a place that felt right, a place where I was happier and felt at ease, where I enjoyed waking up and discovering new things each day. Occasionally I would leave to visit other places (or home), and I think knowing that I would be returning to this new place helped to make these visits enjoyable and fulfilling. But then the day came when I had to leave the new place for good and return “home” – return to the place that others think of as my “home”.
I’ve traveled for extended times before and lived in other places, other cultures. I’m familiar with the experience of culture shock in reverse when re-integrating back into my home culture. It usually comes pretty quick and lasts a few weeks, maybe as long as a couple of months. This time is very different; it’s been nearly a half a year. I find myself facing the old me, the old life I lived and left behind, struggling to integrate all of that back into my new self as I simultaneously contemplate what life might be like if only I could find a way to continue my reinvention.
It’s difficult to find a way to proceed. I am paralyzed by the dilemma of having to choose between two great losses; all that I gained, or the several good things from my old life that I would almost certainly have to leave behind in order to embrace the gains. People who care about me are cognizant of my struggling. My indecision and inability to move forward in a definite direction is causing them pain and uncertainty, and leaves me heavy with guilt.
What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.
–Alain de Botton