Signal Hill at night

On coming home, after one year

One week ago I left my apartment in Berlin to take the 24-hour journey back across The Pond to Newfoundland.

I was a mess.

My roommate held me as I sobbed my goodbyes and crawled into the taxi bound for the airport. The poor taxi driver, who spoke little English, offered me “paper” to dry my tears with. At the Munich airport, a random New Yorker asked if I’d join him for a beer because he could sense my distress. For an hour we talked candidly about our separate lives and I unloaded my concerns about moving home. Onto to a total stranger.

The world is full of good people and beauty. I have repeatedly learned this lesson over the year.

Not all that long ago I wrote about how I came to my decision on the Camino to come back to Newfoundland for awhile because I belong here. While the sentiment hasn’t entirely changed, as I sit on this bus barreling down the Trans-Canada Highway bringing me to my parents and my brother and my cat, all I can think about is how I can get back to Berlin.

We travellers. We’re fickle jerks.

I find it hard to believe I no longer live in Prenzlauer Berg. I find it hard to believe I won’t be going back to the apartment I adore so much, with the roommate I adore so much, where my insomnia doesn’t exist. Where I spent most of my mornings curled up under a red blanket reading a good book found at the St. George’s bookshop just down the street, one of my favourite places in Berlin. I find it hard to believe I’ll no longer hear the trams zipping up and down Greifswalder – a din of humanity that lulls me into a comfortable sleep, without fail, every evening.

I feel like I’m a visitor to Newfoundland, and not the other way around.

No one tells you this before you move abroad. There’s no clause on the visa application saying, “Hey, protect your heart. You’re going to make a home for yourself and you’re going to find it really hard to leave it.”

I’m overwhelmed by the space in Newfoundland. I have been in this bus for hours, counting dozens of shallow ponds rimmed in marshland. Hurtling past endless evergreen trees marching against the wind.

If this is reverse culture shock, I get it. I picked up a container of strawberries at Sobey’s and they were priced $6 – I can get a pint of those for the same price in Berlin. I quickly put them back on the shelf. Before noon today, I’d already had conversation with six friendly strangers. Walking into Canadian immigration at the Halifax airport was like walking into a different planet – a giant CANADA sign, flanked by two waterfalls, and friendly immigration officers who genuinely seemed to care about my year in Berlin.

It’ll take some time to make sense of this.

The one thing I do know: I was happy in Berlin, happier than I’ve ever been in my life. While Newfoundlanders keep getting blindsided by things like the imposed levy and increasing taxes, my lifestyle in Berlin was far more luxurious and far less expensive.

But it wasn’t even about an affordable lifestyle. It was about being surrounded by multiculturalism, and easy travel opportunities, and people that became some of the closest friends I’ve ever had in my life. It was about sitting in beer gardens with the warm sun on my face; it was about taking the train to the other side of town to meet with a friend; it was about feeling proud to be a part of a bigger community. Even better, it was about being anonymous.

Remember that time I wasn’t sure if I’d last until Christmas in Berlin?

I feel selfish. I feel ungrateful that I’d come home to so many people who are happy to see me, and I’m so full of hurt. And I am so happy to see them – I hope they know this. I hope they know how much I love them. My mother’s home making pies for me; my cousin just spent three days chauffeuring me around town and feeding me, while not asking for anything in return. My friends all came out to see me on Saturday and we sat around, barbecuing, slipping back into our old conversations as though a year had never passed. It’s comfortable, and I love these people far beyond my own comprehension. And I don’t know how to talk about my experiences without coming across as a high-falutin’ ingrate.

It’s not that I don’t want to be surrounded by the friends and family I’ve known my whole life. It’s just that I’m irreversibly different, and I kind of like it that way.

Right now, I feel helplessly out of place. I’m lost, without a place of my own, and I’m struggling to come to terms with this.

People keep telling me I’ll come around; I’ll get over it. But I don’t actually want to. A part of me knows I’ve outgrown St. John’s, and I’m afraid of slipping back into it. I doubt I could ever live in Berlin for life, but right now St. John’s is not the place for me, even if I stay here for several months.

July and August are filled with weddings, friend reunions, and (hopefully) sunny days at the park with coolers full of beer. On Saturday, my friend Lisa drove Nancy and I to the top of Signal Hill so I could catch sight of the city’s twinkling lights in the harbour. It felt good to take a deep breath of that crisp Atlantic air.

Yes, I thought. I’ll always be a Newfoundlander. But for the first time in my life, I don’t think that’s enough.

  • July 06 2016
    Steven

    Such a moving piece, Candice! I felt the same way every time I went abroad for an extended period of time. Coming home feels different. You change, yet it seems like the people back home do not.

    Paris always feels like home when I go there now. Memories creep up and I want to revisit places I wandered before. It will be the same when you go back to Berlin. You’ll point out your old apartment to friends. You’ll go back to the first biergarten and drink.

    My time in Germany was spent only in Munich, yet I felt connected there. Thank you for sharing your year with everyone. It made me realize that there’s more to see in the world, more to experience. While the Appalachian region will always be where I’m from, it’s not where I’ll remain.

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      I love how many expats relate to these feelings. :) It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the universe. And yeah, there’s always that nagging question — can I ever really go back? I THINK I can, but who knows. Next time will be another unique experience.

  • July 06 2016

    Oh Jesus Candice. I’m nearly a blubbering mess reading this. You have so perfectly captured every emotion I have when I come home or even think about what life would be like if I ever moved back to New York. I feel you girl.

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Hahaha, EMOTIONS! Who needs them?! Thank you. :)

  • July 06 2016
    Lisa

    <3

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      <3 <3!

  • July 06 2016
    Sonja

    I felt this way after I left Korea as well. While I didn’t long for the country so much, I missed all the freedom and excitement that went along with living away. I also missed the culture and my many friends. When I moved home, I felt lost for sometime and had no direction. Your piece really brought me back to that feeling and time. I hope you figure things out and for the moment, enjoy your time home in the bay

    Sonja

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Thank you, Sonja! I keep reminding myself that nothing is permanent, and to enjoy the moment. It’d be easier if I knew I were going back for sure.

  • July 06 2016
    David

    I know where you’re coming from…

    Hang tough. Your next adventure is not far down the road!

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Thanks David!

  • July 06 2016

    Whatever you do, don’t make any decisions yet. It will take time, your emotions are still raw. Remember how you felt when you first decided that it was the right thing to come home. I have had bad post-travel depression myself and it can take months to re-settle in. I find it is very similar to break ups too – I broke up with my fiancé 6 months ago for valid reasons (we want different things in life) but damn, it is so fucking hard sometimes and even though I am in a new relationship with someone I love, sometimes I just want to crawl back to my ex and for everything to be how it used to be – because it was great. Hang in there Candice – it’s true what they say: time does heal, you just have to be patient.
    Katie recently posted…Ko Tao through a sickness haze

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      It’s true! But I do know St. John’s isn’t for me at the moment — I’m positive about that. I take a look at all the boxes of my stuff piled high in Mom and Dad’s basement and NOPE, don’t wanna settle and deal with that again. I just have to figure out how to do this.

  • July 07 2016

    Ah Candice! This post overwhelmed me with a flurry of emotion – so much so, I had to read it twice. You’ve expressed every feeling, every thought I’m currently grappling with in such a beautiful, eloquent way. I’ve been living in Edinburgh over a year now, with 9 months or so left on my visa, but I can’t help but think about going back home lately, and I’m so overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of it. I don’t know how I’m going to leave the life I’ve built here – it makes me sick thinking about it. I can’t imagine how tough it must be for you right now. Sending love your way!
    Ashley recently posted…My Best Meals: Ireland

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Ashley, thank you for reading! <3 Wow, two years in Edinburgh. That's even tougher. I always wondered how people seem to go back to their home countries and slide right back into life again. Apparently everyone lies. Hahaha.

  • July 07 2016

    This is how I felt after living for a year in Madrid and even today after coming back from South America for just two weeks. Post adventure blues are the worst!

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Agreed!

  • July 07 2016

    I get this. I really do. I found a lot of support in “I Am A Triangle.” Great post and great FB group. You’re not alone.

    Forgive yourself. Give yourself time to mourn and grieve. Give yourself time. :)

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      I will look them up. Thanks Dana!

  • July 07 2016

    You wrote exactly the way I was thinking. Why I cannot move back home to Newfoundland.

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Having a taste of life elsewhere forces us to be more critical about our island, I think. The balance is rough.

  • July 08 2016

    Thanks for sharing this!

    I felt the exact same way when I came back to Vancouver after having lived in France for a year. I just felt so at home when I was in France- more so than my actual home. I did bring a bit of France back with me (I brought one of its fine countrymen home) and still try to keep the travel momentum going by taking exploring wherever and whenever I can. I’m always nostalgic for my time abroad, but try to take advantage of where I’m living until I can move back to Europe.

    Hope you settle back in nicely over the summer. I look forward to following along on your upcoming adventures, wherever they may take you.

    Alix
    Alix recently posted…Top 10 BC destinations for Instagram-worthy photos this summer

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Thanks, Alix! I’m fairly positive I’ll be moving back to Berlin, but I have to keep reminding myself to enjoy where I am right now. I hope to spend the summer taking advantage of the trails and camping opportunities around here!

  • July 08 2016
    Ann

    The feeling is overwhelming I know. But know that with that wonderful wandering spirit such as yours comes the next fabulous adventure that is right around the corner. If that corner is in Newfoundland or in Timbuckto, then you will embrace it, write about it, enjoy it and let it become a huge part of who you are! Newfoundland will always be home and for now, enjoy your friends and family and dream of your next journey..your next big adventure. Whenever and wherever that make be…you will wander again.

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      Thank you Ann! :) My friends and family seem to be really understanding of what I’m going through, and so I’m grateful for that.

  • July 09 2016

    Lovely words as always. It’s strange because I’m on the opposite end, getting ready to spend a year (hopefully two) in Ireland, but I too feel like my home (Alberta) isn’t where I’m meant to be right now. You’ll find where you’re meant to go to next.
    Alouise recently posted…Top Travel Bloggers Pick The Best Places in Canada

    • July 09 2016
      Candice

      You’re moving to Ireland?! Wow! That’s huge news, congrats!

  • July 10 2016
    Callie

    But one thing is for certain Candice – you are a beautiful writer!!

    I found your site a couple years ago when exploring Newfoundland. I have been checking in sporadically ever since. I hope you enjoy being back “home” for now…

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      Thank you so much for the lovely words, Callie!

  • July 10 2016

    There is no real ‘going back,’only going forward for traveling souls and nomadic wanderers. I totally understand what you are going through-your old life has remained in stasis awaiting your return, but through your experiences and life in Berlin and beyond, you have changed and fitting into that old life is like the old square peg in a round hole -won’t work. Time to engineer a new life to fit the new you! Hugs & good luck!
    Sally recently posted…Exploring the Waccasassa River (new video)

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      I completely agree. Thanks, Sally!

  • July 11 2016
    farran

    Hi Candice:)
    I have been religiously following your blog for awhile now and I just have to tell you how much the words in this post are straight from my head! I lived in Scotland for a year and was not once homesick for Canada. I missed friends and family (and certain food!), but I just wasn’t ready to return. It’s been almost 3 years since I left Scotland and I have been “homesick” for it every day since! (I’m moving back there next year though!) My heart aches to be there again, and it can be hard not having anyone around that understands the inner turmoil of being comfortable in a place you’ve known your entire life versus a place that made you feel the most alive.
    Things will get easier, and the reverse culture-shock will eventually fade (no one told me this was a thing either! …jerks), but it will always be hard to fill the void…
    Hope you feel better soon, and find solace in knowing that so many others have felt the same way:)

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      “…it can be hard not having anyone around that understands the inner turmoil of being comfortable in a place you’ve known your entire life versus a place that made you feel the most alive.” THIS! Completely. I’m amazed by how easily I’ve slipped back into my old life in Canada as well. It’s like nothing’s changed.

  • July 11 2016

    I want Nfld to be my Berlin! haha I’ve been applying to a million jobs to try and get there but nothing has stuck yet. I feel like when I finally get there if I ever had to come back to Alberta I would feel like you do now… distraught! I hope you enjoy your time back while your there because, like you said, nothing is permanent! :)

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      Hahaha I hope you can get here! We need more people! Lol.

  • July 14 2016

    Uhoh. Candice, I have followed your journey because we both moved abroad at around the same time. I remember the thrill of making the announcement. In 6 weeks I am headed home to a town I largely feel I have outgrown and am nervous about getting stuck in. My fears….what you just described. Haha. Good luck to you ans wish me some back!

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      Ah! For what it’s worth, I’ve slipped back into my old life like it never changed at all. I still intend on going back to Berlin, but you’ll be amazed by how quickly the reverse culture-shock wears off.

  • July 15 2016
    Ell Tee

    I feel you! Any time I go home (NB or Vancouver) I feel like an alien. How can familiarity feel so alien? It doesn’t take long before I start looking outwards again. I can buckle down and start living again but there’s always a thing in the back of my head thinking about somewhere away.

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      Yup! And it only gets worse…haha.

  • July 15 2016
    LC

    I read this line in a book years ago and it stayed with me. This was before I’d gone on holiday outside of my country, let alone moved my life abroad.
    “It’s a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.”
    And it’s so true. Life is never the same… you’re never the same.
    It’s a curse to love two countries. Yet, it’s a blessing too.
    You’ll find your feet again.
    LC recently posted…Seven Plastic Free Methods Which Work Gangbusters

    • July 18 2016
      Candice

      Thanks, LC. :) That is a very accurate and beautiful quote.

  • July 22 2016

    Yup yup yup. I TOTALLY get it. After living in Australia, a piece of me will always be there. I dream about going back everyday.
    Not a day goes by where I don’t think how much I would love to be back, and how at home I felt there.
    It was so perfect.
    Brooklyn @JustBeingBrooklyn recently posted…Photo Friday – Wuthering Heights

    • July 27 2016
      Candice

      Do you think you’ll go back??

  • October 12 2016
    A Münchener and a former Canadian resident

    … and I came to Germany (Munich) after three years in Canada. Not a day passes without me missing this great northern land, it’s friendly and down-to-earth people and its unbelievably vast endless spaces.

    • October 13 2016
      Candice

      Germans and Canadians seem to be interchangeable sometimes. :)

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