The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Eight months into my expat life, two roads diverged and I — I took the one home

Kat Collage_dropshadowToday we welcome back Kat Selvocki to the Displaced Nation. She wrote for us once before: a travel yarn about spending Christmas in Europe with friends. She had just been toiling in the farmlands of Iceland as a volunteer, and was about to head Down Under to begin a new life as a yoga instructor in Sydney. Now, just over a year later, she is back in the United States. What happened? Here is Kat’s repatriation story.

— ML Awanohara

As my year-long working holiday visa for Australia began to wane, I started considering my options.

Or rather, my option.

I teach yoga: a career that doesn’t generally allow for work sponsorship. I also had a rocky relationship with my Australian boyfriend.

The only I way I could feasibly stay in Sydney was to enroll in a course.

I’d heard tales from other expats of reasonably-priced options — reasonably-priced meaning anything under $8,000 a year — but knew in my heart it wasn’t going to work. I no longer had that kind of cash in the bank, and even if I had, you wouldn’t catch me spending it on some ridiculous “business basics” class.

It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to stay; I just wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot my life after spending just eight months building a new life in Australia. There were places I still wanted to visit in that vast country, things I still wanted to do. And I loved the classes I was teaching.

But then I got glandular fever — commonly known in the US as mono, or the kissing disease. A month into fighting overwhelming exhaustion, all I wanted was for things to be easy again. In the end, it was having a such a debilitating illness that drove me over the edge.

I bought a plane ticket home.

The three emotions of repatriation

First came relief:

  • No more comments about how my tattoos, taste in music, or style were “too American.”
  • No more complicated calculations to figure out when friends or family would be available to Skype.
  • No more job rejections on the basis of not being a citizen.
  • And most importantly: central heating in abundance — finally, I’d stop getting sick so often!

Self-doubt followed. I’d spent years wanting to live as an expat, and when I finally had the opportunity, I’d been utterly miserable.

Had I failed, or not tried hard enough?

Should I have fought to stay longer, or at least until the end of my visa?

Were my reasons for leaving the right ones?

Why hadn’t I applied for that job working at a roadhouse waitress in the Outback, so that I’d at least seen more of the country?

Next up: fear. As I headed off to Oxford, UK, at the end of last year, to spend Christmas with friends before returning to the States to seek work, the wheel had come full circle. As reported on this blog in December 2011, I’d spent my first Christmas away from family, in Europe, on my way to a new life in Australia.

Whereas before I’d been full of excitement and anticipation, this time I was full of worry. I worried about how welcoming people would be when I returned. So many of my relationships had disintegrated while I was away, and I wasn’t sure if that was because of distance or because people were fed up with my use of Aussie slang in our conversations … or was it all my whining about being so bloody tired? (Hm, there’s that slang again!)

I had no idea whether finding work would actually be any easier, especially considering the much higher unemployment rate in the US.

I didn’t know how to talk about my time in Sydney without sounding bitter or depressed — but was also afraid that even if I sounded upbeat, people wouldn’t care to hear about it.

Old habits die hard…

I’d always believed that if something doesn’t work, you can simply head back to the place you were before.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about that.

I had decided to move back to Seattle, a city where I’d lived eight years earlier. But would that be a terrible mistake? I pictured trying — and failing — to recreate the life I’d loved before.

Last time I wrote for the Displaced Nation, I reminisced about the four months I’d spent living in Prague on a study abroad. What I didn’t report was the depression and reverse culture shock I battle against upon returning to the United States.

If that were true after a mere four months, what impact would a year-and-a-half away have? Would I be feeling even more out of place? I dreaded the long readjustment.

I also worried about money, and whether I had enough to get settled again quickly.

…or do they?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. (Except for the money concerns. Then again, I’m convinced that no matter how much I’d saved before returning, I still would have worried.)

From the moment I stepped off the plane, it was as if someone had flipped a switch inside of me. Even though things had changed — something that was particularly evident in New York City, which I passed through on the way to the West Coast (I’d lived there after Seattle) — it all felt normal. Easy. Almost as if I’d never left. My internal map and compass worked again; I knew where I was and where I was going.

And I still believe that — even though, two months after returning to the States, I continue to look the wrong way when crossing the street.

* * *

Thanks, Kat, for sharing your story. I found it very moving. Readers, any comments, questions for Kat — any similar stories to share?

Kat Selvocki — badass yoga instructor, photographer, writer and traveler — is currently kicking ass and taking names in Seattle after returning from her expat adventures. Learn more about her on her Web site: KatSelvocki.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: @katselvocki.

STAY TUNED for the final post in our fashion and style series, by the ever-so-stylish Kate Allison! (Well, she certainly has flair!)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

images: (clockwise, starting top left) Chelsea Market, NYC; Capitol Hill, Seattle; Circular Quay, Sydney; Chelsea Market, NYC; The Rocks, Sydney; in the air when flying from Sydney to Melbourne; Pioneer Square, Seattle. Center shot of Kat Selvocki was taken in Seattle. All photos are Kat’s with the exception of the Circular Quay in Sydney, which came from Morguefiles.

11 responses to “Eight months into my expat life, two roads diverged and I — I took the one home

  1. Wanderlust23 March 27, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    When I first moved to London and absolutely hated it I thought what was wrong with me? It seemed that expats loved it right away so I felt bad about not only disliking it but openly hating the city. After time that changed but I still don’t see myself settling here permanently. I think that this side of expat life isn’t told enough. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for whatever reason and that is ok. It doesn’t mean we’ve failed.

    • Kat March 28, 2013 at 12:03 pm

      Hey Melissa, thanks for your kind comment! Perhaps you know from your own expat experiences how people back home sometimes seem to think that you’re just off having a grand adventure (which certainly, we are in some ways!); however, living in another country is very different from just visiting, and figuring out how to do all the “normal” stuff, plus work, can be an interesting challenge. I’m glad you’ve found yourself feeling more at home in London!

  2. Pingback: Taking Action: Walking Away. | Hey there! I'm Kat.

  3. finallywoken March 28, 2013 at 3:52 am

    It’s a moving story. But I just want to say that Kat might not realise how lucky she is. For being an American. For having English as her native language. Getting working holiday visa would be an impossible dream for someone from Indonesia who teaches yoga in Indonesia. Australia and any other countries in the world don’t offer that luxury to Indonesians. And English isn’t our native language – we have to pass a certain point in TOEFL or IELTS just to be able to apply for a visa. And I don’t think yoga qualification from Indonesia is accepted in other countries.

    What I’m trying to say is Kat already has advantages. It’s easy and up to her what she wants to do, where and when. For others like Indonesians, being an expat is a dream and only a very small percentage elite group can achieve it.

    • Kat March 28, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Anita! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am quite aware of my privilege, though the fact of the matter is, I can only tell my story from my point of view, and my privilege is a part of that. This is one very small piece of my journey, written to tell a part of the expat tale that is not often told: what can happen if/when we need to return home. I have many expat friends in Sydney from various countries who loved their time there and managed to find ways to stay. That was not my experience. That is not my story.

      It looks from your blog like you are enjoying your second stint as an Indonesian expat in Australia. How did you work out the visas for extended stays twice? Is there something that you can share that might benefit other Indonesians, to perhaps make living in Australia less of an impossible dream?

      And a quick clarification about working holiday visas for Australia: US citizens were only recently able to attain a 12-month WH visa there, sometime within the past seven years. US citizens are able to get the same subclass of WH visa as citizens of Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Uruguay — and Indonesia. That is a class 462 visa, which differs from the one offered to Canada and many European countries (class 417), as the 462 cannot be extended for a second year.

  4. thewizardessofoz March 29, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Kat! You have no idea how timely this is for me, entering my ninth month of expatriation to Sydney from the US (by way of Seattle, no less!). It’s been a rough go, what with the company that moved me out here after five years of loyal service politely stabbing me in the back, struggling to make friends and feeling like I’ve somehow outgrown founding new, deep friendships, and dealing with the strange Aussie male reticence to actually ask a girl out! Expatriation is a brave thing to do, and it’s not all fun and games. I do still regularly get the “I’m so jealous!” from friends at home, and sometimes I look out at the ocean in Bondi or the Sydney skyline from North Sydney and think, ‘Yes, there is something to be jealous about.’ And other times, I want to scream back, “I cry on a weekly basis because I really just want to hug my mom and tease my sisters and have a big dinner with all of my girlfriends, and that’s not going to happen for five more months!”

    Thank you for your honest account – and I believe the choice to move home is just as brave as the decision to leave.

    • Kat April 5, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Jenn! There definitely is some enviable stuff about living in Sydney, but man, Sydneysiders can be a tough group to crack! It’s awesome that in spite of everything with your company, that you’ve managed to find work in your field and have a solid gig rather than dealing with the 462. I know that along with that there’s still so much else to deal with, though! Enjoy your time while you’ve got it, and I’m sure other stuff will fall into place. (And if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to know that you gave it your all before coming home!)

  5. Joanna April 5, 2013 at 6:04 am

    I have always heard that repatriation is the hardest move. After years of not quite fitting in overseas, you discover that you don’t quite fit in at home either! I’ve seen marriages fail, jobs lost and children off the rails following repatriation. I also think that one year overseas, as Wizardess of Oz is experiences must be the hardest time of all. The first 6 to 12 months is usually filled with hating the host culture for not being home. As with mourning, I have found acceptance only starts to kick in at the one year mark. You are brave gals all!

    • Kat April 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Thanks, Joanna! I’ve heard it takes a good two years to get settled into Sydney – and that came from a Sydneysider who’d been away and moved back! Expat living definitely has its ups and downs. For me, repatriating has been much easier than I expected, though I still often feel different somehow. Then again, I didn’t have a marriage, children, or a job to deal with over the course of moving!

  6. arrivalgate April 8, 2013 at 3:55 am

    Thanks for your great post! I’m getting ready to move back to the States from Finland, so I’m finding it very interesting to hear others stories as the time gets closer for me.

  7. Kristi Fuoco May 1, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks so much for this post! I really needed to hear it! I’ve been living in Germany for over a year now and decided to stay longer, quit my job back home and give Europe more of a try, but now I think I may go home to Vancouver in about 5 months (I’m still totally undecided to be honest) and I was sad about this, thinking I had failed somehow because it’s so tough to get by financially and establishing a sustainable career in a country where you don’t speak the language takes so many years, but I think we learn from each experience and knowing when to go home takes a lot of strength, it’s not weakness! We learn SO much from living abroad. I’m so glad to hear you landed on our feet. I will be broke when I go home, but somehow it will all work out, as it always does. Thanks again!

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