Repatriate: Nothing's Special Anymore

October 2, 2018


When you're an expat, you miss things from home. This comes as no surprise to anyone and as result and a way to cope, expats regularly gather together, both physically and virtually, to lament the lack of whatever. Halloween, Chipotle and Mexican food in general, Target, J.Crew, macaroni and cheese, Bugles, root beer, whatever it is that you dislike living without. This is a drawback when you're an expat. And then, you realize later when you're no longer an expat, it's actually a huge boon to one's daily life. 

You may be a little confused, dear reader, and wondering why. Well, I shall tell you. Do you see that box behind Coco in the photo? That is a US Postal service Priority Mail Flat Rate Box. As an expat, I was always overly delighted when one of those arrived at our house. This is because I always knew exactly what was inside it. I'd love to say that my friends and family sent me care packages filled with surprises all the time, but they didn't. They sent me the things that I had had sent to their house with  their willingness to then forward along to me in these boxes. Then I would reimburse them for the outlandish postage. It was incredibly special because having boxes sent, or making trips home, meant that we had things in Switzerland that no one else could get. Things like that pumpkin Halloween costume Coco is wearing. Or taco seasoning that didn't taste like curry, or clothes from J.Crew. People would compliment an item of clothing and follow it up with, "You got that in the States, didn't you?" and it was fun and felt fancy to say yes.


On the flip side, when you make a trip home as an expat, you spend months beforehand crafting extensive buckets lists of things you'll do, people you'll see, and salivating over the food you will eat the entire time. When we landed on US soil, we would often go straight from the airport to a favorite restaurant. And it felt downright magical to hop in the car and walk into Target during those first days of a visit. All of it felt very, exceedingly, wonderfully special. Because it was. 

I wish it weren't so, but when you move home, you lose all of that. Having Swiss things here in US just isn't the same. I have one scarf in particular from Alprausch that gets lots of compliments and I have learned to say a simple "Thank you" and not "Thank you, I got it in Switzerland" as it's received as bragging or putting on airs every time I do. Sigh. And as much as I miss Switzerland and Zurich, the anticipation when going for a visit is not the same. My upcoming trip in mid-January almost feels within reach, but I don't feel that same special intoxication when I think about it. It should be the same because I am imagining the people I'll see, the things I'll do and the places I'll go just as I did when I visited the US from Switzerland. I have shopping and food included on my list that I'm really excited about! But it's different. I guess the difference is that I don't want to indulge in Switzerland and then leave it again. I really miss living there. 

Are you an expat or a repat? What do you miss from home if you're an expat, and have you experienced this too if you're a repat?


Join the conversation!

  1. I'm living in Italy and I actually really only miss two things about living in the U.S.: 1) The coffee culture (It's true! Italy has fabulous coffee, but it's really the only thing they do quickly here. I miss being able to cozy up in a cafe with my laptop with an admittedly much more expensive cup of java and not be expected to leave for quite some time. 2) I miss hopping into my car to get where I need to go. Here we only have one vehicle and the driving situation is crazy. I love being able to walk/ride my bike wherever, but during the rain and bitter cold winter, I miss the freedom and warmth my car brings.

    That said, we're going back next month for a wedding, and I'm not really making any plans. I'm kind of dreading the flights and the time-change with our toddler and I'm worried that when we leave, I'm going to miss being close to family again. I miss that now, but with the distance it's easier to swallow.

    Anyway. I've been reading your blog for awhile now... I can tell you're having a really hard time letting go of Switzerland. It's obvious you're trying to appreciate where you are and the things you have now, but will you ever be able to really do that if your heart is somewhere else? Keep trying. You can get back. And then maybe we can meet up for a slower coffee. :)

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    1. You're definitely right that going back home for a visit can also be a bit of a mind%&*!. You're where you are and it pulls you away and then the contrast and difference and what you're missing all stand out more. But it's good to visit more often than not. J had a three year stretch during which he didn't come back to the US once and it distorted his view of it and idea of what it was. It became overly romanticized. I'm worried that is exactly what's happening with us for Zurich now. :( So my visit in January will be good. And we've grown and changed and don't expect anywhere to be perfect, so that is a big help too. You're also right that my heart is in Switzerland. I am happy where I am right now, and also happy to be working toward going back under sustainable, long-term viability circumstances. It's a strange duality for sure! Thanks for your fun comments. I would love to meet up for a slow coffee somewhere. xo

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  2. Halloween is one time of the year when I'm glad to be back. I love everything about Halloween. We repatted in late September a few years back, and I was not happy about it. Seeing Halloween decorations shortly after we arrived made me feel better, if not necessarily happy about being a trailing spouse. I'm still ambivalent about being in the US long term for a variety of reasons, but Halloween always makes me happy. We go all out decorating our house and planning costumes. My daughter decides what she wants to be and then suggests ways for my husband and me to dress up that match/complement her costume. Also, the city I live in has some of the most amazing trick or treating I have ever seen. It's worth checking out even if you don't have kids.

    I should also point out that I didn't particularly enjoy going back to the US for visits when we lived abroad. I found the experience to be extremely stressful, especially with familial demands on my time. So those little things that many other people missed didn't mean much compared the rest of the implications of a trip back.

    That said, I did always look forward to getting Mexican food. And the magic of Mexican takeout has yet to get old. In fact, when we travel abroad now (often to Greece for a long stretch in the summer), I still get excited about the fact I can get a burrito again.


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    1. I do love Halloween! Trick or treating in Spokane is off the charts awesome and our neighborhood is so beautiful in the fall. I can't complain about this!

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  3. I still get excited about the fact I can get a burrito again when the trip ends we come back to our US home.

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    1. I have been making a point of going to Chipotle, Cafe Rio and the like often - and savoring it! Because it is so awesome to eat Mexican food any old time. :)

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  4. Once again, I totally can relate.

    I feel like life itself doesn't feel as exciting as it did when I was an expat. Somehow, every day felt like a bit of an adventure. There isn't any novelty here for me I guess.

    I found when we went back to Switzerland on holiday we were crazy busy meeting people and seeing things we wanted to see. I was exhausted! It's also not the same when you don't have your own home. I craved the lazy Sunday mornings strolling down the cobblestone streets to get a coffee, browsing through Orell Füssli at leisure and just the little things like taking a tram ride with no place that I had to be. I think even though Zürich feels like home, you still crave having your physical home to go to. I guess that's a good thing or you'd never leave haha!

    Im with Katie in saying you should 100% follow your heart. Life really is too short to be anything other than happy!

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    1. Hmmm, I agree - my one and only visit to Zurich was so packed it was totally exhausting and I REALLY, like choked-up, stomach ache missed having our own home. OKAY - still do. Makes me choke up now. But, I'm also so happy for what we have now. I'm in love with this house and I am so happy for the experiences our kids are having. It's the right time in their lives to be right here for sure. Hard not to think about when we go back, though. I hope it all works out when I finish up my grad program. Fingers crossed! The nice thing is that the longer we're here and the better life gets, knowing I still want to go back, I trust myself more and more and feel more confident in the decision. Because let's be honest - it feels totally crazy most days to consider leaving all this. But we just want something different. And that is 100% fine. Thanks for relating, Rhiannon! xoxoxo

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    2. And yes, yes, yes! to those Swiss Sundays. <3

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  5. It's sooooo true! You're so ooooo right. And I am drooling imagining a target trip right now ☺.

    This is probably an annoying thing to say but I have decided I would rather have all the stuff I love in Munich on the daily and once a year doses of intoxicating target, anthro and west elm visits instead of the reverse.

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    1. Not annoying. You're 100% right. The Zurich daily satisfaction is better than the Target anytime for sure! It's just not special when you can go any old time.

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