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Reflections On Eight Years Abroad

by Andrea on May 24, 2013

Time moves quickly – the older you get the faster it seems to go. I left my home country of the United States at the start of 2005, off on an adventure to join my then boyfriend in Australia for a summer. Of course, readers of this website know that our summer time together evolved into a long-term relationship and then marriage a few years ago. I was so carefree and free-spirited back then. I’m not so different now but perhaps a little more serious, more cautious, more forward-thinking.

Jump ahead eight and a half years and I realize that I have been an expat for nearly a quarter of my life. So many Americans never set foot out of North America and yet here I am with all of my amazing international experiences, friends and family on five continents and what I think is a very special perspective on the world. I know I am not unique – there are many other people who have travelled more than I have, and for longer. But each time I have returned to the States I become more and more aware of how many people view my travels as an oddity, something that they don’t understand, and often a point of either envy or surprise at my desire and ability to be so mobile.

postcards Reflections On Eight Years Abroad

I am also a dual citizen now, with the constant question of which country I belong to more. Personality comes into that, I believe. Personally, I feel very American. Australia is a beautiful country and there are so many things I love about it. But there are frustrations too. I never feel 100 per cent a part of things when I am there. I’ll be going about my business and feel quite at home, but then I’ll be in a grocery store and encounter someone staring at me because of my accent or be asked how long I’m visiting for and my day is interrupted, a constant reminder that I am not truly of that place. Not that it has stopped me from trying.

I rarely have time to stop and contemplate about myself – in fact, I try to refrain from self-analysis as much as possible. I already live in my head too much so why add the burdens of statehood to the ever-growing list of things I need to think about as a grown-up? So this post is a treat for me. I want to talk a little about how being abroad long-term has changed me. Of course, it’s difficult to tell whether the current incarnation of myself is the product of normal maturity or being overseas. Surely it is a combination of both. I will never know how I may have turned out differently had I not been away from my country of birth during the formative years of my 20s.

When I left the US, I was an art director by training and a budding entrepreneur, having just begun working with friends on a start-up company. I don’t think I had too much of an idea of what I wanted to “be” back then, other than knowing that I liked wearing jeans to work, didn’t really like the corporate environment (having worked for a Fortune 100 company near the very top of that list). I was creative, hard-working, young, impulsive and full of energy and optimism. These days I’m still creative, hard-working and full of energy. I’m not as young, but still in the game. I’m a little less impulsive (though I have my moments). Staying optimistic is a bigger struggle, especially with the state of the world. But this is just a product of becoming more aware of the what goes on – the world probably isn’t much worse now than it was centuries ago.

I have to say that maintaining some of my attributes is definitely more about me than about where I spent my time. The United States moves faster than any other place I have experienced, save perhaps London. People work 50+ hour weeks and many seem to enjoy it. Not so in Europe, Australia and South America. You’ll find people living the American lifestyle in those countries but it is far from the norm. Many people criticize that aspect of the US. I need to spend more time back in it before I can make a qualified assessment. But I like to get stuff done. I like opportunities and options. I like the freedom to spend my money how I want to, instead of having a government tell me how it is going to be spent and on whom. I’ve had the experience now of living in a socialist (some have called it communist) country and that wasn’t for me. I think every person who thinks that sort of thing is appealing should go and live there before they drag the rest of us into a quagmire. So many people have fanciful, romantic ideas about how the rest of the world live while having absolutely no clue what they are talking about. The only people scarier to me than them are the politicians who act on their whims.

I was also naïve when I left. That has been worn away, though I still maintain my idealism. This is probably my biggest flaw when it comes to being responsible for my own disappointments. Something that I wasn’t prepared for was how many people in my life (though by no means everyone) would leave it when I moved. It still puzzles me how, for so many people in the US, in any country, life just doesn’t exist for them outside it. So when you’re not there, you’re out of mind. It became impossible to even get people to make a phone call outside the country. By the time Skype came on the scene, I was already forgotten. Email is a handy tool but I had plenty of friends who couldn’t be bothered with that either. I made new friends, of course, but the couple of years away were really difficult. My lifestyle has always been so global that maybe this is just personal to me but I still can’t understand it.

Of course, I have to take into consideration those 50+ hour workweeks I was talking about. Who has time to think about anything besides what is in front of you when that is going on? I think that people who criticize Americans for having a lack of world awareness just don’t understand what it takes to make a living in the United States. It’s no excuse but I get it now…much more than I did before. When you live in high-tax countries you get spoiled by the government. Things slow down. Opportunities evaporate. You can become complacent. I’ve often missed the juicy chaos of the US. This is still a country where anything can happen. Yes, the middle class is disappearing, but for those who want to work hard and make something of their lives, the opportunities are there. Maybe I’m just a patriotic nation-lover like plenty of other people around the world who love their countries too. It’s what you grew up with, I guess. But what I can tell you is that, for me, living outside the United States made me appreciate my country more than I think any other experience could have. That said, Americans do need to realize that the US of A is not the end-all, be all. There are other people, cultures and countries out there. I’m a firm believer that more people need to get out there and experience that.

Things change quickly. Suddenly we found ourselves sitting in Bordeaux over a steak dinner and a bottle of red toasting the details of the announcement I’m about to make: we’ve moved to the United States. The last month and a half has been a blur. There were phone calls to have and visas to obtain and parents to talk to and plans to be made. We celebrated, packed, laughed, cried, yelled and stressed. This was not the first time for this experience. In fact I think I’m now up to almost 20 home moves. They say this is one of life’s most stressful events but it’s become normal for us. Just something we do, one of our routines.

So as I plunge back into my homeland of excess after so much time in places where people make do with less, how will my perceptions change? How will I feel? What new projects will I work on? What exciting things will happen? Those are the normal things one wonders about in those few spare moments when moving to a new country. How will John feel and what will his experiences be like? It’s now his turn to be an expat in my country. I had many struggles adapting to life in Australia and I hope things are much easier for him here. It will be fascinating to see my country through his eyes.

As for this blog, things aren’t likely to change much. We’ve always wanted to explore more of North America and now we will have the chance to. We will have the opportunity to return to Australia once a year and have no plans to stop travelling. So we hope you’ll stick with us on our journey and look forward to sharing our American (and other) adventures with you.

Have you ever returned to your home country after more than five years away? What were your impressions?

{ 58 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Makepeace May 24, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Thoughtful post Andrea.

Where in the US are you going to live? I think the USA is an incredible country to live in, and out of all the countries I’ve lived in over the years: Australia, Ireland, Thailand and the US, I would happily put the US at the top of my list to settle in.

I love the USA for it’s options, entrepreneurial spirit, friendly people, and beautiful landscapes. As a bonus, and I’m sure John is aware of this being a beer lover, the US has some of the best craft brews and range of beers of anywhere I’ve been. IMO shits on the beer options here in Oz (and don’t get me started on the prices!!!)

And just because you’re moving back to your homeland of excess (as is Australia) after so much time in places where people make do with less, doesn’t mean you have to live like that.

The only thing I found difficult and frustrating as an Aussie relocating to the US in my 30’s was “building credit”. It’s head wrecking. Other than that, I’m sure John will love it.

All the best!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:18 am

It makes me feel really great that you love the USA so much, Craig. You’ve probably seen more of it than I have! I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in many different cities: New York, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, Vegas, Birmingham, New Orleans…but have so much more to see, especially in the smaller cities and out west. So we plan to use our time here to see the country!

We’re already onto the craft beer ;) Stay tuned in our next post.

Building credit is annoying but I think you have to do that everywhere. Norway had a credit reporting agency as well. I feel a little more worried here about things like identity theft, which has to be constantly protected against these days. We’ll be based in Texas, which is completely new to me but we love it so far. Thanks for the positive thoughts!

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Erin May 25, 2013 at 12:17 am

Love this post. I’ve been out of the US for just 3 years now, but definitely can relate to so much of what you said. It’s amazing how much of a burden Skype seems to be for some people lol. And I do appreciate the US in different ways that I couldn’t see when I lived there.
I think the hardest part of living in the US for me is all the rules that seem to trump common sense. Best of luck in navigating those.
I’ve been thinking about going back, or living there part time again. Or not. I waver on that thought, a lot. I do really want to explore more of the West, though. Which part of the country are you moving to?
Cheers!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:18 am

We’ll be in Texas, which is completely new to me. I also want to explore more of the West. Let us know if you’re ever out this way! =)

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Jay May 25, 2013 at 2:20 am

Happy you’re where you want to be but will certainly miss you around these parts!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:19 am

Will miss you too but I suspect I’ll see you here at some point! =)

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Mélissa May 25, 2013 at 4:52 am

I read your post and thought it was me. I left Canada for a 4 month adventure in France…it is now 10 years later. I sometimes go home and feel like a stranger in my own country because I don’t know the latest star gossip or I don’t own the latest gadget. Then when I go back to France, despite the fact that I speak French quite well, I am constantly reminded of my ‘petit accent mignon’. My bf and I are moving back in a month and I’m a little scared…will I be too ‘European’? Nonetheless, I don’t regret a single second of my time abroad. Hey, if it doesn’t work out in Canada…I can always go back to France ;)

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:21 am

I definitely feel behind technology wise on the gadget front. Have a lot to catch up on…

Hey, France is a fallback option not to be sniffed at!

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Boyd Lemon May 25, 2013 at 7:25 am

Having traveled quite a bit and having lived in Paris for a year, I have had a very small taste of what you experienced. Welcome back. I think I have some understanding of why you returned. What a wonderful adventure you have had! And I found your comments and introspection quite interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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Boyd Lemon May 25, 2013 at 7:33 am

I want to add That currently I am in the beginning of a one-month road trip across the United States. I made a similar trip last year, except that last year I drove across the southern part and this time I am driving across the northern part. I have had many Impressions, some of which I shared in a short book I published called Diversity, but as the title implies, the Strongest impression was the enormous diversity and cultural differences in different parts of the United States. If you have not done something similar, in view of your great love of travel, I would highly recommend such a trip. I think that Even two or three months, rather than the one month I have a lot, would be better.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

Doing a road trip like that is one of our travel dreams! Great tip on splitting it up!

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Jess @UsedYorkCity May 25, 2013 at 7:33 am

Andrea, this was a beautiful post and I absolutely related to so many of the things you said…(most importantly, “So many people have fanciful, romantic ideas about how the rest of the world live while having absolutely no clue what they are talking about.”…so true!!!) Looking forward to following your North American adventures, and welcome home!:-)

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:23 am

Thanks so much, Jess! =)

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Mel May 25, 2013 at 8:37 am

What a wonderful update Andrea.

All the best to you and John for the next phase of your life – I’m really looking forward to reading about your experiences in the US.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:24 am

Thank you so much Mel – miss you! Let us know when you’re here and hopefully we can meet up =)

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Heather May 25, 2013 at 9:05 am

I can really relate to so much of what you’ve written. Having lived in Communist (Socialist depending on whom you ask) for nearly two years, I have a new-found appreciation for my American upbringing and freedoms. Traveling around SE Asia has opened my eyes to the blight of poverty and the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots. We have a handful of people that will Skype with us, but the 12-hour time difference and our poor internet connection make it challenging to talk. Facebook helps me feel connected to friends and family back home, though people in general don’t seem to post as much anymore and emails have become almost non-existent. I find myself making friends with other expats as we understand what the other is going through and are on-hand for a beer and a chat. I hope that when I move on to the next destination these people will stay in my life, but only time will tell. In the end, though, I love this life and wouldn’t change a thing! We’ll be back in the U.S. in the fall so maybe our paths will cross. Enjoy your North American adventures!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:24 am

Thanks, Heather – hope to see you! =)

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gregorylent May 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

it’s one world … a single entity, a single race, a single ecology, a single mind … i don’t envy you having to adjust to the entrenched mindsets in america that don’t get that

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Edna May 28, 2013 at 5:51 am

Greg, I didn’t know you read travel blogs! Small internet world.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica May 25, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Welcome back! Hopefully your location will make it easier for our paths to cross again.

And great piece of writing by the way :-)

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

Yes, would love to see you again, Stephanie! Keep in touch =)

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Freya May 25, 2013 at 5:32 pm

What a great beautiful post. It is true that sometimes people look at other countries and think it is better there or there but most of them will always end up missing their own country (any home country, I guess it just because we grew up in our home country). Long time ago, I moved out my home country as well but I was so happy to return. In the beginning it was not easy because I had to adapt all over again but now I’m really happy with it. I still travel a lot and look at the countries I visit now as an experience not as a place to eventually live in.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

I think living abroad is a wonderful experience and I’m sure we will do it again. For this stage in our lives, however, this is where we need and want to be. Thanks for your insights!

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Jessica May 25, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Wonderful post. I can hugely relate to feeling like you’re uncertain if your maturity is part of normal development, or related to being abroad. I feel like I’ve changed and grown-up so much over the 2 years that we’ve been away – it’s hard to tell if I’m just getting older, or whether the challenges of traveling have changed me. Looking forward to reading your North American posts. I often feel like I’ve explored more of the rest of the world than my own country, so it will be interesting to learn a little more about it through your experiences.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:26 am

I feel that way too, Jessica…looking forward to seeing what’s in my own backyard =)

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Jenna May 26, 2013 at 12:14 am

I enjoyed reading this. I think about expat experiences a lot because I was one (but just for a couple of years) and have some expats in my family. It is never easy but rewarding just the same.
As I’ve mentioned on your site before, I’ve resigned myself to living in the U.S. for the next few years at least and believe that giving my two children roots here is beneficial for them. Others may disagree, but I grew up moving all over and wished I had had more stability. There are a lot of things that really frustrate me here, but there are many wonderful things, too, especially here in CA. I also want to know what part of the country you’re moving to! And I agree that there are SO many exciting places to travel here. I have still barely scratched the surface of what CA has to offer after 11 years here.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:27 am

California is so amazing – I lived in San Fran for two and a half years and got to see so much of the state. Still want to revisit the wine country and see San Diego, plus take John to Carmel and the area around there. We’ll be in Texas so give us a shout if you’re ever this way!

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Lisa May 26, 2013 at 4:34 am

I found the reverse culture shock overwhelming. It took me a long time to adjust to living in the US, my home country again.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:28 am

It’s been a little strange but we are loving it so far, Lisa! =)

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Krista May 26, 2013 at 7:11 am

Love this post, Andrea. :-) I too really struggled with how I ceased to exist for most of my North American friends. It’s not like that with my European friends, with my friends who travel. We keep in touch however we can, no matter what. I’m SO glad you and John have figured out where you want to be now. :-) I hope you have a fantastic time in the States and that John fits in quickly and beautifully. I chuckled about people asking you about your accent here in Oz. It still startles me that people think I have an accent! :-)

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

Aren’t fellow travelling friends wonderful? My “newer” friends all fall into that category and I love that I feel in touch with all of them since we’ve met. I guess it is part of growing older too that you drift apart from people. Isn’t the accent issue in Australia a spin-out? Nobody knows what to do with my accent anymore – I’m all mixed up =)

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Shona Easton May 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Fabulous post Andrea. I absolutely love to travel and have been living away from the UK for a couple of years now. Before that I always travelled extensively and I totally believe that travel broadens the mind. Keep it up and don’t stay home for too long at a time :)

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

We never do, Shona! Thanks so much =)

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Charu May 26, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I totally get this–I too am an expat from my country, India, and I’ve been in the States for over 17 years! I feel very Indian in the way I related to what’s going on at home but at the same time love the multicultural fabric of the US. Welcome back to the US, dear!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:30 am

Thanks, Charu! Hope to see you again soon =)

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Emily in Chile May 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Yay! I can of course relate to the feeling that for some people, if you move out of the US you might as well have moved to Mars. And I can also understand your thoughts about how John will feel as an expat. I’ve had it relatively easy as a gringa in Chile, and there were still hard days. While I do want to live in the US at some point, I wonder if Rodolfo will suffer from racism or the stereotypes associated with being a latino immigrant. Honestly, he’ll probably take any problems in stride while I’ll be the one blowing up at the offending party! Best of luck getting set up in the US, and cheers to a new adventure.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:32 am

It’s interesting that you say Rodolfo might suffer racism. Maybe it’s where we live now but I feel like the US is such a melting pot that nobody would give him a second glance. He’s your husband, for starters, but also, the US was built by immigrants. And, frankly, immigrant businesses are propping up many parts of the economy right now. But I’m a white American here so I really can’t speak for how he would feel. You guys should give it a bash ;) Would love to see more of you!

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Emily in Chile June 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I think that while there is plenty of multiculturalism, there is also a certain stereotype of “Mexicans” (which of course describes every Latino in some people’s minds) as illegal, uneducated and lazy. I just imagine someone thinking they’re doing a good deed by offering him a day job painting a fence or something like that!

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inspiringtravellers June 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

Oh goodness! Some people are awful, aren’t they?

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Andi June 10, 2013 at 8:01 am

1) WELCOME BACK!!!!!!! 2) Emily, I think Rodolfo will be fine, because of his personality, intelligence, and command of the English language. We live in a part of the US that is known for racism and Lucas has yet to encounter any. In fact, everyone he meets is always so excited to hear more about Argentina when they learn that’s where he if from and almost in a way put him up on a pedestal haha.

Sherry May 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I have never lived more than five years outside the United States. But no matter what your qualms are, “home” always finds a way back to your heart. So I think you’ll do just fine again in the US. And you may even find some comfort in things you left behind. Your eight years of experience and knowledge should be enough keep you grounded.

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:34 am

I am definitely grateful for the years of experience I gained being away, Sherry. Very helpful for tuning out the distractions…

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TravelMusts May 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Yours is a truly inspirational story. Thanks for sharing it! The longest I have been away from my home country is 11 months and I was kind of lost for the first few days…. I cannot even imagine how it must have felt after 5 years!

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inspiringtravellers May 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

I’ve actually only noticed a few adjustments…mostly the changes in processes and technologies here in the States that other countries don’t have. I find myself continually explaining to people that I’m asking obvious questions because I haven’t lived here in so long. I’m also finding it funny when I have to show people my Australian license…it’s such a spin-out for them. Most people here haven’t seen one before.

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Christine May 27, 2013 at 7:12 pm

So exciting! When I decided to move back to the United States, I moved to New York City and it seems like an entire world away from my home state of California! I’ve discovered so much to explore in the U.S. (and hopefully Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean) and I appreciate so much about the country after having been away. Then again–I certainly miss the healthcare and vacation days of France and Australia!

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inspiringtravellers May 28, 2013 at 9:46 pm

NYC is fantastic! I’m enjoying the healthcare here because I couldn’t get specific medication I needed overseas, but I can understand how many people appreciate the “safety net” those countries provide. Would love to know your fav destinations around North America! =)

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TammyOnTheMove May 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm

How exciting! I am looking forward to reading your posts about the US, a country I would love to explore a bit more. I have been an expat for 10 years now. I left Germany to live in England and then left England to live in Cambodia. I have been back for visits of course, but not to live there again, so I am not sure how it feels like. But I guess the first thing that will happen to you is that you will probably start start realizing all the things you have missed whilst you were away.

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inspiringtravellers May 28, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Yes, I am definitely enjoying a lot of things I missed…some of those probably not so great for me like certain foods ;)

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Edna May 28, 2013 at 5:55 am

Congrats on the new move! I’m in my fifth year and fourth city abroad and at this point in time I don’t know if I could return to the US long-term, but you never know where life takes you! Looking forward to seeing how you get on back in the homeland!

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inspiringtravellers May 28, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I used to think that too but then things changed – I think it depends on what is going on in your life and how well things are going in your expat home. Wishing you continued luck and enjoyment =)

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Olga @The EuropeanMama May 30, 2013 at 10:00 am

Hi, what a great post! I am Polish and have been an expat for almost 8 years as well, and can relate a lot of what you have written. I have lived in Canada, Germany and now am staying in the Netherlands, and I love it here! Thank you for sharing your experiences and good luck for your future projects!

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inspiringtravellers June 4, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Thank you, Olga! Good luck to you as well =)

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nicole | the wondernuts May 31, 2013 at 12:12 am

“That said, Americans do need to realize that the US of A is not the end-all, be all. There are other people, cultures and countries out there.”

This is very important. There’s a whole world out there who are doing things better than we are here. We can really learn from them.

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inspiringtravellers June 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Well, hopefully travel bloggers provide some cultural exchange. I always feel like I bring parts of the world with me when I leave.

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Ali June 8, 2013 at 6:15 am

Congrats on the move and the next step of your life. After less than a year of being out of the US, even I found some things strange, so I can’t imagine what it must be like to have to readjust to living in the US again after so many years living abroad. And living in TX must be an adjustment all on its own!

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inspiringtravellers June 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

Thanks, Ali! Mostly I just find myself behind on knowledge of some of the technologies that are available – it is amusing…

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Sonia Carvalho June 9, 2013 at 6:34 pm

Nice blog and welcome back to the US the country I came to love and respect. I don’t mean to be nagging with my comments, but I see it as an opportunity to state a contrary situation where even though I was born in Brazil in my heart I am American and proud of it! I became a US citizen in 1994. Unfortunately I made the mistake of moving back to Brazil; boy do I regret? If you read the news, you know how dangerous and violent the country is; the violence is TOTALLY out of control, criminals don’t go to jail and the government seems to be blind and deaf about all the serious problems in the country . Not only this is a BIG issue for me, but also the bureaucracies in getting anything done and how the laws change according to the situation and to who is helping you. I MISS THE USA SOOOOOOOO BADLY that I’ve put my apartment down here in Brazil for sale so that I can return to the US. Brazil is a BIG illusion, only Brazilians can really tell and see how extremely difficult it is to live here. Foreigners who visit or live in Brazil love it down here because they don’t have to go through 1/3 of what native Brazilians go through. Enjoy the US as much as you can and be thankful for being in the US.

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inspiringtravellers June 10, 2013 at 7:57 am

Thank you for your insightful comment, Sonia. I have yet to visit Brazil but we really want to at some point. I have only heard wonderful things as you have mentioned. I think what you say rings true for many countries. Foreigners visit and have grand, romantic ideas about living in a place, but aren’t prepared for the realities. Good luck!

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