Today is my thirty-fourth birthday – the fourth birthday I have spent in the UK. I sometimes think back to my thirtieth birthday. I spent it thousands of miles away from home surrounded by people I had only known for a month. It’s funny because one of those people was Jeremy and that occasion was probably the first time we ever actually spoke more than a few words to one another.
I’m not sure what I thought my thirtieth birthday would be like. I had attended a number of my friends’ thirtieths in the years before I moved. It was also a big occasion. We sort of recognised it as progressing from the often tumultuous twenties when we were still trying to figure life out into a phase of life when things just seem that much more clear. I certainly have found my thirties to be much more stable a time than my twenties ever were and this despite being separated from home, friends, and family.
The past few weeks have been a little more difficult – I’m feeling that separation that much more keenly and the depth of my sadness has certainly increased. I thought with time, I would feel less torn between two places. Instead I feel more and more torn with each passing year.
Don’t get me wrong, being an ex-pat or an immigrant or however you like to call it has amazing advantages. My worldview has grown exponentially, I feel more comfortable travelling and talking to different people, and I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible. When I first decided to move abroad, I never thought that there would be a trade-off. At that time I thought I would only be living in the UK for the year of my master’s programme and then I would return home. Any sort of homesickness I’d be able to overcome.
When I went back to the US though, I found that I had changed in subtle ways that meant I no longer fit perfectly back into my old life. In some cases this meant that friendships were lost and past interests were abandoned; in other cases it meant a deeper connection to other friends and members of my family. When I left for my PhD, it felt like I was ripping my heart of out of my chest. I experienced a real physical pain at the separation from home and all that it meant. This time I was likely to be away for three years probably four. It felt like decades longer than the year for my master’s degree.
Over the past three years I have cycled through periods of homesickness. My brain has learned more or less how to compartmentalise my existence so that I do not feel that separation all the time. When I’m in the UK – my life in the US seems a bit of a dream; when I’m in the US – my life in the UK becomes the dream. That has changed as my connections to people have changed. Bringing Jeremy to the US for the first time meant that I could not put my UK life to bed. It was there, walking next to me, meeting my friends and family and sharing in my US life. Waiting at the airport for our flight home, we both became weepy messes because now he was beginning to live between two places just as I have been.
My homesickness is always worse at this time of year as well. Fall has always been my favourite season not the least of which because of the holidays that come with it and my birthday. Halloween, birthday, Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas season have always felt special to me since I was a kid. Around this time I begin to miss the cultural rituals from my childhood. I miss decorating with my glass pumpkins I’ve collected over the years, I miss watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and taking the piss out of it with my Dad, I miss decorating the Christmas tree with my Mom, and I miss baking cookies with my niece. I miss getting together with friends for dinner and drinks and celebrating my birthday with them. And while I’ve adapted and do many of these things here, they just aren’t the same.
It wasn’t my intention to write such a downer of a blog post and truth be told despite the homesickness, I’m quite happy most of the time. Today has also been a pretty good birthday so far. I know that this feeling will lessen eventually and I’ll cycle into my less homesick phase. Being able to Skype with people (and ferrets) from back home is especially helpful. And the truth is I can’t imagine my life had I not made the decision to move to the UK. I like who I am and who I’ve become through this experience. I just do wish they would hurry up and invent transporters already so I could pop home for dinner now and then.