Skip to main content

Fears of Returning Home

Written by
Reading time: 7 minutes
Mel’s Mapa Mundi: “I am afraid of forgetting who I have turned into and going back to being the person I used to be.”
girl stand up

Over fifteen months ago, I had a round ticket with which I was about to return exactly 365 days after leaving. I decided to let the ticket go and stay abroad longer. However, the time for me to return to what was once called ‘home’, has now come. In less than a month, I will be boarding a 15-hour-long flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Another flight which will change the direction of my life forever.

This is not the first time that I have left my country, but it has been the longest time that I have spent away. (And it will definitely not be the last.) It is normal for a person to be afraid to take that leap of faith into the darkness of the unknown and the fog of uncertainty. On one side, few are actually willing to leave their comfort zone for long periods of time. On the opposite side, there are some people who embrace that feeling of doubtfulness and mix it with a dash of hope and a hint of excitement. They crave adrenaline. For the latter  – which seems to have increased immensely in the past years – going away is hard, of course,  but “coming back home” is even harder.

The person who took off from that airport is not the same person who will land back there. Your life has shifted so much, in so many ways between those two flights… and you have changed. You have adjusted yourself, your personality, and your actions, to your surroundings.

Everything will be similar to how it was before – except us. We are definitely not who we were before…

someone on a plane looking at window
credit: Tim Gouw

“I am afraid to return to my country and feel foreign”

You have experienced things that many other people have not. Even if they have, whatever lessons they absorbed from the experience will not be the same as yours. Perhaps you have taken some local traditions from the places you visited and made them your own: like wearing white for New Year’s Eve because that’s what you do in Brazil, or eating twelve grapes along with twelve bell rings because the Spaniards invited you to join them. Or you have learnt to be extremely punctual after seeing your train doors closing right in front of you in Switzerland. Or when on a tight budget and starving, the first thing that crossed your mind was a Bretzel in Germany. Maybe you even changed your vocabulary because your international Latin-American friends did not understand your Argentinean slang, so now you refer to a person (with a slightly negative connotation) as a “pinche culero” instead of a “pedazo de boludo”.

You have gotten used to doing things a certain way – different to how you had done them before leaving.

“I am afraid to have the urge to go away. Again”

somone leaving with luggage
Fears of Returning Home

“Going back home” usually means going back to routine and stability, nouns that may not be too appealing at this point. Even if you had a stable life abroad, it surely had felt different. You may have fallen into a comfort zone in a far away place, but it did not feel as if you were trapped there.

Have you ever felt a tight squeeze in your chest, when you unexpectedly cannot breathe, cannot move, cannot do anything but hug yourself to extinguish that growing anguish freezing your heart, while salty tears stream down your suddenly pale cheeks? A moment of epiphany, when you realize that you just cannot take it any longer. Some people may have experienced this when they decide to quit a job, end a long-term relationship… or some of us, when we realize that we need to go away. I have felt it. It tears you apart within seconds. If anyone you know was present when it happened, they surely noticed the pain hidden behind the smile you tried to fake after that brief breakdown.

You should pay attention to that feeling and use it as a motivation to work towards your goals, even if they seem impossible. Otherwise, it will expand and make you fall into pieces sooner or later.

“I am afraid to feel as if I have missed way too much”

Many things happen every day, even if life seems ordinary and boring. Your acquaintances’ lives have changed just as yours has, although probably in the same place where they have always lived. The lives of the people who you used to be close to, have gone on without you. Life always goes on. And then you go back to that place and to the people that you had always thought close to you – and realise that you have not been there through crucial turning points of their lives. They may have gotten close to other people, and their current anecdotes involve stories where all you can do is say to yourself, “I should have been there too”. Or sometimes even think, “please, remind me the reason why I was ever friends with this person”. You were not there when many things happened.

There is nothing you can do to go back in time. So, embrace all the experiences you had while away, keep them as a nice memory and catch up with your old friends. You may not have been there for some things, but you will surely play a role in other stories.

“I am afraid to crave memories”

someone holding a picture
Fears of Returning Home

When you go back to where it used to be home, you expect everything to be as you remember it. Well, things are different now. Maybe the places you used to visit have not changed drastically, perhaps the people you used to have in your life are still there waiting for your return with arms wide open – or not. Naturally, you will quickly accept that the places are not like you used to remember. On the other hand, the people are the crucial factor which made the place special, correct?

Many of them may be gone after your overseas adventure. Some might have distanced themselves for various reasons – and you should not chase them, because who they were before your flight is in the past. Some people are better left as a good memory.

If they chose to leave, let them. Embrace the ones who want you in their lives. In other cases, you have no other choice than to remember people with a pleasant smile instead of mourning their absence once again. Life should go on positively. The phrase “the good old days” is not always applicable – The past is not always better than the future. The future is full of possibilities.

“I am afraid to feel distanced from my friends and family”

someone looking at sky above the clouds
Fears of Returning Home

You have gotten so used to being away, that sometimes you may feel that you have grown apart. They were not present in every small aspect of your life abroad and you may have talked to them less often than when you were living in your city. Instead, you had new friends to share your time with, your feelings, your life. (I warn you, now the situation will be reversed… and not everyone can handle long distance friendships. That one thing that bonded you strongly – your current hometown and daily activities – is now gone). In addition to the normal distance that comes with any relationship where people may not share too much time together, you surely have changed, and others have changed in their own way too. Maybe you just do not click together anymore.

Bonds will be strengthened when you go back – or broken for good. You also have to take into consideration that new people will come into your life, people who match better with who you are right now. It is also possible that many of your friends have evolved in the same direction as you have, despite the distance. However, besides every aching fear that you, or I, or we may have, one is above them all…”I am afraid of forgetting who I have turned into and going back to being the person I used to be”.

How do you cope with all these feelings? The same way you have handled the fears you had before leaving. Take a deep breath, clench your fists tight, and take that step forward… knowing that everything will be alright.