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Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup

Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when a photo of a familiar street in Madrid popped up. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the blogger's profile, and I was immediately inundated with images of the stunning city I had just departed. This girl was frolicking through my favorite streets, sipping on tinto de verano at my favorite rooftop bars, and even brunching in my old neighborhood.

At first, I started tearing up. Then suddenly, envy began to pulse through my veins. "Who is this b*#@%?", I seethed with spite. "Why is SHE in Madrid? That's MY city. It should be ME that's there."

I had never even heard of this random girl's blog, and in reality I'm sure she is a great person. (And given that she was visiting all of my favorite spots in Madrid, we can assume she has good taste.) My childish, unwarranted rage made me feel like a jealous ex-girlfriend. And that's precisely when I realized that Spain broke up with me.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

During my first month home, all I felt was heartbreak. My heart literally hurt. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, and the throbbing aches in my chest stubbornly overpowered the jet lag I was so desperately clinging onto. I thought I had run out of tears when I cried all the way to Iceland, but apparently I was mistaken.

I had a lot of valid reasons for leaving Madrid. But now, blinded by the nostalgia of the past three years, I can't really seem to remember them. Something to do with sustainability, finances, and pursuing the next step in my career. Or whatever. I suppose since I left Madrid voluntarily, it was actually me who broke up with Spain. Either way, break ups suck. The fact that it was my decision to "end the relationship" doesn't make it hurt any less.

Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

When you leave a place you love, you feel like you've left a chunk of your soul behind with you.

The process gets exponentially more complicated when you transition between cultures. When I first came to Madrid, I was worried about adapting to a new culture, functioning in an entirely different language, and essentially starting a new life from scratch. But after spending three years immersed in the language, culture, and quirks of another country, I've adopted countless Spanish customs as my own.

I've been stretched and challenged, I've expanded my world view, and ultimately, I've become a little bit more madrileƱa along the way. Coming home and being expected to feel like a star-spangled American again is like forcing a puzzle piece into a space that doesn't quite fit.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

But this time around, it's more than just reverse culture shock. The rug has been ripped out from under me, and gone are the days of two-hour lunch breaks, three-day weekends, and 30€ Ryanair flights whisking me off to my next destination. Since coming home, I've been forced to come to terms with the bitter realities of job hunting, buying a car, saving for grad school, and planning for the future.

Everyone in the USA is probably rolling their eyes and thinking, "Welcome to adulthood, Courtney. It's about time." And it's not my intention to sound entitled or pretentious. But it's a lot to digest at once, especially combined with changes in friendships and the social sphere, as well as those nagging reminders of how leaving Spain absolutely shattered my heart.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

I want to be wandering the streets of MalasaƱa, sipping on vino tinto in Plaza de las Comendadoras, and going on last-minute getaways with my fellow expat friends. I want to be sinking my teeth into a gooey pincho de tortilla at Bodega de la Ardosa. I want to savor vermouth before lunch, tapas crawl in La Latina, and sobremesa for hours afterwards. 

I miss the way Spanish words roll off my tongue and dance languidly in the warm air. I miss watching the street lamps ignite at dusk, making you feel as if the day’s adventures are only just beginning. I miss the feeling that anything is possible, and that seeing the world is a tangible reality. Madrid helped me become the best version of myself, and right now, I’m not sure how I'll be able to preserve that.

I might not sound very original, considering countless other ex-expats have already shared this quote, but it's a frighteningly accurate portrayal of how I'm feeling right now:

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."- Miriam Adeney

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

It's been about seven weeks since I returned to the States, and I'm pleased to report that I'm doing a lot better than when I first moved back. Since this feels like a breakup, my natural instinct is to lie on the couch, eat guacamole and binge-watch Seinfeld. However, I've been keeping up a crazy schedule of job hunting, interviewing, reconnecting with friends and family, stepping up my exercise regime, and conquering my irrational fear of driving. (But in full disclosure, I still watch Seinfeld.)

And I'm thrilled to announce that I've just accepted a full-time job that feels like the perfect fit for me! (I promise to divulge more details soon!)

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

The Madrid-shaped hole in my heart has yet to heal, and I doubt anything will ever completely fill it. But I'll continue to try to embrace this new chapter, plan more adventures, and be present in Seattle. Closing the door on my life in Spain has shaken me to my core, but my gut is telling me that this is where I need to be right now.

Fellow ex-expats, what has helped you cope with repatriation?

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