This is the answer that I have used countless times when speaking to friends and family when they ask this question. For some time, I did not know how to answer it because I was not crazy about my new host country. I did not want to seem negative nor did I not want anyone to worry.
I remember that first summer I returned to the US after only being in Belgium for 4 months. It was wonderful to see friends and family again and be back in a place where things were generally easier. When our 4 weeks were over, I was not happy about returning to Belgium. I did not have many friends, I was living in a area where I felt isolated, I had a toddler home with me and I had no idea what I was going to do. Upon return, I would find myself trying to “transition” to Belgian life all over again. This period of time would be shorter than the initial transition but it would still bring about the same feelings of sadness, loneliness, and loss of purpose.
Fortunately, things did get better. After the second trip, something changed. Actually someone changed. It was me and my family. We began to feel differently. Not a lot but just subtle enough to notice a difference when back in the US. That flight back to Belgium was no longer something we dreaded. Instead, like most endings to a vacation, it was time to go home.
What changed? Every year it was something different but the main change was that there had to be a purpose waiting for me upon my return. After my first summer, my youngest started with a creche and I began lessons in Dutch. After the second summer we moved to a home in a commune that was a better fit for our family. Following the third summer, my children started in the local Flemish school. After the fourth summer passed, I spent the following months looking after my physical well being and potential career paths. So while those negative feelings still remained upon return, having a purpose made the transition easier.
So here we are, recently back from our 5th trip to the US. From the looks of it, I should be well on track to a smooth transition. Yet, my tendency to hibernate upon return was still there. Even though we are 5 years into building a life here I still felt this need to adjust back to my Belgian life. The good thing is that I recognise it and I allow myself to go through it. I give myself the opportunity to be sad about the comfort zone left behind so I can return to my adopted country. Thankfully, this process has gotten shorter every year. Now, after 3-4 days I am ready to make my debut back into Belgium. I walk out the door and start by greeting the next door neighbours who seem genuinely happy we returned.
So that’s my answer to this very popular question. It’s about as honest as I can be. I look at it as a positive, like a welcome flower and not an invasive weed. I hope you do too. Either way, feel free to use this answer or if you have something more creative please share it with me. I am hoping in time my response will be a resounding great but until then, Belgium, like a welcome flower, is growing on me.
Suzanne McIntyre for Talent Interlock