Saturday, July 3, 2010

overthinking living abroad summer slump travel plans

This past week I have been thinking a lot about living abroad. I had a conversation with my friend Kate not too long ago and she wondered whether the United States would ever feel like it wasn't our home anymore. Will we get so used to being overseas that returning seems undesirable? I have been turning that idea over in my mind and Justin and I talked about it too. Our standard response to living abroad is, of course we'll return to the States (eventually, sometime, someday). But after Kate and I talked and I said the same thing to her - of course we'll return to the States - I realized: we really cannot say that with certainty.

When we decided to move abroad, even then, we didn't know how long we would be away. Five years seemed reasonable. But then we went to the job fair and at the welcome-orientation-go-get-'em speech, an overseas school administrator stood behind his podium and said, "When I first moved abroad, I thought I'd be gone for a year. Twenty-three years later..."

And Justin nudged me and we glanced at each other, silly grins. Moving abroad had been my idea - a non-negotiable when we started talking about our future together - but that weekend at the job fair, he said to me, "I can see doing this for a long time." Granted, we were heady with a few successful interviews and offers, and energized by all the conversations we had with other expats (soon we would be expats too!), but still, that was the weekend when we began to think maybe ten years? twenty? why not twenty-three years abroad?

So I've been thinking about our reasons for moving abroad, and reasons for staying abroad, and reasons for returning to the States. And in the middle of all this thinking, I hit a summer slump.

International teachers travel. Oh, give them a long weekend and they will go find a bus to board. Winter and spring breaks are made to add stamps to passports. Someone usually knows someone who has been to Bulgaria and if you need a Lonely Planet Egypt, just whisper it at a barbeque.

Well, we are international teachers, but we are not traveling much right now. So with most of the staff gone for summer holiday, and the few remaining summer school teachers getting ready to board planes within the next week, I am feeling slumpy. I don't even really want to travel because I am close to uncomfortably pregnant, and I have a toddler, and it's an expensive season. But still. If I wasn't pregnant, we'd be standing in a customs line, thumbing a Lonely Planet.

Since we aren't off on a long summer away - a short trip to Lebanon will have to keep us happy - we've been talking about where we want to go next. Justin and I were sketching travel plans over the next two or three years, and I pointed out that if we were still in Wisconsin we wouldn't be taking big fat yearly vacations on our teachers' salaries. So why feel compelled to take big fat vacations now? So scrapping the big fat vacations, what do we really, really want to see while we are in this region of the world?

Oman. Jordan. The pyramids, because we'd kick ourselves if we didn't. And Turkey, because everyone raves about Turkey. Oh, and Greece. Maybe Malta.

Anyway. There was a subtle shift in how we talked about our loose travel plans. It became okay to feel less urgent about seeing this or that, because we have also started to be realistic about how long we may actually be abroad. There is no rush to hop over to Paris or spend a week in Irish countryside. We'll likely get there. We might be taking our teenagers along, but we'll likely get there.

Even writing that here makes me want to rush to assure Stateside family and friends: of course we'll return to the States. Eventually, sometime, someday.

Edited to add, so I don't panic the folks back home.

Talking about what may happen in the next decade is what it is: talking about what may happen in the next decade. Another friend of mine, Christine, and I were discussing this whole messy thing about living abroad - what to say when friends and family ask about your return. Truth is, it's much easier to just say what we've been saying, someday we'll head back to the States.

I'll likely blog about this more later, but the prospect and process of returning to the States sometimes seems more difficult than the decision to leave was. Justin and I are not opposed to returning and settling. We aren't opposed to living in the States for awhile only to go abroad again. But that's just it: we aren't opposed to too much right now. We simply cannot say what our Big Life Plan is yet. (How many of those Big Life Plans go your way, anyhow?) So moving back to the States at this point presents way more issues - personal, location, financial, lifestyle - than any resolution or relief.

I make more of this than it is. Mostly, whenever I think about why we aren't ready to return to the States yet, I think of what our parents and my siblings might want. Then I think about what I want. I think they should all move abroad, so we could get more passport stamps on holiday.

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