Visiting our home country

Going home… Visiting home…

This is our vacation this summer – the first time back to the US since moving to France almost 3 years ago. It’s exciting, it’s strange, it’s comfortable, yet it’s not…

Three young girls and grandmother photographed in front of Niagra Falls
Arriving the first day – seeing their grandmother and enjoying Niagara Falls

For our trip, I had 2 important goals – one to see my immediate family plus other close relatives and also to visit the town where we had spent almost 15 years before moving abroad and see all of our friends. This town was where we started our family, settled in and began raising our kids. My oldest was 10 and a half when we moved, so she had many memories and really had completed almost all of her Elementary years there. For my middle daughter, she too had strong ties and good friends and of course, for me I couldn’t wait to see many of my friends (who in many cases are also parents of my children’s friends).

The tricky part was that my hometown and the town where we moved from are, of course, not the same and are about 4 hours apart. Additionally, I wanted to spend a fair amount of time with my family in our vacation home nestled in the Adirondack Mountains in Northern New York. Needless to say, this meant a bit of traveling and driving to fit everything in. At this point, we are just over half way through our stay and it’s time to reflect a bit.

We just returned from visiting our friends in our former town of Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a fabulous week and one full of so many observations and feelings, it’s hard to put it all in words. As we drove into town that first night, it was exciting to drive the old roads, remembering where things were seeing the same and different stores, restaurants, and buildings.

Same, but different

My oldest daughter and I just kept saying it felt surreal. Were we really there? We had counted down months, weeks and days and finally we had arrived. Things looked the same, yet different. Many things were still in the same place, looking exactly like when we left, but then we would turn a corner and new buildings had popped up, making certain blocks unrecognizable.

This same feeling was felt when we saw some of our friends that week. Many people looked the same, and it seems like we had just seen them last week or last month. Others changed some but it still felt like we had just seen them. But almost 3 years have passed since we moved – we have all lived, experienced and moved in our own directions – Surreal was the word of the week.

The ‘here and now’

A few other observations from my kids as they spent time with their friends. For the most part, they just enjoyed hanging out, doing what they always had done together and talking about what was going on with them at the moment. For my older 2 daughters (10 & 13), these conversations were about what’s in style, what they and their friends liked, favorite singers and an update on mutual friends. It was interesting that they seemed to just jump right in like they had seen their friends last week! They didn’t really discuss what was different or what they had each done for the past 3 years. It was really about the ‘Here and Now’. Of course, they all remarked how much each had grown physically or changed slightly but it was surprising that both of my daughters said it felt like they had just seen their friends only a little bit ago.

Equal memories

For my youngest who is almost 7, her experiences were different. We had left when she had just turned 4. Even though, she too had friends from daycare and pre-school, she didn’t have the same bonds. Her memories were more limited. It was interesting to watch her memories triggered. We walked into her former school and she remembered right where her classroom was – she pointed out things she remembered. We got to see a couple of her former teachers and she was thrilled!! The most interesting thing for me to watch with her is that culturally she almost has equal memories in both countries and the longer we stay in France, the more that country will be ‘home’ to her. I had to start realizing that she is more accustomed to the way things are done in France now. I laughed as for the first couple of days visiting the US, she didn’t flush the toilet. Not because she didn’t want to – but because she didn’t remember where the flush lever was located. (In France, they are on the top of the toilet and in the US on the side) – She didn’t know where to look.

Home… but not

For me, I had similar feelings – but then again, I have been lucky that I have stayed in touch with many of our friends through Facebook, email and Skype. The strange thing for me was being in Saratoga and having the feeling that this town felt like ‘home’ but also didn’t. I suppose for many people who move away from any town, they experience this feeling – the sense that they know their way around, they know ‘how things work’ but at the same time things have changed. The funny thing for me that I found striking as I was chatting with my friends was the number of times French words would pop into my head first before the English. This happened to my daughters too – and we were all a bit surprised when this happened. Yes, we are all bilingual, but we all speak English to each other and as a family, our home is mostly English speaking.

Reminiscing and creating new memories

We also chose to visit our favorite stores, restaurants and parks there and reminisce about fun memories. This was also a great way to share some old memories with my youngest who loved hearing stories about her older sisters.

So with about 10 days left of our vacation, we are really enjoying seeing family and friends and in many ways it’s been busier than I imagined, but I’m not complaining. It’s also very energizing to refresh these connections and I wish we had more time. We are all cherishing these new memories that we are creating with family and friends and hope to be able to return in 2 years, not three. There is a comfortable feeling that we experience here in our native country that I think we all feel.

But at the same time, I have listened to my girls compare American friends to some of their French friends – how some personalities are similar – how they are also different. They truly appreciate all their friends.

I have to say, as much as we are enjoying our time here – it’s still vacation … and when I ask my girls about their friends back in France – they are looking forward to seeing them when they return. I guess as much as they are bilingual – they are really also becoming bi-cultural too! A foot in each country as they say…

Republished with kind permission of Jennifer F via

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  1. Fascinating read on the mixed emotions of visiting your home country after moving abroad! I can relate to the bittersweet feeling of reconnecting with roots while adjusting to a new cultural identity.

    Your children's perspective adds another layer to the complexities of cultural belonging. Did you find it easier for them to adapt to life in France compared to readjusting to your home country?
    Would love to hear your thoughts!

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