Moving to Alaska (home) and Leaving the Expat Life

[ This was written a few weeks ago when we made the decision. I wasn't sure if I wanted to post this, but realized that I had scoured the internet looking for others repatriating or moving back to their home country, so I decided to share my thoughts about it in hopes it might resonate with others. ]

I’m completely exhausted yet cannot sleep, just waiting for the noisy little grunts and groans just one room away to let me know that it’s time to eat. I don’t mind. I’ve actually started to really enjoy our little nighttime cuddles. Funny how quickly something so small can completely change your world.

That’s not the only reason I’m up. Aside from my night owl internal clock, we just made a life changing decision.

Esslingen am Neckar

Esslingen am Neckar

It’s finally happening. After six crazy years, we are leaving Germany. There, I wrote it. It’s official now. My husband actually made me buy a plane ticket today so we would have a deadline. I’ve lived longer in Germany in my adult life than anywhere else. This place has truly become home. It seems ridiculous, but each time in the past that we’ve gotten close to leaving I haven’t managed to bring myself to be able to go. Really we’ve only attempted to leave once. It’s not as if I was kicking and screaming, refusing to go. We both wanted to stay in Europe but weren’t sure how to make it happen financially. After shipping an entire household worth of stuff back to the states, a car, and sending my husband and our dog ahead of me, we had some long long distance conversations and realized that we could actually make it happen. So, my husband and our dog came back over and shipped some boxes back with them. I stayed with friends for the summer. This is how badly I wanted to stay, but really more about how I just wasn’t ready to leave. It’s been two years since then and we’ve rebuilt a life here. We had to search for months to find the perfect apartment, my husband landed a job (that he didn’t like), and we shopped to find new or gently used furniture to fill our place. We didn’t know the long term goal, just that we wanted to extend our expat adventure but weren’t planning on setting down firm roots in Germany. So essentially, we’ve been living in limbo for the past few years.

Lake Garda

Lake Garda

We often take long afternoon walks with our dog and now newborn son, pushing him in his little German bassinet that he fits so snugly in during the chilly winter months. On our strolls we enjoy chatting about life. Life as expats, our dreams and goals, what we want out of life and our careers, and where we’re headed. We go back and forth between Germany and the US, comparing the two countries we’ve lived and the merits of each. The conversation, depending on our mood, will swing one way or the other on whether we want to stay or go. It usually entails a talk about how nice it would be to own a home and have land, to have a closet to actually store our things, to be able to shop on a Sunday, to hang out with family. We talk about the food. My god do I miss American food. How easy it would be to call any restaurant and order food to go. We discuss how great it would be to understand everything and not constantly be thinking about everything that we do. Whether it’s grocery shopping, decoding a sign on the highway, or trying to understand the nuances only a local would, everything is always strange. But yet, it’s also become familiar. We complain about German oddities that don’t make sense to us; why does everyone stare, why can’t strangers be more friendly, why must Germans feel the need to tell us we’re doing something wrong all the time. We talk about how much we miss family and how amazing it would be to have our son grow up around his grandparents and uncles. How much fun he would have in Alaska doing all the things that I look back fondly upon - hiking, four wheeling, snow machining, sledding, watching the northern lights dance across the sky, swimming in one of the many lakes in the summer, fishing with my dad, building snow forts, and enjoying the freedom and wildness of living in such a vast and open state. We always joke it’s like the last wild west in America, but with a lot of drinking laws.

Stuttgart at the Schlossplatz

Stuttgart at the Schlossplatz

We then switch gears and discuss how wonderful it is to have walking and biking trails everywhere in Germany that we enjoy daily. Truly, all the farm fields have public trails carved out that are accessible to all. The towns are connected by trails in the forest which makes biking and exploring so much fun. We talk about how cheap and good German beer is and how you can get wine from all over Europe for pennies compared to the states. We laugh about what we call the ‘German pour’ when it comes to wine. If you ever visit you’ll see what I mean - ask for a glass of wine and you will almost always be rewarded with a huge glass filled to the brim…for 5 Euro. We go over all the festivals in Germany, from Fasching to food festivals to city festivals to beer festivals including Volksfest. I mention the Christmas markets which are one of my favorite things about Germany. We laugh about how crazy it is that you can drive to one of many castles nearby that’s at least hundreds of years old on any given day. We talk about how much fun it is to drive to France or Italy for a weekend. We bring up the Alps and their proximity to Stuttgart. We talk about how fun the apres ski bars are in Austria and how they’re essentially like going to Oktoberfest. We talk about the biergartens that are found everywhere, from a vantage point overlooking Stuttgart to a quaint biegarten at a farm in the woods. We remember how much fun the wine walks are every spring. We reminisce about all the amazing people we’ve met from all over the world, the wonderful lifelong friends we’ve made in Germany and beyond, and the stories that can only curate from years living in a foreign country. We also laugh about the ridiculous times we’ve had and just plain strange things that happen when experiencing new cultures. 

Edinburgh - Scotland

Edinburgh - Scotland

But then, we realize that we rarely take trips on the weekends. Usually we need at least 3 days and it’s pricey. We have a dog to consider and now a baby. We realize that unless we’re traveling we don’t really do a whole lot of expat living. We don’t get out like we should, not that we need much more excuse than we have a new baby. But why live in another country if you’re not getting out there and doing things? We talk about how nearly quite literally all of our expat friends have run their work assignments and have left Stuttgart by now. We realize our lives have become somewhat dull. Not in a bad way but more so in a way that happens when you are settled into a routine. We visit the same restaurants, we don’t venture out much at all, we don’t do many things that would be different or unavailable if we lived in the states. It’s probably happened over time as the allure of everything being new and exciting has faded. We’ve stopped trying new things. I think about how tired I am - tired of having to think about everything we do constantly, tired of not doing things because the effort involved is often simply too much, tired of having to figure out how to get full-time care for our son when it’s nearly impossible to find a place that takes a baby under 6 months in this country, tired of the relentless traffic, tired of putting our careers on hold, tired of feeling like we don’t actually have a home, and just plain tired. We tell ourselves that there are better opportunities for us in the states, but deep down I don’t really think that’s true. I think there are just as many opportunities in Germany and Europe, but I think when you're ready to leave you find yourself starting to make up reasons to convince yourself it’s time to go, even if they aren’t necessarily true.

So I guess, it’s time. I read on another blog recently that leaving expat life isn’t a decision, it’s a process. This really has rang true for me. We’ve been in this process for some time and with our sweet little boy now in our lives, it’s become clear where our priorities lie and what we want and need in our lives right now. This all sounds quite melodramatic but I know other expats have struggled with this same issue. I know this not only from reading others’ stories online but from also talking to friends who’ve had to make these same decisions. I hope our son likes Alaska and I hope giving up his likelihood of being bilingual and more international will become an afterthought to us. And I guess, even though we haven’t even left yet, that we can always make the decision to be expats again later in life. 

A medieval town in the French Riviera

It’s an odd thing having lived in other countries, other cultures. You become this other version of yourself. You immerse yourself into another lifestyle. You change because the experiences change you. You can’t help it. What was once home now looks familiar yet foreign. Everything makes sense but you see it all differently. You can never live fully in one place without the pull of another. It's hard to explain to someone who’s never lived outside their home country just how hard it can be to repatriate. 

I hope that the repatriation process isn’t as agonizing as I’m anticipating it to be, and I hope I don’t annoy those around me every time I mention how much I miss something in Europe. I plan to throw myself into the lifestyle in our ‘new’ home, and although I grew up in Alaska, I haven’t actually lived there in 13 years. Now with a family, I intend to treat this next stage of our lives as a new adventure. There are so many wonderful places and amazing things to do that I’ve never experienced in Alaska, and many things that I’ve already done but can’t wait to do again. This time with my husband and son. I’m excited to reunite with friends from the past instead of a passing ‘hey what’s up’ when I’m just in town for a bit. I am so incredibly excited to be closer to family. I can't wait to have dinner with my parents on the weekend, or go snowmachining with my brothers.

I also have to remind myself that I’m moving to a place that is considered a top destination to visit and a place with natural beauty just about everywhere. So I should, and do, feel grateful to have such a beautiful place to call home. I plan to continue blogging and now I suppose the name of my blog will better fit the content. And who knows, maybe there is a reason for everything.