Canada, Expat Living, North America, Toronto

Expat Turned Repat – One Year Later.

November 28, 2013

Yesterday was my one year anniversary of being home in Toronto. Since people ask from time-to-time about what made me leave Berlin, it seems appropriate to write about why I gave up my semi-nomadic existence and expat ways.

Cheryl Howard in Toronto

Why Did I Move Home?

There were a few reasons. My most compelling one was that I missed home. My friends, Toronto itself and the ease of living. I’d grown tired of the constant challenges of expat life. The stress of it had worn me down as had the frustration of always having to rely on others to help me do simple things I could otherwise do myself if I were at home.

Another reason was that I lost my main source of income. Although, I worked as a freelance writer and travelled extensively, I also worked in a less glamorous role as an IT project manager. As an English speaking expat who didn’t speak very much German, I knew it could be a while before I found a new job at the same level. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to remain unemployed for very long. The thought of working in a lesser position while I looked for something more reflective of my skills and experience wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I worked hard for my education, build up my career and didn’t want to ruin that.

I’d also grown weary of being a freelancer and not having a steady and dependable income stream. I knew that it would be much easier to find a job in Canada and through my network, I had a full-time job before even leaving Germany.

Finally, there was an unhealthy relationship. Without going into detail, I knew that he wasn’t good for me and I needed to walk away. Of course, I didn’t need to leave Berlin to do this but being so far away geographically certainly made things easier.

Booking Another One Way Ticket.

The day I booked that one-way ticket home, I wept. The day I got into the plane to come home, I looked out the window and cried uncontrollably for about 15 minutes.

I loved Berlin. I also loved Toronto. But more than anything, I needed a break. Coming home was like walking into the warm comforting embrace of an old friend.

Cheryl Howard in Toronto

Did I Feel Like a Failure?

In all honesty, yes and no.

Coming home isn’t a bad thing. I certainly don’t regret following my heart. I did what was best for me at the time.

I’m proud for being brave enough to move halfway around the world. If you recall my story about why I moved to Berlin – I went there alone, without a job, not knowing a soul or speaking the language. I built an entirely new life, learning how to make friends in Berlin, establishing myself as a freelancer even trying out a different career in travel as an aspiring writer, blogger and photographer.

I found happiness there – true happiness. I made Berlin my home and after a vacation in Berlin this past summer, it still feels as such.

There were things that I wish I did better.

I wish that I’d made more of an effort to learn German instead of spending so much time at the local watering hole. If I think back to all of the things that made my life as an expat so hard, it all came down to me not knowing the language. I should have made this a higher priority.

I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time on a guy. I should have known better.

Alas, it’s in the past and all I can do is move on and learn from my mistakes.

Cheryl Howard in Toronto

What Has it Been Like Being Home?

It’s been a journey full of ups and downs. Sometimes, I love it and other times not so much.

Settling back into a 9-5 job wasn’t easy. I have a long commute each way, so the days are long. At the same time, I can’t and won’t complain, as I love my job.

It’s great to have benefits again, to go to the doctor and dentist without it being a complicated, expensive affair.

I now rent a small apartment and don’t have a roommate. I even have my own bed. The days of sleeping on futons and couches are over for now.

Friendships have changed. Some people with whom I was once so close with don’t reach out anymore. It’s be expected and although sad, I know it’s natural. Of course some old friendships picked up right where they left off. And not surprisingly, new friendships have formed. My experience changed me and I’m not the same person anymore. I better identify with those who love travel as much as I do and have experienced living abroad.

I’ve started exploring North America – having made trips to OttawaSan Francisco and Detroit. Next up on the agenda are Chicago, Montreal and Denver. There’s even plans for a girls getaway to the remote forests of Quebec to sleep in a treehouse come spring!

Lastly, Rob Ford is my internationally renowned crack-smoking mayor. Enough said.

Cheryl Howard in Toronto

Do I Miss Berlin?

I miss Berlin all of the time. It’s as if my heart is torn in two.

All it takes is a call from a friend, watching a video, reading an article and I’ll burst into tears. It seems I cry a lot … but I laugh a lot too. 🙂

I long for my other home. Lazy summer days at the lake, late nights at a biergarten, walking down those cobble stoned streets so far away from all that I know. Being filled with a sense of my surroundings, something not easily explained but a feeling of knowing that I’m in the exact right place and that I belong.

It’s a tug of war that will last me my whole life through. When I’m there, I’ll long for here and when I’m here, I’ll long for there. I’m happy here, I’m happy there.

If I miss Germany, I eat sausage and drink beer. I’m even taking language classes at the Goethe Institute here in Toronto. And oddly, I’m magnet for German people. I frequently meet German people at local pubs and bars and while in San Francisco this summer, I met about eight people from Germany!

Cheryl Howard in Toronto

What’s Next?

I’m very sure that I’ll become an expat again. I just don’t know when and I don’t know where. For now, I’m happy where I am and being able to travel from time-to-time.

Have you ever lived abroad? Did you have any challenges and what were they? What was it like to move home? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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34 Comments

  • Reply Andrea November 28, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Your life is such an adventure! I do hope we’ll get to meet up again, in Berlin or wherever. xx

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm

      Andrea, I hope we get to meet again as well! Berlin would be great or elsewhere. =)

  • Reply Henry | @fotoeins November 28, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    I agree with Andrea above: it really is eine kleine kleine Welt. 🙂 I’m glad I got to meet you last fall in Berlin. I’m also glad you wrote this post: people change, situations change. If I’m not mistaken, isn’t there a Weihnachtsmarkt at City Hall/Nathan Philips Square? I’m getting these “memory shots” when I’ve been at the Vancouver Christmas Market. Good things, C!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 28, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      Glad I got to meet you as well. There’s actually a Christmas market that opens tomorrow in the Distillery District which I’ll be checking out this weekend. Hope that life back in Canada has been good for you too!

  • Reply Adelina November 28, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I completely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been home now for almost a year as well and it’s definitely has had its ups and down. I love having benefits again too! That sense of longing no matter where you are is something I can relate to. I’ll be going back for a visit to where I once called home shortly. It’ll be interesting to see how I feel after being away for so long.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 28, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      It certainly requires an adjustment period. I guess we’re both filled with a sense of wanderlust and adventure so the longing probably never stops! Enjoy your visit. I went back to Berlin this summer and it was weird at first to be “visiting” that place you once called home. After a few days it was ok though! Then I didn’t want to leave …

  • Reply Kate November 28, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    I can understand where you’re coming from.. I was an expat in New Zealand for 4.5 years, and recent came home to Nova Scotia for an extended holiday. Although my situation is very different to yours in many ways, I can relate to the feelings of returning home. Onwards and upwards!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      Thanks Kate! Different stories but common sentiments. Coming home is a strange feeling but good in so many ways too.

  • Reply Kathryn @ RTW Travel Guide November 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    It’s always strange to find out which friends do and don’t keep up friendships through life transitions. I can’t believe it’s been a year already. I started reading your blog before you moved back so I guess more than a year.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 28, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Aww, thanks for sticking around and reading for so long! 🙂

      Yeah, it’s sad when friendships end but it could have happened even if I never moved away I suppose. And true friends will always be there. I have some friends in Berlin who I may not hear from all the time but I know they will be there for me anytime I need them. It’s weird that some of my friends there are closer to me than some here and we’ve known each other for much less of a time.

  • Reply James Flowers November 28, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Wow this is a very inspiring post!

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica November 29, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Love the shout out to the mayor 🙂

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 29, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Can’t leave him feeling left out. 🙂

  • Reply Andrea November 30, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    While I feel like no place is “home” being back in the US after nine years away has brought many reliefs. But there are also the struggles – long working hours, this country’s politics, seeing how things have and are deteriorating. I’m positive we will become expats again at some point…

    • Reply Cheryl Howard November 30, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      Yeah, I bet it must be an adjustment! I know the pain of long hours too. 🙁

  • Reply Red Hunt December 2, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Welcome home….and now I must read that treehouse post….who doesn’t love the idea of sleeping in a treehouse!!??

    • Reply Cheryl Howard December 3, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Thank you! That treehouse stay is going to be awesome. 🙂

  • Reply Frank December 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Good post Cheryl! I actually love Rob Ford – that guy reminds me of Chris Farley. Toronto’s never been as interesting!! (and takes the focus off our screwed up politics in Quebec).
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Reply Cheryl Howard December 8, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks Frank! I’m not a fan – while it’s fun news fodder, the city is suffering immensely. I’m allowed to complain as I voted in the last election and it was not for him. 🙂

  • Reply Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries December 9, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I’m living in Mexico right now, have been for a little over 6 months, and I haven’t really been homesick at all. I was actually kind of home last week, not Chicago but back in ‘murica, and I was extremely happy to be back in Mexico when my flight landed on Saturday. Granted i’ve only been here for 6 months, but I can’t see myself going back to Chicago anytime soon. In fact I’d rather switch up to another Latin American country before I set foot back in the US, heh.

    Alas that’s me though, I can definitely see why you would want to go back home, though I hope you do re-expatriate, maybe somewhere with a warmer year-round temperature!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard December 9, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Mexico sounds fun! Every expat has a different experience. To be honest, if my job hadn’t fallen through – I would have stayed on longer and might even still be there. I feel pretty lucky to be able to call two places home. 🙂

      I’m not really a beach or hot climate kinda girl. I’ll always be in a cold place with four seasons.

  • Reply Mary @ Green Global Travl December 9, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    It’s beautiful how in love you are with both Berlin and Toronto – two extraordinary and no doubt very different cities. It’s certainly easy to understand your excitement andy heartbreak over both!

    • Reply Cheryl Howard December 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      Thank you Mary! I’m a lucky girl to feel at home in two places. And yes, two very very very different cities. I can’t wait to get myself back to Berlin. I miss it so dearly!

  • Reply Sophie December 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Interesting perspectives. Being an expat opens up for so many experiences, including feeling restless – and even rootless, I think – both abroad and afterwards at home. I lived in the USA during my uni years, and later spent a good part of my parental leave year in New Zealand with my kids. Don’t think about the USA much, but there are many experiences, people and places I miss in NZ… so maybe it’s a question of age or maturity, too…

    • Reply Cheryl Howard December 15, 2013 at 11:56 am

      Hi Sophie! I think you’re right about age and maturity, I’ve changed since leaving Toronto and find myself happy here despite longing for something, somewhere else. Cool that you have lived in so many places! I’m sure NZ must have been amazing.

  • Reply Sherry January 1, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Welcome back to North America! Too many people think of coming home as a failure. I tend to see it as an achievement. To be able to bring back all your experiences and knowledge to those familiar to you is something great. Enjoy being home as I’m sure be back somewhere else in the world in no time.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard January 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you Sherry! It’s been an adjustment but such an incredible growing experience. I can’t wait to see where life takes me this year. For now, being at home is exactly what I need. 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer January 7, 2014 at 6:50 am

    As long as you are happy, then you are a success no matter where you end up!

    We’ve been in Italy for almost 5 years now and while it’s home because it’s familiar and where our stuff resides, no place really feels like “home”. Some days are still tough, frustrating, or even depressing while others are amazing.

    • Reply Cheryl Howard January 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Jennifer, you’re right! I’m super happy these days. 🙂

      And for sure, the expat life is full of ups and down. I felt the same in Berlin.

  • Reply Kemkem January 10, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Great post. We have been away from the U.S for 8 months now. So far, l don’t miss it, at least not yet. For us, it’s a move closer to home. I have been an expat in America since l was 13, hubby and expat there for 10. Now, we are in Malta, close to Rome, and halfway home to Africa for me. We both love to travel, hopefully we will be able to stay permanently here or somewhere else…

    • Reply Cheryl Howard January 10, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Thanks Kemkem. I didn’t start missing home until about the 16 month mark of being away. As much as I missed home, I also didn’t want to leave Berlin. I was completely torn!

      Malta sounds divine! I’m going to contact you to take part in my Expat Living interview series. We haven’t covered that part of the world yet.

      • Reply Kemkem January 11, 2014 at 12:59 am

        Sounds good. Berlin and hopefully Cologne are on my radar for this year, so l will be using your blog as a guide. I hope l like it as much as you do. We are off to Istanbul in 11 days. I can’t wait. So glad l found your blog.

        • Reply Cheryl Howard January 11, 2014 at 8:49 am

          Thanks so much Kemkem. Hope you enjoy Deutschland. I’d definitely recommend checking out these other blogs for Germany content – travelsofadam.com and monkeyandmountains.com.

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