The sadness of going home

Before my Mum cracks open the champagne I have to be super clear that I am not moving back to New Zealand any time soon (well actually my visa is up at the end of the year so who knows what the hell will happen, fingers crossed for staying a lot longer!). No, this post is about those whose decision gets made for them, the moment when the visa runs out. Moving to London is part of the cultural identity for Kiwis, but for all that we mythologize the move over we seem to gloss over the eventually moving back home part. After all, surely moving back to the comfort zone is far less of a scary step?

The funny thing about London is that those who love it instantly and unconditionally are in the minority. Most expats arrive at that opinion that while London is pretty damn awesome, its also hard, lonely, expensive and literally a world away from people that you love. Over time things become a lot easier (or you just become more at ease with your choices) but those first few months can be a real struggle. I mean, exciting as hell and one of the bravest steps you have ever taken, but still a struggle.

After the first couple of tricky months most people start to feel a little more comfortable. You know what supermarket to go to, remember to always have an umbrella in your handbag and start seeing the shape of Africa in the mould in your room. But things still aren’t exactly peachy with your new friend London. Even while you are on a sunny pub rooftop it just seems that everyone is doing it better, you feel like no matter how hard you try you are failing at London. ‘Everyone’ else is travelling, dream jobs and Tindering every night. I mean, they’re totally not, but that is how it felt to you.

Then something weird happened, London started becoming a little more like home. A few friends, some cool trip and ice-skating in the moat of the Tower of London made all the big scary bits of expat life a little more friendly. You started falling for bits of your new city, it started to become part of you. At this point the lucky few with convenient dead grandmothers get to let their guards down with London. After the two year point you make more friends, put down roots and find out how to transfer at Bank Station; its like a comfortable sigh after holding your breath for 730days. You become that obnoxious Londoner who can’t shut up about it, like a hipster who just got an Instagram-worthy puppy.

Problem is not everyone gets that extra time to become BFF with London, and that just sucks the big one. For the two year visa squad just as you are starting to make your mind up about the big L the decision gets made for you. You get an end date and short of marrying a Scottish bloke or convincing a company to sponsor you, it’s time to book a ticket home.

As millennials & Kiwis we are not used to having people stand in our way, particularly something that is as big of a blockade as Her Majesty’s Government. Being told no is almost more important than your true feelings about London. With deportation looming suddenly this city that was unconvincing, that stole all your money and made you fat seems like the holy grail, London being taken away from you is the only thing you can focus on.

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Some cool kids move to London for a whale of a good time, travel plus booze for them is essentially the entire equation. For the rest of us London is that first bite at real and isolated independence. We move over just at the point where we are trying to figure out careers, love, intentions, which battles to fight and how to fix a fuse box. The two year squad gets ripped out of London in the middle of this ‘growing up’ process.

As well as the pain in the arse of packing and moving, there is also the fear of stepping back into an old life. What if you become the person you were? What if you don’t know who you are yet? What if you have changed so much you don’t fit there anymore? And after seeing how big the world is, what if NZ is bat-shit boring?

If London taught you anything in your two years here it has to be fuck what other people think. Once you have seen a girl vomit into the sleeves of her trench coat on the tube your life choices look pretty sweet indeed (side note: I once saw a man with a parrot on his shoulder on the Metropolitan line, I feel this is a good if a little piratey life choice). The worst thing you can do right now is focus on what you can’t have, namely: London. It is time to focus on the possibilities, this is an incredible chance to change your life for a second time.

Before you moved to London you probably had a million possibilities running round in your head about the things you would see and the person you would become. Why the hell are you not doing the same thing at the moment?

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Chances are pre-London you went to the same places, hung out with the same people and didn’t really do anything that scared you. Be the brave person you are in London just on the other side of the world. Fuck buying a house; live in town and spend all your money on rent like you did in London. Travel as much as you did in Europe but this time see the Southern Lights, the Milky Way and every single set of the Hobbit. Be creative, take chances and stop for fucks sake stop thinking that London is the only place you can find out who you are meant to be.

If you think going home means being stuck in a certain pattern/life you need to use the flight to shove those thoughts in an overhead locker and leave them there. You are far too valuable to waste on normal.

And if New Zealand really sucks, there is always Australia.

 

Brunch spots that I love

Home is where the heart is

A bit of a rant, but I think an important one to put out there. When you are an expat and things aren’t going according to plan the default setting in your brain is ‘move home’. It could be a grumpy day at work, flat issues (what the hell is it with landlords selling your flat from under you!) or even just the 14th day of rain in a row. Something in that little ‘grass is always greener’ part of your brain goes “well I could always book a flight home”. That’s the equivalent of throwing your perfect coffee at someone because the poached eggs were a little overcooked …oh wait I’ve done that #brunchrage.

I love London. In my head it’s a living person that I argue with, complain about and love with all the fierce protectiveness that I can summon up. But that does not mean that it is perfect, I just have to remember that its perfect for me. It will be hard, there will be days where I am just fed up with all of it…but those days would happen no matter what city I was living in.

In a way it comes down to percentages. I am happy in London 95% of the time, which means that there is that 5% that makes me want to stab someone and fly home. But should I really swap that 95% happiness for somewhere that would only make me 60% happy? No. That math just don’t work. But parts of me would be happy back home, which is why that default setting exists.

It is easy in a way to ignore this little demon part of me, the cheapest one way flight I could find for tomorrow is £620 – excuse me while I fall off my cafe chair laughing at being able to afford that. But I think its something that it is easier to recognise, to get out in the open (/to blog about) and move on from – particularly when its a feeling that is there for most expats.

We have chosen to live in these foreign cities. To have language barriers. To be confused by exchange rates. To live apart from family. To pay rent that will mean never owning a house. To live a life without cats. We have chosen because overall it is a better place to be you.

Now if only I can remember that when I’m having a bad day…

 

Rangitoto from Takapuna beach

Going home for a holiday is a terrifying experience for any expat. Of course you want to hug your family and stock up on all the treats of your dark London dreams, but there is always that thought at the back of your mind wondering if you will like it. You will always get moments of home sickness, but you know there are reasons you are living on the other side of the world, that you are happy on the other side of the world. But what if, what if when you go home you like it more? What if its easy? What if you enjoy it too much? What if you want to move home?

It’s a scary prospect. There are not many times a holiday can change your life (excluding of course éclairs in Paris which are a religious experience), but as an expat there is a chance that going home could change everything. If you go home and discover that the grass is really greener you may end up altering the course of your life entirely and moving home. It’s a scary unknown mixed in with all that joy of seeing your family again and relief that everyone understands your accent.

Thankfully (I don’t think thankfully is the right word, but I can’t think of a better one) I didn’t feel the desire to move home. For me it was like stepping back into an old slipper, yes comfortable, warm and familiar but just not quite how you remember. I just didn’t quite fit.

This is such a hard post to write because it is such an undefinable feeling. Its not that New Zealand sucks and London is awesome. London is a really hard city to live in, and it is a place where you have to consciously forge your life because if you passively sit back you will just get carried away and feel alone. Its just that for right now New Zealand isn’t right for me.

I know that if I moved home and lived with my parents for a while my huge life dream of buying a house might be possible (its never going to happen in London). But living with my parents would be comfortable but not what I need. I need that challenge and to have to fend for myself (although right now I am close to actually hiring a hooker just for someone to make me a cup of tea after a hard days work).

View from the top of Mt Eden

The old slipper feeling became more evident the longer I was there. Friends back home are at a different pace, a different part of their lives. In London a casual conversation will cover everything from your next travel destination, the situation in Syria to matcha lattes. I found back home it was mostly about babies and houses. Not that there is anything wrong with that, its just that for where I am right  now it feels like a small world view.

See hard post right? Its hard to say you don’t want to live somewhere without offending someone. When you first become an expat you are leaving for adventure and new horisons, but the longer you stay the more it is an active decision based on your previous home not being right for you.

As much as I feel some relief that I know my heart is in London, in a way it makes everything so much harder. I miss my parents and sister so much its like I’m missing a limb. And I know its going to be even harder than normal this year as my sister is getting married, such an important thing that I am going to miss all the fun planning and family times.

But the old slipper can’t be changed. Yes I could take the seriously easy decision to move back home and get my family back, but I know that it is not the way to happiness. London is.

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New Zealand beach

New Zealand is some 18,000km from London, its pretty much as far as you can go travel wise. This makes it pretty impossible to just fly home for a quick visit. But you know what? After 18 months living as a runawaykiwi I just need to go home.

I was feeling like ‘home’ was slipping from my memory banks, which I guess is good and bad because although the memories are being replaced by awesome fun London times, I am starting to only remember the good bits of home and ignoring the bad. The grass is always greener.

But I thought that a quick trip home was impossible, last time I checked flights were well over £1000, which is just completely unfeasible for me right now. That is until I saw a tweet about a Flight Center one day sale for flights to New Zealand.  So at 9:01am I was on the phone trying to book one of the limited number of flights for £629 return with China Southern Air.

I grabbed one! Because of the T’s&C’s of the sale it meant I was only actually going to be in New Zealand for 10 days. So yes, with 60 hours of travelling I was going to be spending 25% of my trip in the air or airports. But for 10 magical days at home it was totally worth it.

I am not planning anything major, I want to hang out with my parents, drive in my car and eat all the brunch I can get my hands on.

My only concern (apart from the whole flying thing!) is that I am going to fall in love with New Zealand again. As I have rambled on about time and time again, I love my life in London and I just hope that this trip home to fill my soul with love isn’t going to impact on my life in London.

Wish me luck and be prepared for New Zealand brunch posts!

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