The process of moving abroad is a thrilling one. At the risk of belittling the bravery that it takes to pack a bag of only the essentials, leave all of your friends and family, everything that you have ever known, get on a plane to set up camp somewhere new with new faces, new customs and maybe even a new language, it is in fact far easier to do these days.
I am lucky in the sense that I was not the first in my family to take such a step. My grandmother has lived in a number of different countries, including Turkey, India and British Guiana. My mother lived in Australia at my age, and my father lived in Nigeria twice before he was twenty-five. In their day, the concept of Face Timing your family when you were homesick was unimaginable. Calls were expensive and had to be planned.
And so when it was my turn to fly the nest, I was repeatedly told that there was nothing to worry about. I was only a three hour plane ride away and we could speak everyday. And so, without trepidation and homesickness holding me back, I launched myself into life in Malta with all the excitement, and indeed noise, of a kid at Christmas. Everything was a novelty, and by the time this wore off I had blended into my new surroundings so seamlessly that I never had a chance to feel the culture shock. My ear was trained to the accent. The man at the vegetable stand at the end of the road knew my name. I was even so acclimatised to the heat that I no longer needed to slather on the factor 50 and the excessive deodorant every morning. Everyone, myself included, was amazed at how quickly Malta became home to me. No adjustment period necessary.
Coming home a year later, however, was a different story. I had known that it would be hard to leave. I had fallen in love with that little Mediterranean island. I felt so guilty as I came through those arrivals doors and fell sobbing into my mother’s awaiting arms. Everything was the same and yet I felt like an outsider. The first thing that struck me was how green everything was! We drove home under a grey, drizzly sky alongside endless, rolling fields of green. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch and the menu didn’t have a page dedicated to pasta options. There was a duvet on my bed. After so long sleeping under a single sheet and getting so hot that I kicked even that off, I felt rather claustrophobic under the feathery clouds of comfort. One thing I had missed, however, was a good old cup of tea; no one can make a cup of tea quite like my dad.
I am well aware that my experience of having to readjust to wearing underwear rather than a bikini is possibly rather singular. But I was relieved to discover that I was not alone in experiencing culture shock in my own home. Some are struggling with the loss of their independence now that they are back under their parents’ roof. Some are struggling with the fact that the people they left behind have carried on with their lives, whereas we are coming back and picking up where we left off. Some struggle with the fact that friends who once lived 50 yards from them now live 2000 miles from them. Even with social media, it is easier said than done to turn the page on that chapter of your life and begin the next one. Facebook is sending daily reminders of the first time you had a bonfire on the beach, or the day you first met someone, alongside a tear-jerking little video of all of your best moments together. It is rather saddening getting lost in a town that you knew so well, desperately scanning what was once a sea of familiar faces for just one that you recognise.
All of this being said, England is one of a kind. All of that green is rather beautiful. Getting snuggly in front of a roaring fire is a wonderful feeling. No one gives hugs quite like your mum.
As I slowly readjust to home I am realising one thing: there is no place like it.