Confessions of an Ex-Expat: The Devastating Truth About Returning Home

Today it’s been exactly 2 years since I got off the plane in India and glanced a country like no other for the first time. After an overnight journey with trouble sleeping I could barely keep my eyes open on this surprisingly sunny morning of January.

My mentor was waiting for me outside the airport with a gentle smile. I expected a hug, but he shook hands with me and welcomed me to India. He was kind and reserved and he treated me with utmost respect, something I never expected from someone who was barely 20 years old.

I had no idea about the life in India and the first question I blurted out on our way back to the city, one that intrigues many from the West, was what the red mark is for on people’s forehead. A question that makes me smile today.

Days became weeks, and weeks turned into months as it occurred to me that this is not a trip. Bangalore is my home and I am not only a traveller anymore. I am an expat, a foreign resident from a faraway country.

There are not enough pages in a book that could describe all the moments of two long years. I still remember them so vividly that I could travel back in mind and relive them. All those lessons I have learnt in a culture with so many layers, with a myriad of colours, and yet, my experience is just one shade of the rainbow of distinct stories people tell after returning from India.

Glimpses of spiritual awakening, the hectic working life, or the mysterious rituals. The slow life by the sea, touristic attractions, or the ups and downs of a long journey across a thousand miles. And even though my stay was quite long, if you ask me about what’s India like, I can only tell my story because there is so much to this subcontinent that I would never attempt to generalize any statement of mine.

And I do try to express my story, now that I’m back home in good old Hungary, but I struggle to find the words. Not only because a life lived in English –with a hint of Hindi- is hard to be translated into pictures of the strange Hungarian language, but because, by now, my own culture has become somewhat alien to me.

You never question the rules of your own environment, unless you lose them, like a fish never gets to know how it feels to live outside of water. But after I had fought and struggled repeatedly to find my place in a world that was so extreme at first, to a point where the locals accepted me as one of them, I became possessive about my lessons learnt. You see, we don’t appreciate the things we get ready as much as the things we conquer ourselves.

I am still a Hungarian and I will always carry my heritage from my upbringing no matter how many pages get filled up in my passport. But I became a little bit Indian as well over the years, which is a less self-explanatory piece of my identity than my birthright nationality.

It took me a week to get rid of my jetlag, a mere four and a half hours, because my mind just refused to align to the clock. After weeks, I still have dreams about stories in India with the people I used to know and my mother tells me I look Indian to her since I returned home.

It’s not the tan of my skin, it’s not the involuntary gestures or putting some extra spice in my food and drinking my chai with milk. Not even the way I dress or something I do with my hair. It’s something she can’t explain.

I seem a bit Hungarian abroad and I seem a bit foreign in Hungary. Two years ago, I looked for experience, fun, and real-life lessons when I set off and left my country, but I also became a bridge between cultures; a role I never applied for.

I wanted to discover, understand and connect, but it came with a hefty responsibility of spreading awareness. And I do accept this mission as mine and I do try to live up for it, but right now, in this moment, it just feels much heavier than I expected.

I look around in my hometown and I see my loved ones picking a fight and worrying over things that do not matter at all. I walk on the streets and I see people who have everything they need but doesn’t seem to have anything they want.

I listen to the same conversations all over again, except that now I’m witnessing a movie and I already know all the scenes in it. The world feels like an ignorant place where people fill up their rooms with stuff they don’t need until the lack of space feels suffocating in it, but they don’t go outside to play. And it breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart, because I used to live here and run in circles the same way, and I know how it feels. But once you leave, there’s no way back to normal.

It’s an incredible feeling, an expansion of the mind, a break-through of walls built from outdated rules and a brand new level of consciousness. A gift that might feel heavy at times, but one that also makes me stronger by adding to my invisible backpack of memories from different corners of the world. With all its highs and lows it was the best decision I could make and I would do it again.

I am sitting in my old room now, in the house which was built when I was born. Yet, as I’m sitting here, I am still a traveller, a local, and an expatriate soul. A wandering mind and a legal citizen. A passenger with no final destination and an outlander that forever feels at home. It’s just a matter of time till I pack my bag again, because this is what I live for, and no matter where I go, it’s totally going to be worth it.

 

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