Hay bales in a field. Herefordshire 2021

Expat Diaries: where is home now?

I felt the cabin pressure change in an instant. The wheels dropped out. With a slight bump, we landed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the cabin crew and myself, I’d like to welcome you to Great Britain. The local time here is 9:30 pm. The temperature is 14 degrees. We hope you enjoy your time here.”

Golden sunrise in Herefordshire, 2021

The tears sort of fell out of me. I didn’t mean to cry so soon. But I couldn’t help it.

I was finally home. Standing on Great British soil. It felt like a dream.

For two years, my homeland has never felt so far away. It was never, ever supposed to be this difficult to make trips home.

But nevermind. I was privileged enough to have the luxury of travelling during a pandemic (god science bless the vaccine). I could finally see people and spend time with those I love the most.

We made it back to Herefordshire at about 1:30 am and gulped down a lovely cuppa. After quick catch-ups and lots of moaning about how slow British roads are (cheers to 50mph roadworks on EVERY MOTORWAY), we headed for bed, eager to start our Great British Home Tour 2021.

That first morning was blissful. Despite not going to sleep until well after 2:00 am, I still rose with the birds to watch the sunrise. Because there’s nothing like a Herefordian sunrise in September. The light is literally golden.

Over our first weekend, we spent time with our grandparents, who I realise now are not the immortal beings I once thought they were. We hugged and drank tea. I tried oatcakes for the first time. It was the perfect image of what I thought ‘coming home’ would be.

But as we moved through week one, I noticed that more things bothered me about England than before. Was it always this messy? Were people always really this rude and unfriendly? Were they always this entitled? Have the roads always been this busy and slow?

Two years is a long time to be away. But it’s also not that long. I know the pandemic has affected all of our worlds but had life in England really changed this much in two years? Maybe I was just experiencing some reverse culture shock. Or maybe I’ve changed and England no longer fits me like it used to.

I found quiet moments where I could. To reflect. I was confused and fighting with my own internal feelings. Before coming back to England, I was still certain that we’d move home, eventually. It might not be immediate, but eventually.

Hay bales in a field. Herefordshire 2021

Of course, spending time with my friends and family, the people I love and adore the most, was incredible. My cup was well and truly filled, after having been sitting empty for so long. So much life to catch up on. There were career and lifestyle changes, engagements, marriages, babies already born, babies soon to be born, houses bought, sold, and decorated.

To see my friends successful truly makes me happier than any of my successes. I spent a long time feeling lonely and invisible in this world, so the community of incredible people I’ve made connections with over the past ten years means more to me than many of them will ever know.

Perhaps that is why I was so conflicted with my feelings. I guess part of me feels tied to this place, even though it no longer fulfils my needs. Everything felt comfortable. Warm. Familiar. I thought it was just me. But then I realised Zac felt exactly the same way.

The view from the hike up Pen y Fan. Brecon Beacons 2021

I tried so hard to not feel negative about my home country. The place I love so much. The place I so desperately wanted to get back to after two years away.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something didn’t feel entirely right anymore. It didn’t fit like it used to. I know we’ve all put on a few pandemic pounds, but had I really outgrown my home this much?

That strange feeling became crystal clear when we landed back in Germany and I was greeted with “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” by the German immigration officer.

Without thinking, I confidently answered, “Ja natürlich”. I’ve never answered that question with confidence before. “Ja, ein bisschen” is usually my go-to answer.

It became clear when we got in our car and drove on the smooth, pot-hole free roads. And when I was able to confidently leave the car without shoes on and walk on the smooth, litter-free pavement from our car park to our apartment.

And then, it hit me square in the face when we opened our apartment door and stepped inside. The weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. I took a deep breath.

I was home. I am home. Germany is home.

It’s taken two years, but I can finally say I feel comfortable here. Life here is slow. Balanced. A little annoying at times (please open a supermarket later than 8pm I beg you 😭). But good. Yeah, good.

Of course, England is still my homeland. But it feels a bit like an angsty, problematic teenager at the moment.

The truth is that England, and the United Kingdom, is fractured. It’s hurt, grieving, confused and going through a huge identity crisis. And I’ve been there, so I can empathise. I hope it gets better. I hope it gets the help it needs. But until it does, I’m not sure it’s the place for me.

Will Germany always be my home? I don’t know. Maybe not. But it’s home now. And I can sleep a little easier at night.

Mirror selfie of Steffi on bedroom floor asking the quetsion Where is home now?

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