It’s surreal to think that just a few short weeks ago we were toasting the arrival of summer and the end of the school year with our Spanish community in Granada. There were school concerts, end of year parties and dinners that went into the wee hours, especially as the sun didn’t set until 10.30pm. We shared our reflections on the year with our new friends followed by teary farewells….and then we were gone.
We spent a year planning and another year living ‘Our Year in Spain’ then one week ago we arrived back in Sydney and suddenly the dream was over. All the shiny new experiences and aliveness that comes with being in a different environment became things of the past and the colours of our hometown are muted by familiarity. As I walk or drive down the same streets I have known for years, I no longer see the detail and I am on autopilot once again.
We have landed in the middle of a Sydney Winter, back to the same house and area in which we have lived for 14 years but everything feels strange – we are aliens in a familiar setting. The cells of my body remember these places that I have known since childhood but my mind and spirit can’t quite relate or absorb it.
During our year away we became practiced at adapting to different places and situations, testing ourselves in new environments, speaking different languages and learning new customs. I thought returning home would be another experience that we would easily flow with, so as the plane drew closer to Sydney, I had no inkling that the return home would, in fact, be so daunting.
On my first day back and most days since, I have been stunned by the randomness and frequency of the tears that fall from my eyes. Although there were definitely hard days and sad days during ‘Our Year in Spain’, I do not recall ever shedding a tear. Why all this emotion now?
My hunch is that I am not only mourning the end of the dream that has been lived, but also finding my place and identity once again. How do we fit back into this old/new life that seems familiar and alien all at once? Added to that is the fresh perspective. Viewing our homeland differently after experiencing another way of life holds both positive and negative aspects.
There is much to be celebrated and just as much that is jarring. We are grateful for our loving and patient friends and family in Australia who have embraced our return and understand our mixed feelings around being back. They understand for now that it’s a difficult transition and that it is not personal to them or Australia. I do sometimes feel guilty though that my sunny disposition has gone, left behind on another continent for now, and that I may have given my best self to new friends in Spain while my loyal Australian friends receive the morose me. I’m waiting for my mojo to come back.
There are many things we re-appreciate here like Australian friendliness and efficiency and equally, there are the aspects we no longer relate to…the rush, rush of the city, the car culture and the constant chasing of the dollar to buy latest and greatest house, product or experience. It’s jarring after living in a small city in southern Spain. Not that any place is perfect and Granada definitely had its own issues, these are just the things that I observe now with my fresh perspective.
I notice our children’s wide eyes as they listen to their Australian friends talk about the latest trends and TV shows like ‘The Voice’ or Disney characters from movies. It’s a catch up crash course in popular culture. We didn’t have television for a year which was not some politically correct statement, just that with the very late sunsets in Spain there is no time to watch TV so we cancelled the satellite subscription. I observe my kids trying to describe to their Australian friends where we lived in Spain. How to describe a one thousand year-old neighbourhood of steep, winding, river stone laneways and walled Arabic Carmens? The ancient streets of the Albaicin are perhaps just too different to comprehend from this reality and the conversation quickly gravitates back to what is real and immediate here.
I understand that children tend to live in the present moment and I am grateful as it is that quality that has made our kids such incredible adventurers this year. In fact, witnessing how ecstatic our children are to be back and re-embraced by their community has softened our landing. Our daughter is like a proud peacock, head held high, carrying her confidence and new independence. Our son is straight back to his friends and soccer team as if no time has passed.
Meanwhile, my husband and I are slowly processing all that we have learned and experienced during our year away. We are thinking about how to bridge the two worlds and keep the best of both. How lucky we are to have two homes, both wonderful and different in their own way but we are in no doubt that it will take time to readjust.