By Sarah Binney
This post was originally published on April 12, 2015 on The News Peg. Sarah Binney was a member of the AWNY Comms team last year and recently returned to Australia. Here are her thoughts on leaving NYC.
Sometime during my year in New York, I promised myself I wouldn’t write the cliché “what they don’t tell you about coming home” post that frequently dot the pages of Facebook expat groups. Perhaps a part of me felt a bit smug about my situation and perception of what returning would feel like. I had great friends, an amazing guy and lived in the idyllic heart of the Gold Coast, a lush paradise fueling declarations of “I’m so jealous” from my American counterparts. I was going to be just fine.
The reality of coming home, however, hit me like a ton of bricks. In the weeks leading to my departure, I tried to suppress any apprehension about leaving to fully enjoy the fleeting moments in the city I had come to love. Maybe this meant I hadn’t had time to confront things properly, but whatever – I didn’t want to feel those things.
The first day back, I could only stare at the wall and think “what do I do now?” My extended staring contest yielded little answers. Useless wall. I don’t know how to answer the question of “what was it like?”, because how do you condense the explanation of a life changing experience into a few perfunctory sentences? I know this sounds pretentious – which is the recurring fear of trying to talk about your exciting experiences to your friends.
Everything now feels small. Life crawls by at a snail’s pace, but you’re accustomed to the hurtling speed that life in a big city throws at you. I had to turn off the TV my first day back because a news story about a child being born made me want to tear my hair out. Travel opens your eyes to the social and cultural issues dominating the world stage, and in a country like Australia where, for the most part, we live blanketed in comfort with an easygoing lifestyle – people start to find problems in perfection. The struggle is necessary to truly appreciate home and how good we have it.
Being back in Australia, I don’t know how to function the way I used to. New York gives you a sense of steely determination, a passion for the unique, a taste for culture and a never ending sense of anticipation. Home is grocery shopping and lazy afternoons in the sun. A beautiful and boring setting where nothing changes. Everything feels overwhelmingly familiar but nothing feels comfortable anymore. Perhaps I can now only find joy in activities that have the potential to feature a G string clad, devil horned dancing man grabbing you in the street (he’s a recurring feature of Union Square).
I keep suppressing these emotions in an attempt to enjoy the sunshine and the people I missed, but it just leads to a sense of emptiness. It’s still early (I’ve only been home a few days), but deep down I think know I need to be back in a city where I feel I am reaching the full potential of who I can be and where I can feel one hundred percent who I am. The grittiness of the city teaches resilience, while the New York streets give you an insatiable lust for adventure. But I can’t let my idea of what I want tomorrow colour what I have today.
Everything I feel about being home has been felt. The things I am burning to write have already been written. The self-indulgence of spilling out words about how hard it must be for my poor little self with two wonderful lives on opposite sides of the world makes me feel a little sick. But the feelings are there and the words come out anyway.
The question remains – is what used to make me happy enough to fulfill me now? Living abroad changes you in the best possible way and forces you to grow as a person. Each struggle and hardship is experienced without a strong support network, but this only makes you stronger. It also makes you reevaluate all your life goals, because you’ve learned to enjoy the challenge and know that easy isn’t enough for you anymore. All I know is that I don’t want an ordinary life. I want to experience, explore, taste the world and drink in knowledge. I want to leave a mark on the world and make a positive impact in the areas I’m passionate about.
I guess it’s time to plan my next adventure.