Well, after almost two years abroad, we are moving back to North Carolina! Tom has accepted a position in a company he is really excited about, which requires us to live in the US. This has been in the works for a couple of months now, but I needed to keep it under wraps until it was official, and he let his current employer know.
There are a lot of mixed feelings around this move. Though we left the US in January of 2020, we got to Portugal in March. This was right when Europe shut down and we’ve been in and out of different levels of restrictions since we got here.
We really haven’t had an opportunity to fall in love with Portugal. That’s not because there is anything wrong with Portugal, but because it’s hard to really get to know a place under these circumstances. Until this summer, restrictions made it difficult to enjoy the ease of European travel offered by living here as well.
Luckily, Ellie had in-person school most of the time and she has made wonderful friends who she will keep in touch with. Covid restrictions closed the school to parents, so Tom and I weren’t able to form the same community there. I have made some close friends, but the importance of community became evident to me when I was back in North Carolina this summer. For me, community is different than friendships (though there may be overlap). It’s about having some sort of connection and regular interaction with people who have shared values or interests. Many of the farmers and regular customers at the Carrboro Farmers Market hold a significant part of my community and it felt so good to be back. Even going to Pilates and catching up with people I knew from before provided a sense of connection that I didn’t realize I was missing. I believe that we could have formed that community in Portugal if it weren’t for Covid lockdowns and such.
I’ve learned a lot about myself since we lived here, which has been very valuable. Part of this relates to my identity as an American. When we moved, it wasn’t to get away from North Carolina. We really loved the area where we lived. That said, we had a lot of concerns about various matters/issues in the country and were also eager to remove ourselves from the hostile political environment. Here’s the thing though….whether I live in Portugal, the US, or Antarctica those same concerns affect me. I didn’t experience much of the hostile divide in my everyday life in the US. Social media was my main exposure to this divide which is something I experience no matter where I am living. What I’ve learned is that I really do identify as an American, in addition to a global citizen. There are elements of the US that I’m proud of and others that I’m not. Moving back will allow me to be more active in causes that I feel strongly about.
There are a number of things I will miss about living here. Though I haven’t been able to spend much time with them due to lockdowns, my brother and his family live just 30 minutes away from us. I had looked forward to getting to watching my niece and nephew grow up. I love the pretty constant 70 degree weather with sunny skies, walking on the ocean every day, the incredible shellfish, and the extremely affordable health care!
There are also a number of things we’re looking forward to in the US. My dad and stepmother are less than 15 minutes away from us and Ellie is looking forward to the weekly dinners they used to have. She’s also incredibly excited to be back with her long-time friends, get her driver’s license, and get a job. Ellie’s never been to Mexico, so we’re looking at a beach vacation sometime before she graduates. I can’t wait to get back to my friends, family, and also my community. I look forward to driving without anxiety, running more than one appliance at a time without blowing a fuse, not having to use a VPN, and grocery stores with so many options! Tom is most excited for the taco truck he has missed and the craft beer store where he meets his friends.
I’m also looking forward to language learning. My Portuguese lessons challenged me in a way that I really enjoyed. Though I don’t plan to continue Portuguese, I am going to start learning Spanish.
The most significant things I’ve learned through this experience are more around how I want to approach life than anything else. When we first moved, our goal was to stay five years and apply for citizenship. Being open to possibilities allowed us to explore and pursue a path that was not aligned with that goal. Since I’m a big planner and goal oriented, being open to different options is something that is difficult for me. Exploring, pursuing, and being excited about a path that is different from our original goal helped me learn the real value in being open to possibilities.
More than anything else, moving abroad has made me really see the world as a place that is open to us (well, except during a global pandemic). Moving abroad as a family is no joke. It’s a lot of work, logistics, and bureaucratic hoops. And we’ve done it now. Twice. I have no doubt that if we want to do it again down the road that we can and we will. It’s this confidence, this identification as a citizen of the world, that our students living abroad obtain as well. And it’s really an incredible feeling!